Hero and martyr – that’s what’s inscribed on the gravestones of the unknown soldiers buried in the cemeteries used for those who died in the Vietnam (or seeing as we’re actually in Vietnam now, the American) War. Each unknown soldier gets a grave, although there are some mass graves, for those who died together, known and unknown. This is just one stop on our tour of the Vietnam War DMZ sites. Quang Tri Province encompasses the land area of the former DMZ. It’s home to 72 Martyrs Cemeteries that contain 65,000 graves. Vietnamese government estimates have over 300,000 former North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and Viet Cong (VC) soldiers unaccounted for, out of a total estimate of 1.1 million soldiers killed during the war.
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As a result of the First Indochina War, the Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone was established as a dividing line between North and South Vietnam. It was crucial as a battleground demarcation separating North Vietnamese and South Vietnamese territory during the Second Indochina War (also known as the Vietnam War and, in Vietnam as the American War). This is a guide to the various Vietnam War sites located in and around the old DMZ area and explains how to visit the sites of the Vietnam War DMZ.
BEST WAY TO VISIT
What is the Vietnam War DMZ?
The Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone was established as a dividing line between North and South Vietnam as a result of the First Indochina War from July 1954 to 1976.
The military bases were obliterated by the Americans when they were evacuated, so there isn’t much left here now. To make way for rubber and coffee plantations, much of the land has been cleared. Local war heroes are honored with monuments, and the Truong Son National Cemetery is Vietnam’s largest war cemetery, with over 10,000 graves of Vietnamese soldiers. Dong Ha is the area’s largest city, but the Vietnam DMZ is also accessible by day trip from Hue (read our guide to Hue here) or Da Nang.
How to Visit the Vietnam War DMZ
The Vietnam War (as it is known in the West) shaped the culture of a generation across much of the globe. That is evidenced by the massive amount of war-related films, TV shows, and music. While it may appear a little macabre, it’s understandable that many visitors want to see the places that have left an indelible mark on them.
To visit the Vietnam War DMZ sites you can rent a car or a motorbike and visit independently, or take a local guide to explain the history and significance of the sites. We visited the DMZ sites with a local guide and got a whole lot more out of it than we would have done by visiting just by ourselves.
If you’re interested in more information about the Vietnam War, then our guide to the major Vietnam War Sites is here.
Why You Should Visit the Vietnam DMZ Sites with a Guide
We met Mr. Hoa at Tam’s Cafe in Dong Ha and spent the day with this one-year veteran conscript of the American War. Careful never to mention politics (then or now), he gave us a fascinating insight as we drove through the DMZ for the day. He took us to the remaining American aircraft bunker, still in place after all these years, now hidden away down a back alley in central Dong Ha, then found the bunker on the banks of the river, close to the port created by the American’s and where they landed supply boats from the seven aircraft carriers sitting offshore.
Driving along Highway 9, we passed more cemeteries, where now only reburials take place – bodies continue to be found, and are reburied in these plots next to other Heroes and Martyrs. We stood at the lookout, marked now by a statue of Vietnamese where the Americans watched the border, some kilometers away, at the Ben Hai River.
And then we walked to the river and crossed the reconstructed bridge across this divisive part of Vietnam. It had been destroyed during unification, but a strong tourist influence and a savvy Vietnamese desire to part tourist dollars from tourists saw the reconstruction happen in recent years. Over the river, original speakers stand guard outside the museum, complete with bullet holes, they’re retired forever from broadcasting propaganda across the border.
None of this would have had any context without a guide with local knowledge. So welcome to our guide to the main sites of the Vietnam War DMZ locations. And here are the guides and tours we recommend to ensure that when you visit you get the best out of the area.
The 5 Best Tours of the Vietnam War DMZ Sites
You can, of course, visit most of these DMZ sites independently. However, should you wish to get more out of your trip to Vietnam’s DMZ it’s always better to have a local guide. Here’s our pick of the top Vietnam War DMZ Tours.
Stay in Hue as the best-placed location for visiting these Vietnam War DMZ sites:
The Hue Jade Scene Hotel is our best place to stay in Hue recommendation. It has an outdoor rooftop pool that has gorgeous views over the city. The hotel comes with all regular amenities and is sparklingly clean with super friendly staff and is priced amazingly! It’s a great location with excellent facilities in Hue. You can book a room here.
