The haul to Dong Ha didn’t end up taking too long as it was on highway with remarkably little traffic, not too many towns and for the most part, an amazing line of street lights. Most of the Dong Ha hotels with an online presence sounded nasty or were too expensive, but Rob found the Thai Son Hotel on Travelfish. Max beat us there and said it was good, so we met up with him there just before 8 pm. When we arrived, he was sitting in the courtyard with the owners having tea. I had a quick cup with them while Rob got us a room.
By this point, Rob and I were famished and still needed to confirm the details for the tour the next day, so we headed to Tam’s Cafe, who arranged the tour for us. It was empty, but the woman in charge of the kitchen said we could still order. As the western food on the menu was reasonably priced, we got fried chicken and fish sandwiches and fries. These turned out to be banh mi style stuffed with meat. So much food! The bread was not enough to contain all the tasty sauce and meat juices. The fries were good although not as numerous as I would have hoped. Our tour guide for the next day dropped by as we were finishing up and we arranged to meet him there at 8 am. When we returned to the hotel, everyone was pretty much where we left them, so we joined the circle and had a few more cups of tea.
Later that night as we attempted to sleep, those cups of tea came back to haunt us. Seven am the next morning came very quickly, but we managed to get ourselves to Tam’s by 7:45 am to order some breakfast. Another group was there eating already awaiting their tour. Breakfast was great ($2/meal) The omelette actually had bacon. It had been so long.
We met up with our tour guide, Mr. Hoa, who served with the South Vietnamese army toward the end of the war and visited a number of sites. We were packing 2 days of tour into one, so we were constantly in a hurry and didn’t have as much time to get as much of an overview of everything as would have been nice. If you have the time, I would recommend less riding and more time just to talk with the guide. We were just in a position where we wanted to see the highlights and end in Khe Sanh for the next day. The museum at Khe Sanh Air Base did have enough English that it can be visited without a guide and still be informative. In hindsight, our best bet would have been to spend more time on the eastern sights and have the guide take you as far as the Ho Chi Minh trail marker still a ways out of Khe Sanh. Then, do the last bit of the drive and Khe Sanh Air base on your own.
Here are the different stops we made throughout the day.
Stop #1: Mine Action Center in Dong Ha describes the still ongoing process of clearing out undischarged mines and ordnance from the American war.
Stop #2: Doc Mieu Firebase and Hill overlook of the DMZ zone and border control. All the remains is one rusty old tank and a plaque. Stop #3: The Reunification Bridge and the reconstructed tourist bridge. The reunification bridge was built on the same site as the original famous one, so they made a fake one next to it for tourists. They’ve also reconstructed some of the things on the north side including the propaganda megaphones.
Stop #4: The Vinh Moc Tunnels. These housed 90 families during the war and were an important link for passing goods delievered by sea inland. I could stand in many of them, but there were a few that were even too short for me. Max and Rob, the tall dudes, suffered in a constant crouch, except for the bigger meeting room. We didn’t take pictures because our camera doesn’t have a flash, but hopefully we’ll get a few from Max.
Stop #5: National Cemetery. One of many. Most graves are anonymous as the North Vietnamese version of dog tags was actually laminated paper, which did not survive in many cases. Some graves are labelled with newer plaques as families pay fortune tellers to find the graves of a missing family member.Stop #6: Lunch Stop #7: the Rockpile with views of other base locations. All the US army outposts were on these big mountains with views of the surrounding valleys and the North Vietnamese soldiers were hiding in the jungle surrounding them.
Stop #8: Ho Chi Minh trail marker shows where the path the supplies were carried to South Vietnam.
Stop #9: Khe Sanh Air Base and Museum. The base was completely destroyed mulitiple times. Most everything on site was brought in or reconstructed.
We parted ways with Mr. Hoa in Khe Sanh then checked into the Khanh Phuong Hotel. They had pretty good rooms for a fine price. Our first room’s AC didn’t work so they gave us a different one, but it was late so they let us keep the bags in the old one. The bed was also softer in the first room, so we carried the mattress down the hallway and stacked it on the new bed.
Returning to the town center, we took care of motorbike errands first – an oil change and some chain love for Max and a back suspension adjustment for us. It took a bit of time since the mechanic was doing about four jobs at once. They did have the cutest puppy hanging around. The next stop was the gas station to get a few extra liters of gas filled into water bottles in addition to our full tanks. The remote section of Ho Chi Minh does not have consistent gas (and what there exist is expensive we found out later from some other folks).
For dinner, some rotisserie stands along the main road beckoned Rob and we chose some meats off the grill ending up with a half duck, some pork pieces and rice. Max was more adventurous and tried this black sausage, which turned out to be very tasty and filled with some vegetables. As we were finishing dinner, a thunderstorm rolled in and the sky opened up. The downpour was unlike any we’d seen since the blizzard we drove through on Japan’s eastern coast. Even under cover, the water deflected off surfaces and got us a bit wet. During a lull in the rain, we decided to get a second round of dinner and try some fried noodles next to the mechanic shop. We ordered three plates of noodles with beef, a fried pho, a fried egg noodle (instant noodle) and ap chao, which turned out to be soup despite my internet search pulling up pan-fried noodles by the same name. All were huge portions (40k each) and so filling that we couldn’t finish everything as much as we tried. A brief stint in a rain and we made it back to the hotel.