Doing the DMZ from Hue

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First published 26th November, 2006

The Vietnam War was one of the defining events of the second half or the twentieth century. No matter where you live in the world, you're bound to be aware of the impact that conflict had on culture and society. No matter what you believe, that belief has been inevitably shaped by the lessons learned, and not learned, as well as the lives lost, and the lives forever changed by that one, singular event.

No surprise, then, that many a tourist ventures to travel in Vietnam seeking to better understand that pivotal juncture in modern history.

As did we. While staying in Hue, we decided to do what most travellers would do, and booked a US$9, one-day tour of the DMZ. A day rife with the promise of penetrating insight, emotional drama, and coming to terms with a complicated past.

DMZ tours out of Hue begin at 06:00. At least, that's when they tell you to get up and start waiting for the bus to arrive. If you're at the end of the route, it may show up as late as 07:00. We were picked up at 06:15 and were driven around Hue for 45 minutes picking up other tourists until the bus was full to bursting.

We then drove to Dong Ha. That took two more hours. We saw absolutely, positively nothing DMZ-related on the way. We arrived in Dong Ha and stopped for breakfast at the Mekong Hotel. Breakfast was unexceptional, but complimentary, so we ate our bread and cheese without complaint. After an half an hour, back in the bus, and the tour was finally under way.

We headed out to the Khe Sanh Marine Base. A half-hour later, four hours after our 'call time,' we finally saw something -- a big rock -- The Rockpile. Our guide explained that it was an important and strategic lookout post during the war. Of course, now it's just a very big rock. We stopped for ten minutes there, so we could take pictures. Of the very big rock.

The Rockpile in Vietnam's DMZ

Back on the bus, we toiled uphill for a bit more. The air-con was turned off to add power to the engine, so we were sweltering. Our next stop: the Ho Chi Minh Trail. We stopped at the entrance to a bridge on the water. On the other side, we were informed, was the Ho Chi Minh trail. It was paved now, and was the Ho Chi Minh Highway. We took pictures of the bridge. Some people walked across the bridge to look at the macadam road where the Ho Chi Minh Trail used to be. After ten minutes, back on the bus.

At about 11:00 we arrived at the former site of the US base at Khe Sanh. On exhibit were a crashed airplane, two crashed helicopters, a collection of heavy artillery shells, a big gun, and a bunker. At the centre of this display, a small museum. It featured a small exhibit of pictures, emphasizing how the Americans fled in panic from Khe Sanh, some small artefacts left behind by American and Vietnamese soldiers and some recovered weaponry. There was also diorama depicting the tribal peoples' contribution to the effort, ferrying modern weaponry and supplies to needy troops on the front lines, using ancient technologies like thatched bamboo baskets, and defending themselves with bows and arrows. This was actually kind of interesting. We got a little choked up looking at the exhibit. Then, back on the bus.

War detritus and the Ho Chi Minh trail in Vietnam's DMZ

We returned to the Mekong Hotel, arriving at 12:15, for lunch. It was not included in the price of the tour. It took a long time for everyone to be served, and the food was mediocre when it came. Smart travellers skipped it altogether and found a noodle stand nearby. At 13:00, we departed for the Vinh Moc Tunnels.

On the way, we crossed the Ben Hai River. The river is important because it is the dividing line between north and south Vietnam. But now, it's just a river. All that remained of whatever fortifications had been employed during the war was a single bunker on the north side. Also, there was a monument under construction, a memorial to the war, surrounded by bulldozers busy at work.

And then back on the bus. An hour later, finally, the Vinh Moc Tunnels. As we entered the grounds leading up to the tunnel we realised, despite running a gauntlet of aggressive hawkers trying to ply us with overpriced bottles of water, that after eight hours spent mostly on the bus and in the Mekong Hotel cafeteria, we had finally come to the one place worth visiting on the DMZ tour.