This one-day visit to the DMZ explores the Church of La Vang, and Dong Ha town, the location of an important US Marine Combat Base. You’ll see the Doc Mieu base, part of an elaborate electronic system intended to prevent infiltration across the DMZ, and then visit the Hien Luong Bridge (Peace Bridge), built from steel by the French in 1950. Then visit the Vinh Moc tunnels complex deep in the Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone. You’ll also get to see the Dakrong Bridge and explore the Ho Chi Minh Trail, which ran from North Vietnam to South Vietnam through neighboring Laos and Cambodia. The tour also visits Rock Pile base and Khe Sanh combat base. Check availability for your dates here.
This walking tour in Hue is a small group activity. Private one-day trip to the DMZ from Hue and you’ll learn about Hue’s role in the war, as experienced by the locals. You’ll get to visit the various museums in Hue that tell the story. It’s available as an early morning or afternoon tour to avoid the heat. Check times and book here.
With a private guide and driver, this DMZ tour from Hue is completely customizable to where you want to visit, but you’ll want to visit the Khe Sanh Combat Base and Vinh Moc Tunnels. A knowledgeable, English-speaking guide provides commentary. It includes pick up and drop off from your hotel in Hue. Get a price for a private tour of the DMZ here.
For a DMZ tour with a difference, you’ll explore the DMZ sites by motorbike. You’ll explore the major sites of the Vietnam DMZ, with a knowledgeable bike driver. See what dates are available here.
This expansive tour of the Vietnam DMZ sites explores the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone), the 17th parallel, Ben Hai River, Hien Luong Bridge, Vinh Moc Tunnel, and Quang Tri Citadel, all influential outposts during the war which became part of the DMZ. You’ll also visit Hue, Hoi An, and My Son (where the bomb craters from the war are also evident). The tour includes the arrangement of a Vietnam Visa approval letter, breakfasts, lunches, and dinners where referenced, and all visit fees for included sites as well as your accommodation for the duration of the DMZ trip. This truly is the most in-depth trip to the DMZ sites in Vietnam.
The XXXX Main Sites of the Vietnam DMZ
While many years have passed since the Vietnam War ended, it’s still possible to visit the major sites of the DMZ area. Here are the major Vietnam DMZ sites, where to find them, and how to visit them.
The legendary maze of old trails was built in 1959 by the North Vietnamese army and named after President Ho Chi Minh—or Uncle Ho—the great Vietnamese Communist leader. The trails linked a series of small routes that began south of Hanoi and ran 1,000 miles down the length of the Truong Son mountain range, crossing into Laos and Cambodia at various points before ending near Da Lat, Lam Dong. They were known as the Truong Son Strategic Supply Route.
During the Vietnam War, the trails became legends for remaining operational in the face of massive American army attacks and they were continually repaired to deliver weapons and supplies to the Vietnamese Communist army. Today these trails sit between peaceful rice terraces, lush green forests, and ethnic villages after more than four decades of change and peace.
The best place to learn more about the Ho Chi Minh Trails is at the museum of the same name in Hanoi. The Ho Chi Minh Trail Museum, located west of Hanoi, is the only museum in Vietnam that has a road in the museum.
- Address of Ho Chi Minh Trail Museum: Km 15, QL6, Yên Nghĩa, Hà Đông District, Hanoi.
- Opening Hours of Ho Chi Minh Trail Museum: Monday – Saturday (07:30 AM – 11:30 AM), Monday – Saturday (01:30 PM – 04:30 PM)
- Entrance Fees for Ho Chi Minh Trail Museum: 20,000VND
There are more things to do in Hanoi in our 2 days in Hanoi itinerary here.
Stay in Hanoi to visit the Ho Chi Minh Trail Museum at the Meritel Hanoi – there’s a rooftop pool, shared lounge, and some seriously good facilities for the money. Rooms are large with fabulously comfortable beds and the showers are superb. Virtually all the rooms come with minibars and the hotel staff is super friendly and helpful. The breakfasts here are fabulous – get a great deal on this Hanoi hotel here.
