It’s a bus. Not just a bus, but a steaming hot bus, loaded with twenty-five breathing, sweating human bodies and rigged with a broken air conditioning system. It’s been driving for twelve hours and has no stop in sight. All any of its unfortunate passengers can hope for is that they don’t stop at the Hanh Cafe’ again. All they want is for the tour to end, to bring the bus to a halt and find a room somewhere with air conditioning. Welcome to the wonderful world of Hanh Cafe’ Tours!
In our brief stay in the city of Hue, we decided to head out to one of the main attractions in the area, the DMZ tour. This tour offered to take us to the Demilitarized Zone, the old border between North and South Vietnam. Here we could view parts of the Ho Chi Minh trail, go underground and see the tunnels where an average Vietnamese citizen would have lived during the turbulent war years, to the river that separated the north and south, and an old battlefield. It seemed like it would be an interesting opportunity to view some parts of the country that had once been a war-zone and a good chance to catch up on some Vietnamese history. The tour definitely accomplished the previous but it took a road no one wants to go on to get there. When we booked the tour from the very nice men at the hotel, they told us that the bus was fully air conditioned and brand new. When it came to pick us up, we saw it was quite old (tearing seats, old curtains, missing parts), and the AC didn’t work, like at all, whatsoever, and the bus was fully packed. So our first stop was a cafeteria-type restaurant in a small town near the DMZ where we were supposed to have breakfast. We were in a rather pleasant mood, despite the short bus ride, and we ordered our food. We dug in when it arrived. After what was maybe five seconds of chewing, everyone simultaneously looked up at each other. It was one of those things were you knew exactly what the person across from you was thinking without talking. “Is your fried egg really as bad as my tasteless baguette?” “Wow, this chicken soup tastes like fish!” “This can’t be real beef!” These were just a few of the thoughts going through our minds. We soon left the restaurant, but our fate was not much better on the bus. It was burning hot and our guide was overbearing and moralizing. I entered into a brief sleep with the aid of my iPod but this didn’t last long. We stopped at a bridge with a small monument to the Ho Chi Minh Trail. I won’t write too much about the following since my mom already covered it in her post. We were supposed to walk around for fifteen minutes but of course our tour guide moved us back into the steamy bus after 5. We moved on to the next stop, a bridge that separated the North and South. Again we were hustled away by our tour guide too early to really get any feel for what the significance of the area was.
We stopped at the Khe San base and walked around. We looked at the testaments of the war: broken down helicopters, tanks and bunkers. We were once again moved into the van and resumed our torture. We turned around for lunch and much to our surprise, we ended up at the same cafe where we had eaten before! This time we had to pay for our meal and it was just as terrible as the first. We looked down at the food we had payed way too much for, sighed, and began to eat. We joked about how bad the food, service, and karaoke downstairs was. That may be the only reason any of us stayed sane throughout. We were off to our last stop, the tunnels. This was the best of our experiences during the DMZ tour and proved to be very educational. We went to a museum that gave a brief history of why the people had moved into the tunnels, how they built them, and how they lived in them. Then came the real experience. We moved down into the tunnels themselves. We were in the very tunnels in which hundreds of Vietnamese had lived during the time when their old homes were being blasted to the ground. Inside the tunnels, which went down to over 100 feet below ground, there were watch posts, family rooms, and even a birthing room and nursery. The Vietnamese had managed to create an underground society that had all the basic necessities of life.
We trekked through the caves for quite some time and all the while were followed by a retarded man who was carrying some bamboo sticks for the little kids. We got out and entered into the daylight. The man gave Kieran and Asher their sticks back, which of course they couldn’t take on the bus. We bought some sodas and chugged them down. Then as could be expected, we were crammed into the AC deprived bus and shuttled off. We headed for home and I put on my iPod and went to sleep. What a day, what a hot, smelly, dehydrating, bad food ridden, educational day.