Hue makes a good base to explore the Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) in nearby Quang Tri province, around 100 km north of the imperial city. The DMZ was created in July 1954 in accordance with the Geneva Accords, which put an end to the war between the Vietnam Peoples Army forces and the French Union forces.
The zone includes two parts extending 5km from the north and south banks of Ben Hai River (Hien Luong River or Parallel 17) and runs around 100 km from South China Sea coast to the west border with Laos. The Parallel 17 first served as a “provisional military demarcation line” between two parts of the country. In 1956, the proposed national elections, the outcome of international effort to reunite the country, failed to take place. The Ben Hai River had been a permanent frontier between the “communist” North Vietnam (supported by USSR) and the “democratic” South Vietnam (supported by the US) until the country’s reunification in 1975.
Actually, the DMZ at that time was considered a “Vietnam in miniature” with two hostile forces at the two sides. It thus recorded some of the most serious stages of the Vietnam War rather than being a military-free zone. The legendary Ho Chi Minh trails were constructed by the North Vietnam to transport supplies, equipments and military forces for their south communist comrades. In an attempt to destroy that system of transportation, the American forces established several mighty bases (“the McNamara Line”) along the Route 9, south of the parallel. They became the bloodiest battles of the war, namely the Rockpile, Camp Carol, Khe Sanh Combat Base, Con Thien Fire Base and Doc Mieu Base. There are not much leftover on these sites for visitors to see today, but with the help of an experienced guide, you may imagine all as having just happened yesterday. If your time is unable to cover all the battles, you should not miss the Vinh Moc Tunnels and Truong Son National Cemetery.