After you’ve visited the museum you can rent a Motorbike or Scooter: Exploring the Ho Chi Minh Trail on a motorbike is the best way to fully appreciate the beautiful scenery and authenticity of Vietnam. Riding a motorcycle gives you the freedom that you won’t get on a group tour or when taking public transportation, which in this part of the country is pretty basic.
However, finding the trails and areas of significance will be tough, if you prefer to explore the Ho Chi Minh Trail with a guide, then this is a great option for visiting the Ho Chi Minh Trails.
Remember the 1987 film Hamburger Hill, which depicted the assault on Hill 937 through the eyes of American soldiers? This battleground depicted in the film “Hamburger Hill.” is here in Vietnam. In May 1969, US forces and the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) fought over a 900m-high mountain at Hamburger Hill, resulting in the deaths of over 600 North Vietnamese and 72 Americans.
Ap Bia Hill, which rises 937 meters above sea level from Asau Valley in A Luoi town, is known by this name. Without a local guide, finding this former battleground is difficult because it is now covered in waist-high elephant grass, thick bamboo forest, and triple-canopy jungle. When you get there, take a nice hike to the top of the hill to see the war relics and try walking down a North Vietnamese Army tunnel nearby. To see the remaining trenches and bunkers today, you’ll need a special permit (US$25, available only in Aluoi) and a guide. Hamburger Hill is located 8 kilometers northwest of Aluoi, about 6 kilometers off Highway 14, and less than two kilometers from Laos. If you want to visit Hamburger Hill in Vietnam, then this is a great option for doing that.
- Address of Hamburger Hill: The lone peak is located in the dense jungles of Vietnam’s A Shau Valley, about a mile from the Laos border.
Hamburger Hill is located 8 kilometers northwest of Aluoi, about 6 kilometers off Highway 14. The border with Laos is less than 2 kilometers away.
- Visiting Hamburger Hill by bus: Without a car, the best way to get from Vinh to Hamburger Hill (Hill 937) is by bus and taxi, which takes 7 hours and 5 minutes and costs $100 to $140.
- Visiting Hamburger Hill by car: Driving from Vinh to Hamburger Hill (Hill 937) is the cheapest option, costing $30 – $50 and taking 6h 19m.
- The best way to visit Hamburger Hill is with a local guide, who will take you to the right places without any hassle > this is a great way to see Hamburger Hill
This bridge, which spans the Dakrong River 13 kilometers east of the Khe Sanh bus station, was rebuilt in 2001 and bears a plaque commemorating its significance as a conduit for the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The road to Aluoi, which runs southeast from the bridge, was once part of the trail.
This bridge, was an obsession of the US Army during the Vietnam War, as it was one of the main access points to the Ho Chi Minh Trails. The Dakrong Bridge was bombed by the US Air Force as well as being a site for main front fighting, and it was destroyed and rebuilt several times during the conflict. It’s on the way to Khe Sanh Marine Base, so stop for a while, and then continue on to Khe Sanh.
The Dakrong Bridge in Vietnam spans the Dakrong River, which flows through Quang Tri and leads to the Cua Viet Beach. The scenery in this area is breathtaking, with the road winding up the slope on one side and the Dak Rong River valley on the other.
Address of Dakrong Bridge: In Dakrong commune, Dakrong district, Quang Tri province, the Dakrong suspension bridge is located on Ho Chi Minh Road.
The regular DMZ tours do not travel through the valley as much as they could, instead of sticking to Route 9 from Dong Ha. This remote valley can be reached via the Dakrong Bridge on Route 9 or through Aluoi in the Ashau Valley.
The easiest way to visit the Dakrong Bridge is on a day trip from Hue in Central Vietnam. You can arrange this with your hotel or hostel, or take a look at this option for visiting the Dakrong Bridge here.
Khe Sanh, a small mountain town deep inland near the Laos border, served as a Combat Base. One of the bloodiest battles of the Vietnam War took place there in 1968, lasting 77 days. US Special Forces established Khe Sahn in August 1962 and occupied it until December 1966, when the Marines took over and expanded the camp to meet their needs. The Special Forces then moved west, towards the Laotian border and the Lang Vei camp.
Khe Sanh is now one of the most visited war memorials in the country. Khe Sanh is visited on almost every DMZ tour. For over fifteen years, there has been a museum on the site of the old camp area. Now that the majority of the UXO has been cleared, the areas on and around the runway are also accessible. One of Khe Sanh’s veterans is working on a beautiful project called The Peace Garden. American and Vietnamese veterans meet at the former Combat Base to plant trees and put the past behind them.