The Vinh Moc tunnels are an amazing achievement of human toil and engineering. With little else at their disposal but cunning and determination, the Vietnamese had constructed the tunnels to provide shelter from regular bombings by American planes. During the war, people lived in here, men and women fell in love, got married, and had babies here, children were educated in the dark narrow passageways, and wounded soldiers were cared for and nurtured back to health. Looking at the tunnels, it was easy to understand why this small, beleaguered nation could take on the greatest military power on the planet and win.

The Vinh Moc Tunnels in Vietnam's DMZ

And then back on the bus for the long, tedious ride back to Hue. To paraphrase, like war itself, our DMZ tour was marked by long periods of mindless boredom punctuated by brief moments of emotional intensity. But by the time we returned to Hue at 18:00, twelve hours from the start of our journey, we couldn't help but think: there's gotta be a better way to tour the DMZ.

And, indeed, there is.

The DMZ can be toured by car or motorbike. You can do this on your own, or with a guide. A car-tour out of Hue will cost about US$70 a day, but if you can afford it, it will give you the ability to pick and choose what sights you want to see, and control how long you want to hang around at a given site.

The best option is to go to Dong Ha first, which is the best launching-off point for tours of the DMZ. You'll spend six of the twelve hours you spend on the group tour just driving here and back, so it makes a lot of sense to just show up here on your own. This works best if you plan to hire a driver for a motorcycle tour. You can drive around on your own, but no one in Dong Ha rents motorbikes anymore. They say this is for safety reason, but it also conveniently forces tourists to use a guide. If you want to tour the DMZ by motorbike on your own, you'll have to drive it in from either Dong Hoi or Hue.

In either case, we recommend that you stop in at the DMZ Cafe in Dong Ha and speak to Mr. Tinh. He's got all the information and contacts you'll need to put together your own DMZ tour according to what interests you, and he can hook you up with a guide if you like -- we met some good ones on our visit, but it makes sense to spend some time talking to the guide first to get a sense of how well he speaks English and how knowledgeable he is about the sites. Prices are negotiable, but the average day-long tour seems to be going for about US$15 per person these days.

Doing the tour on your own will cost a bit more and may entail an overnight in Dong Ha, but it's definitely worth the time and expense.

More information

DMZ sites covered on Travelfish

DMZ Cafe
88 Le Duan St, Dong Ha
T: (053) 857 026;(09) 13 427 401

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Read 24 comment(s)

  • We went on a DMZ tour with DMZ cafe today and it was excellent. We read the above review and a few others which said that the DMZ tour by bus from Hue was terrible.

    We decided to try Mr Tinh at the DMZ cafe so gave him a call, he said to come in and he would be happy to organise. We caught the early local train from Hue to Dong Ha. It is extremely early (5.30am!) but the costs just 17000 dong (US$1) and was actually quite fun, it was also nice to look at the scenery out of the window as the sun was rising.

    We called Mr Tinh from the station and he came and picked us up and took us to the DMZ cafe, a run down looking guest house which is his office. We were introduced to Mr Dien who worked as a translater for General Westmorland. There were two of us so in addition to him we also had another guy to ride the other motorbikes.

    The actual DMZ zone is largely empty because everything was levelled by the US army when they left and anything left was sold as scrap by locals in the following years. The Vinh Moc tunnels are a must however.

    What is brilliant is that you can really get a feel for what is was like because you are being talked through it by somebody who was actually there. Mr Dien was totally open to questions and extremely knowledgeable and understanding. I cannot imagine trying to go and see some of these things with a college student "guide" who really has no connection to the war.

    I would recommend the DMZ cafe tour to anyone but make sure you get the right DMZ cafe because there are the usual copycats in the area.

