Tri and the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ)
1954, Ho Chi Minh’s government in the north and the French
colonial administration in the south agreed an armistice
that involved a ‘temporary’ partition of Vietnam. The
Ben Hai River, in the extreme north of Quang Tri province,
became the arbitrary line dividing the two halves of the
country. When the southern ‘government’, backed by the
US, reneged on the national elections promised in the
agreement, Quang Tri became the theatre where most of
the important scenes of the Vietnam War were staged.
From then until
the early seventies when the Vietnamese army overwhelmed
the defences along the southern edge of the DMZ, Quang Tri
was a battlefield, one of the most intensively bombed areas
in military history. It left a barren desert created by
hundreds of thousands of tons of high explosive, estimated
to be the equivalent of seven Hiroshima atom bombs, as well
as napalm, phosphorous and herbicide.
has reclaimed much of the land, but craters are visible
almost everywhere in the area.
It has been
estimated that nearly a third of the ordnance failed to
explode. Clearance is continuous, but there are still enough
live landmines, bombs and shells to add to the tens of thousands
of children and adults killed or maimed by unexploded ordnance
since 1975. The numbers are dropping, but incidents of death
or injury among local people are reported almost every week.
children walking to and from school or the market who mistake
grenades for toys, farmers ploughing or planting crops,
building workers digging wells or laying foundations, and
poor peasants attempting to dismantle a bomb or shell to
sell the scrap metal for a small amount of cash.
The main sites
and paths are now free of danger, but venturing off the
beaten track is unwise unless you’re accompanied by a professional
If you travel
with Haivenu, you’ll have an expert local guide who will
not only have intimate knowledge of the area, but will also
keep you away from unsafe locations.
war memorabilia, little remains of the pre-war towns and
villages. Nevertheless, there are a couple places of interest
beyond those directly linked to the war.
Quang Tri town,
once an important citadel town and the provincial capital,
is mostly an evocative ruin. There are a few remains of
the citadel, built in 1824 by King Minh Mang, but not much
On the other
hand, Dong Ha, the present provincial capital, has flourished.
It has a large deepwater port, a direct route to Laos via
the Lao Bao border gate 80kn to the west, and is likely
to be an important hub on the planned trans-Asia highway.
It has a decent hotel and is a good centre from which to
explore the DMZ in depth.
Near the Laos
border, Huong Hoa is a unremarkable small town in the foothills
of the Annamite mountains. Formerly known as Khe Sanh, it’s
known for the coffee produced from plantations developed
by the French. The interest for our visitors is a German
project linking Kraft Foods Germany and the Dutch ‘Douwe
Egberts’ coffee company with a Vietnamese Arabica coffee
producer to develop high quality coffee without exploiting
the farmers or damaging the environment.
A sizable proportion
of Huong Hoa’s population is poor Bru Van Kieu ethnic minority
people – you’ll probably meet women smoking long-stemmed