- Address of Khe Sanh Combat Base: Huong Hoa District, Khe Sanh, Vietnam
- Opening Hours of Khe Sanh Combat Base: 7:00 AM-5:00 PM
- Entrance Fees for Khe Sanh Combat Base: Entrance fee 50.000 VND, parking for free.
Khe Sanh Combat Base is located in Quang Tri Province, 63 kilometers west of Dong Ha City and 20 kilometers east of the Lao Bao Border Gate. The Khe Sanh Combat Base Tour can be easily visited every day as a part of tours starting in Hue City.
The Rockpile (also known as Elliot Combat Base) is a solitary karst rock outcropping north of Route 9 and south of the former Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone, known in Vietnamese as Thon Khe Tri (DMZ). An American reconnaissance team arrived here on July 4, 1966, and realized the significance of this location.
Following that, the US Army established a base here to prevent a North Vietnamese invasion. They could clearly see ships at Dong Hoa port in the east, 26 kilometers away, and the Ghost Mountain range of Laos in the west from where they were standing. From 1966 to 1969, it served as an important observation post and artillery base for the US Army and Marine Corps due to its remote location, which could only be reached by helicopter. From 1970 to 1971, the 3/5 Cav 9th infantry patrolled the rockpile, Dong Ha, and the DMZ.
It rises to an elevation of 230 meters (790 feet) MSL, about 210 meters (690 feet) above the surrounding terrain, near the former South Vietnamese DMZ. From 1966 to 1968, it served as an important observation post and artillery base for the US Army and Marine Corps due to its remote location, which could only be reached by helicopter.
- Address of Rockpile Hill: Located 16 kilometers south of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and 26 kilometers west of Dong Ha base camp.
You’ll pass by the Rockpile hill, which is only 230 meters high and 16 miles (26 kilometers) west of Dong Ha, Quang Tri, on your way to the Vinh Moc Tunnels. The US Marines used it to monitor the environment and track North Vietnamese troops infiltrating South Vietnam through the Vietnam DMZ.
The best way to explore the DMZ Vietnam is to book a Hue DMZ Tour, this is a great option.
6. Ben Hai River and Hien Luong Bridge (17 Latitudinal)
The Geneva Accords of 1954 divided Vietnam into a northern and southern zone along the 17th parallel, making this a significant landmark. The Hien Luong Bridge and the Ben Hai River are two “historical witnesses” who have endured the agony of dividing the country for more than 20 years. They’re near the intersection of National Highway 1A and the Ben Hai River.
Route 9 leads us to the Ben Hai River and Hien Luong, which separated the North and South during the Vietnam War and separated thousands of local families after Vietnam’s victory over France in 1954. Hien Luong Bridge witnessed the conflict between each side during the Vietnam War, but after Vietnam’s victory in 1975, it was transformed into a bridge of reunification, a symbol of national independence and freedom.
The bridge marks the former border between North and South Vietnam from 1954 to 1972, when the North Vietnamese Army captured Dong Ha town in the 1972 Easter Offensive and pushed the border to the Thach Han River in Quang Tri town, some 20 miles south. The bridge was painted in two different colors during Vietnam’s partition. On the north side, there is a monument.
Address of Ben Hai River and Hien Luong Bridge: Hin Luong Bridge spans the Ben Hai River in Vinh Linh District, Quang Tri Province, Vietnam’s North Central Coast.
How to Visit Ben Hai River and Hien Luong Bridge
At Kilometer 735 of Highway No. 1 in DMZ Vietnam, the Hien Luong Bridge spans the Ben Hai River. This bridge connects the villages of Hien Luong and Xuan Hoa in the north and south, respectively. Cua Tung beach is 10 kilometers away in the west.
On the border of North and South Vietnam are the Vinh Moc Tunnels, a massive network of tunnels, is the ruins of a coastal North Vietnamese village that went underground in the face of relentless American bombing. These tunnels were built to protect families from the bombing of the surrounding country during the Vietnam War. People were able to stay safe inside these tunnels after they were completed. They are still standing today and are a popular tourist attraction.