    Posted by Dan Keith on 21st March, 2009

  • MrTrung who working in minhcoco restaurant add 3 hung vuong street or you and me restaurant 38 tran cao van street hanphone 0905376140 or email good tour guide dmz or city tour

    Posted by Mr Trung on 14th June, 2009

  • We were in Hue on June 19, and went to see the DMZ by minivan, with Mr. Trung. I and my wife and kids, along with him and his driver, left at 8 am, went to about 10 different sites, and stopped for lunch in Dong Ha. We returned to Hue around 5 or 6pm. (I can't quite remember) I can honestly say I learned more in that one day about the Vietnam war, Vietnamese history and culture, and lots more, than I learned in the five months reading up on Vietnam to prepare for my trip. He is a veteran of the war, so he shared many personal stories with us. He answered every single question we put to him, and we asked ALOT! My kids loved him, and my wife, a practicing Buddhist, quizzed him about Buddhism in Vietnam. The following day, we went with him again, this time to several pagodas around the city of Hue, to meet the monks and watch a praying ceremony, and Mr. Trung also brought us to some more local war sites right near the city. We were convinced, and booked him again, to see Ghost City. After having gone on several very disappointing tours in Vietnam, we want to very highly recommend this man. We found him at the YOu and Me Cafe at 38 Tran Cao Van, just off the main street, called Hung Vung. (That was a great find too, the food was great, and the staff just doted on our kids.)
    One last note, the Vinh Moc Tunnels in the DMZ are a lot more worth visiting than Cu Chi in the South, so if you only have time for one, go to the DMZwith Mr. Trung, like we did!

    Posted by Sanda Brite on 24th June, 2009

  • I would recommend the Stop 'N Go cafe for tours of the area. Mr. Thien is an excellent, knowledgeable tour guide and is very flexible and accommodating. He speaks English extremely well and has been living in Hue all his life, so he is a great source for all kinds of information about Central Vietnam. I would highly recommend the motorbike tours - I had a blast and couldn't imagine a complete Vietnam trip without it!

    Oh, here is the website for the Stop 'N Go Cafe:

    Posted by Miss Le on 2nd July, 2009

  • Excellent, excellent, excellent!!! We came to vietnam in '08 and found the stop and go cafe thru rough guide. We did a tour of the DMZ with them and were so impressed we brought a friend back in '09 for the exact same tour. The staff are awesome. Some of the friendliest and most helpful we've met on our travels thru south east asia. Our guide, Mr Ahn, is a wealth of personal knowledge and information of the DMZ and vietnam war. For an emotional and amazing way to experience the DMZ, it is highly recommended. Thank you to everyone at Stop and Go, you are all brilliant!! NB address has changed to 25 Tran Cao Van St, Hue. Email address

    Posted by Jennifer on 4th July, 2009

  • Hello,
    my husband and I were in Vietnam and Thailand from Dec. 08 to June 09. We consulted every travel guide possible before hitting the road. I have to say, the recommendations I found on Travelfish have been the most helpful. For the DMZ tour, We tried to call Mr. Tinh, after reading the comment, above, and we couldn't get in touch with him. Then we tried, the next suggestion, a man called Trung. We are SO glad we did! We had such a fab time! We travelled in a car, leaving at 8 am, and returning at about 6 pm. He brought us to a great little place by the sea for lunch, not far from the Vinh Moc Tunnels.Those tunnels were the star of the whole trip! We went to about 10 other sites as well, and really got a feel for what it must have been like for the soldiers on both sides, during the war. We learned so much from him, and he even invited us to his home the next evening, for a family dinner, cooked by his wife and daughter. They fed us course after course of great Hue food, til we couldn't eat any more! And they kept the beer flowing too! For the tour, he charged us $80 US, which may sound like a lot, compared to going on the bus tour for about $20, but we were really glad we chose him, because we did a lot of driving, about 300 km in total, and also, it was great to have the private tour. We stayed at the Truong Son Cemetary for about an hour, and at the Tunnels for even longer, and I was told by other travellers that they were pushed to get back on the bus after just 15 to 20 minutes. We got to see the Con Tien American firebase, which is not even on the bus tour. Plus, we weren't crowded in with 20 or more other people, which would make the Tunnels all too claustrophobic. In fact, we only saw three other people inside.

