The DMZ near Hue

Anyone interested in Vietnam's twentieth century history who's visiting Hue or Da Nang should definitely make a trip by the Demilitarized Zone, or the DMZ of Vietnam. There, visitors can still see Camp Carroll, one of the largest bases of the US Marine Corps; the Truong Son National Cemetery, which is the official Vietnamese war cemetery; the Vinh Moc Tunnels, where an entire village tried to wait out the war; and much more.

History of Vietnam's DMZ

Shortly after World War II, the French entered into the French Indochina War, also known as the First Indochina War or, in Vietnam, the Anti-French Resistance War. During WWII, Vietnam had been occupied by Japanese forces, but the Vietminh had successfully resisted them. By the end of WWII, the communist Vietminh forces, led by communist leader Ho Chi Minh, were looking forward to an independent, communist Vietnam.

The French pushed back, attempting to reassert authority over what they considered their colony. Ho Chi Minh turned to the Soviet Union for weapons and resources to fight the French; the French and British turned to the United States. The French Indochina War began – the first of many wars to come that were fought indirectly between the Soviet Union and the United States.

The French Indochina War ended in 1954, when the French realized they would never be able to completely defeat the communist forces. Vietnam was divided into North Vietnam, which was communist-run, and South Vietnam, which was a pro-western republic. The DMZ was the strip of land between the two, attempting to create a buffer between the two hostile states. It didn't last long. By 1956, communists in South Vietnam were attempting to overthrow the government with the North's help. The Americans started pouring resources – and eventually troops – into the area. The bloody and devastating Vietnam War began.

The DMZ Today

Pen WarToday, the DMZ is mostly a tourist attraction. The Americans didn't take all their weaponry with them when they left, so rusted-out artillery and tanks can still be found lurking about the DMZ today, fossilized reminders of an all-too recent past.

The Vinh Moc Tunnels are one of the most interesting spots to visit within the DMZ. Caught in the crossfire between North and South, the Vinh Moc village made the decision to move their home underground. For more than two years, three hundred people lived inside the three-level tunnels. Visitors can still tour the inside of the tunnels, which are unchanged except for a few reinforcements. If you're claustrophobic, you might want to skip this part of the DMZ tour.

A day trip to the DMZ on a guided tour is the best way to see the area. Trips leave from Dong Ha, a city on the DMZ's coast. Dong Ha is accessible from either Hue or Da Nang, and once you're there it will be easy to find an inexpensive trip into the DMZ.

In sum, the DMZ is an interesting place to visit for history fans, but it's not an elegant place, nor a joyous one. The DMZ is a visual, still fresh reminder of the Cold War that divided most of the world's nations for far too long in the twentieth century.