Unlike the more well-known Cu Chi Tunnels, which were used by the military, the tunnels at Vinh Mc were used by civilians. For over six years, approximately 300 people lived and worked underground to avoid American bombers in this multi-tiered system of tunnels. Trips to other popular DMZ sites, such as the base at Khe Sanh, are frequently included as part of a package.
The Vinh Moc Tunnels, like the Cu Chi Tunnels below, are one of the cooler Vietnam destinations to visit, but they are not for the faint of heart. Make sure your guide takes you to the 12 entrances to the tunnel and also the beautiful beach overlooking the South China Sea (East Sea).
- Address of Vịnh Mốc Tunnels: Vĩnh Thạch, Vĩnh Linh District, Quảng Trị, Vietnam
- Opening Hours of Vịnh Mốc Tunnels: 7:00 AM – 5:00 PM
- Entrance Fees for Vịnh Mốc Tunnels: 40,000VND / person
If you travel by private car/van, Vinh Moc is 90 minutes from Dong Hoi City (80 kilometers) or 2 hours from Quang Binh (114 kilometers). More underground tunnels can be found 1.5 hours south of Da Nang in Tam Ky town.
Rent a Vehicle: The village of Ho Xa is 6.5 kilometers north of the Ben Hai River, where the Vinh Moc turn-off is located. Follow this road for 13 kilometers east. Between Phong Nha (our guide to Phong Nha is here ) /Dong Hoi and Hue, Vietnam, tourist shuttle buses run, after which you can take a taxi to Vinh Moc and the Ben Hai River.
We explored the Vinh Moc Tunnels with our guide and it truly made it a more worthwhile experience.
Where to stay to visit the Vinh Moc Tunnels: The best location to stay to get to the Vinh Moc tunnels is Dong Ha – the Hoa Phuong Guesthouse is a great option here. They don’t see many Western tourists here, but you’ll get a good welcome and there are some good local places to eat nearby. You can book a room here.
We visited the Route 9 National Soldier cemetery on Highway 9 while taking a tour with the fabulous Mr. Hoa, himself an American War veteran, albeit through conscription and only for the last year of the war. The Vietnamese are pragmatic about where their war dead are buried, (only in a small number of cases are the dead repatriated to their hometown) this cemetery is for those who died along Highway 9.
This cemetery is a somber sight, as it is a deeply evocative memorial to the legions of North Vietnamese soldiers who died along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The world’s largest martyr cemetery, with graves of volunteer youth and soldiers who helped build and protect the legendary Ho Chi Minh Trail during the American War. More than 10,000 graves are scattered across these hillsides, each marked by a simple white tombstone bearing the inscription martyr.
A separate area contains the gravestones of 13 war heroes, including two women. All other soldiers are buried in five zones based on where they came from in Vietnam, with each zone subdivided into provinces. They would have been buried near where they were killed during the war, but after the war, their remains were moved here or to one of the other four national cemeteries. Many graves, however, are empty, with only names – a small fraction of Vietnam’s 300,000 soldiers missing in action.
- Address of Truong Son National Cemetery: Vĩnh Trường, Gio Linh, Quảng Trị, Vietnam
- Opening Hours of Truong Son National Cemetery: 6:00 AM – 6:00 PM
The Truong Son National Cemetery is 27 kilometers northwest of Dong Ha, and the Highway 1 exit is close to Doc Mieu. The cemetery is located on the southern side of the Ben Hai River, eight miles north of Dong Ha. Visitors almost always fly into Hue (the nearest airport) from Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi, then take the bus to Dong Ha (1 hour, 30 minutes). If you’re flying in via Hanoi, then our guide to the best things to do in Hanoi is here.
The easiest way to visit the Truong Son National Cemetery is to take a guide from Hue.
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Final Words on visiting the DMZ area in Vietnam
The Demilitarized Zone, or DMZ, in Vietnam was a 10-kilometer-wide strip of land that ran roughly parallel to the 17th parallel from Laos to the China South Sea. Following the end of the First Indochina War in 1954, it was used to divide North and South Vietnam. Many of the war-related relics have been destroyed or reclaimed by the jungle, but if you take a savvy guide with you you’ll be able to understand a lot more and discover the DMZ sites of the Vietnam War.
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