    This tour was worth every penny! We contacted Mr. Trung with the email given above by Sandra Brite,
    and we found him on Facebook, too, which is great, because we were able to see pictures of his tour. Mr. Trung really made us feel like family, and as for the DMZ, it was WAY more interesting than the Cu Chi Tunnels, near Saigon, which had a kind of inauthentic, touristy feel to it. We came away with a much better understanding of the Vietnam war, which filled the tv screens when we were growing up, yet was so distant. The DMZ was possibly the single most heavily bombed area in all of the country, and so many people lost their lives there. When you visit the stretch of highway called the "Highway of Horrors", it looks like any other stretch of road in Vietnam. When you hear the disturbing story behind the name, you feel shocked, and you wonder why you haven't heard about this place before. We all heard about the Tet offensive of 1968, but did you know about the Easter Offensive? You will learn about it on this stretch of highway. So poignant, and so disturbing. This is one of many sites where there may not be much to see now, but when you stand on the very spot, and hear about what happened there, you feel so very moved. Furthermore, you feel indignant, and you feel something more, beyond words...
    We learned about the Macnamara line, the Doc Mieu base where it was controlled from, the unknow soldirs buried at the national cemetary, the Tonkin Gulf incident that may have started the whole thing, the Ho Chi Minh Trail...and so much more...I could continue writing and writing...The Ben Hai River, for example, mentioned briefly by Travelfish in the above article, was the dividing line between the North and South, demarcating the 17th parallel, following the Geneva Accord. You can still see the loudspeakers on both sides, used to broadcast propaganda, and you can see the borderguard-house, and museum. Not mentioned above, you can also see the Hien Luong Bridge, which Mr. trung informed us, crossed the river and one half belonged to the North and was painted, you guessed it, red. The Southern half was painted yellow. There is also a memorial statue there, loaded with symbolism.
    The DMZ is a MUST-SEE

    Posted by tina ross on 24th July, 2009

  • We did the tour yesterday with Bill and had a wonderful time. Thank you!A far far better way to see the DMZ – and one only a trickle of visitors seem to be aware of – is by a PRIVATE TOUR led by South Vietnamese vets from either Hue’s Stop & Go Café .These crusty vets have personal knowledge of the day-to-day life during the war, and can tap into a side of things that get no voice in Vietnam. They also access two fascinating sites that the bus tour don’t reach .

    STOP & GO CAFÉ tel:3827051; 25 Tran Cao Van St, Hue)
    DMZ tours by motorbike/car are US$16/60 including veteran guides , entrance fees **New address here; edited October 2008**

    Posted by Murray on 27th July, 2009

  • Excellent! I come from Australia when get to Hue I want to do a different thing in Vietnam not only in the Bus, Airplane or Hotel but I want really experience the life of the locals. So I get to Hue and are finding the suitable way I met my friend and he tolk me Mr Binh in Hue he is a legend, he had do the tour in centre of Vietnam with him by a specal motorbike Minsk which is considered as AK47 in the street of VN which nearly disappare in VN. I do all tour in centre with him DMZ tour, Hue city tour and travel to Hoian. I was completly sastified with him not only the knowlegde but also adtitude, the Bike. I strong reccommend the tourist should do the tour with him to know what is real Vietnam. You can visit his website: Or call: 0935441619 Email:

    Posted by William on 22nd October, 2009

  • I found this post very useful and will definitely consult with the website again before we get to Hue. However, is it just me or does the previous post by "William" from Australia seem to be more about a Vietnamese pérson trying to advertise himself rather than a genuine traveller?? Perhaps William's real name is Mr. Binh from Hue? Anybody agree?

    Posted by Dave on 5th January, 2010

  • We did a DMZ tour with Cafe on Thu Wheels and it was great. Our guide was good and spoke excellent English. We decided to take a private car. There were 4 of us and it cost 1,600,000 Dong total. The people at Cafe on Thu Wheels are great. We ate every meal here. Great food and great prices. This was by far the cheapest private DMZ tour we could find. We looked at 5 different places including DMZ cafe. DMZ Cafe tours were about $8-10 more than the one offered at Cafe on Thu Wheels.

    Cafe On Thu Wheels
    10/2 Nguyen Tri Phuong Street
    Hue, Vietnam
    Tel.: 054.832241

    Posted by mifox2 on 24th March, 2010

  • We wanted to see the dmz but didn't fancy a 6am start on a crowded bus and uninformed guides. We found this article and visited mr. Trung at you and me cafe restaurant at 38 tran cao van. We are glad we did as mr. Trung made sure we had an excellent time the next day.

