Along the way back to Hue from the Ancient Village of Phuoc Tich, I stopped by Ben Hai River demilitarized zone (DMZ), one of the few controversial conflict zones during the North-South Vietnam war. Located in the Vĩnh Linh District, Quảng Trị Province, this DMZ was the location of the 17th Parallel where the Geneva Accords of 1954 demarcated the country into two, setting boundaries bisecting the US-controlled South Vietnam to the communist North Vietnam.
Ben Hai river River
The Ben Hai river runs a nearly 100km across Vietnam, with the widest river gap being over 200m and the narrowest point bridging the North and South about 20 meters apart here.
This said boundary followed the river and separated North and South about 5 km from either side of the river, and this spot is the closest point where the North and South meet, spanned by the notorious Hien Luong Bridge. The bridge and the archway are gazetted as major national monument for the reunification of Vietnam at the end of the Vietnam War.
The formidable 35 meter tall flag pole structure made out of solid concrete greets you at the site on the Northern side. Lined around it the walls of the flag pole structure are filled complete with mosaic murals depicting scenes of the communist life. On close inspection, you can it tells of a story decorated complete with scenes of men, women and children in country building for the communist country.
Tucked by the flag pole is a small ticketing counter, as well as a small provision store and toilets. The tickets grant you access to the small exhibition hut by the flag pole as well as a museum across the road.
Hien Luong Bridge DMZ zone
Hien Luong bridge was said to be destroyed and rebuilt several times during the war, mainly by shelling and bombing. It had been rebuilt over 8 times since it was constructed in 1922. Hien Luong Bridge also took the state of many colours over its lifetime, with US-Saigon side in conflict with the communist north in the choice of differentiating and unifying the colours on both sides of the bridge.
The bridge currently standing today is a replica of what the bridge which was originally built by the French, used to look like. This new bridge is being built as close to what it was during the active war periods, made complete with its eccentric different colour combination on both ends.
This colour matching story tells of a cat-and-mouse game between both sides highlighting the desire to demarcate and unify the different sides of the bridge. This was accurately captured in the replica bridge.
The bridge today is a pedestrian-only bridge, though it was upgraded at some point during the war to allow light vehicles to cross. The bridge also now runs parallel and next to modern vehicular bridge serving part of the main arterial road here.
You can walk across Hien Luong bridge from one side of the river to the other. Leading to a memorial park honoring the lives lost of women and children during the war.
Panorama of the Hien Luong bridge from North side
There is an old guard tower on the Southern side. Stories speak that sometimes both sides can be so friendly that it is possible for both sides to talk to each other, some days, they will shoot people across the river on sight. This conflict is well told though a museum on the Northern side, featuring a number of photographs and scenes of the war, as well as loud speakers riddled by bullet holes.
Loud speakers were mainly used by the communist north to play audio propaganda over to the south side, with the west erecting their own across the river. There were sayings that the American loudspeakers were far more superior to that of the communist north, though they never survived following the North’s invasion.
The area was heavily bombed and many unexploded bombs still laying within the vicinity, though many of the bombs in the site here were all already cleared up by international ordance groups before being opened up as a tourist site by the Vietnanese government.
Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone Museum
The museum is a single floored pink painted building with a large open courtyard up front. The building entrance is flanked by two loudspeakers previous used on the towers which blasted propaganda on either sides. The museum leads into an open room with a small guestbook table by the side.
Standing in front and facing the museum front door is a statue of Ho Chi Minh himself and surrounding lined along the walls of the museum are various framed photos, documents an artifacts of the Vietnam -American war conflict. Stashed in a corner of the museum are lines of exploded and neutralized aircraft bombs and artillery shells used in the war, excavated and made safe for display in the museum itself.
On the far end of the museum are several wall-painted murals depicting the bravery of the Vietcong who fought during the war as well as the war effort contributed by female soldiers on the battle lines. On display are several modes of transportation used by the soldiers, such as the trusty bicycle which brought many of their riders to the front lines.
Several Russian assaults rifles such as the poplar AK-47– from the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact countries, mortar grenade tubes as well as American M16 rifles left behind after the war were also on display in various display cabinets.
Lined on the pink walls of the museum are several black and white photographs of people involved with the war effort on both sides, with a biasness against the Americans- the atrocities captured and immortalized behind glass.
Interesting photos includes those involved in digging and constructing the extensive Vietcong underground tunnel network, known as the Cu Chi Tunnels linking all the way back to Saigon. As well as the damage and pock-marked war landscape created by American carpet bombing.
A recommended route will be starting with a walk from the main flag pole, towards Ben Hai River looking across the river, going under the Hien Luong bridge before cimbing back up onto the archway and doing the museum last. You are good for the DMZ for under an hour.
Till today, the bridge is still a solemn place indeed, on the history of war, a symbol of division in the country showing the loss, separation and hurt during the war.
View photos of Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone.