During the American War, Quang Tri and Quang Binh, the two provinces either side of the DMZ, were the most heavily bombed and saw the highest casualties – civilian and military, American and Vietnamese. Names made infamous in 1960s’ and 1970s’ America have been perpetuated in countless films and memoirs: Con Thien, the Rockpile, Hamburger Hill and Khe Sanh. For some people the DMZ will be what draws them to Vietnam, the end of a long and difficult pilgrimage; for others it will be a bleak, sometimes beautiful, place where there’s nothing particular to see but where it’s hard not to respond to the sense of enormous desolation.
North of the DMZ is one of the region’s main attractions – the tunnels of Vinh Moc, where villages created deep underground during the American War have been preserved. The area’s other points of interest lie south of the Ben Hai River, and while it’s not possible to cover everything in a day, the most interesting of the places described here are included on organized tours from Hué. Alternatively, it’s possible to use Dong Ha as a base or cover a more limited selection of sights on the drive north. If you have limited time then the Vinh Moc tunnels should be high on your list, along with a drive up Highway 9 to Khe Sanh, both for the scenery en route and the sobering battleground itself. Note that, although you can now visit the DMZ without a local guide, this is not recommended as most sites are unmarked and, more importantly, the guides – arranged in Dong Ha – know which paths are safe; local farmers are still occasionally killed or injured by unexploded ordnance in this area.