    He offers 3 tours of varying distances And prices, we chose no.2 which took us down most of highway 9 and all of highway 1. He asks for 80 and we paid 75 (excluding tip) it was worth the extra money as he is so well informed and friendly. He picked us up at 8.30 in a private car and we spent all day exploring the dmz.

    Hearing his opinions and first hand experiences is what this tour is all about, he calls it the history and memory tour, and this is certainly a pertinent name. As everyone else in this article has said, it is well worth the money especially when you see the government tour buses crammed full and see people in the tunnels struggling to hear their guide.

    Thank you travelfish for putting us in touch with mr. Trung, and thank you mr. Trung for an excellent and informative day.

    Posted by James and kiera on 4th April, 2010

  • After reading all of the above reviews, we decided to try Mr. Trung. We also found him, as per someone's review above, on Facebook, and communicated with him there. We had called and emailed around to a few other guides and services first, but after asking Mr. Trung quite a few questions, we liked his prices, and liked the fact that he was willing to organize the itinerary according to what we wanted to see. Being claustrophobic, we thought we would skip the tunnels, but after speaking to him about it, we decided to go anyway - it was a good decision, as there is a really informative museum there, and we spent half an hour walking around and looking at the different entrances into the tunnels. Mr. trung also introduced us to someone who had actually spent some time living in there, as a child. He is mute, but very expressive, and we ended up going in after all, with him along too. The war cemetary was very moving,as was the Catholic church, which underwent a bombing siege for most of a month. We paid $75 for two of us to go in a private car with a driver. We were picked up at our hotel, La Residence (comfortable, and lovely view from our window), and dropped off again there, at about 5 pm. Lunch was in Dong Ha, and wasn't included in the tour price. All the entrance prices were included, which was nice. All in all, we found the tour highly recommendable, we were completely satisfied with our guide, found the driver to be above average. (we have had some hair-raising experiences with Vietnamese taxi and bus drivers - Mr. Trung's driver must have learned to drive in Europe.) We also really enjoyed our stay in Hue City, and are looking forward to returning in about a month.

    Posted by Dan Wizer on 21st April, 2010

  • I must add my recommendation of Mr Trung's tour. As others have noted, there's really no point in visiting the sites around Hue without a good guide to explain the history and context; Mr Trung did an excellent job of this. He gave a detailed, fascinating, and even handed description of the lead up to the war, the battles around Hue, the wider military and political context, and what he went through as an officer in the South Vietnamese army. I learned a great deal from his descriptions, and he showed evidence of military knowledge (types of weapon used, etc) well beyond my ability to sensibly question further.

    Before the war, he was undergoing university training as a teacher, and this skill is very evident - he has a great sense of narrative and theatre, and builds on knowledge acquired at the previous sites as the day progresses, to give a clear overall story.

    One more thing: I left my hat in the car. When I called him the next day to ask about it, Mr Trung rang the driver, who found it on the floor and got it back to me in less than 30 minutes!

    Posted by Bertie Wooster on 18th July, 2010

  • We went on a DMZ daytrip through Stop 'n Go cafe and it was great! Our guide Anh was excellent and had personal stories about his experiences in the area which gave the tour a whole new dimension! The driver Bi is also worth mentioning for his safe driving and jokes =)

    Posted by Jimmy on 13th December, 2010

  • Hue city

    if you want to get the DMZ tour from Hue, pls contact this guide for more imformation 84 0973160789

    Posted by vovanlam83 on 4th January, 2012

  • DIEMO is a Vietnam and German joint-venture company and this name DIEMO is the combination from the Vietnam name Cong Ty TNHH DIEM BINH MINH and the German name Die "MORGENROETE" GmbH.The German tranlation of DIEM BINH MINH is Die "MORGENROETE" and this means the Diem's Dawn Ltd.

    DIEMO is the bridge between Viet Nam and Germany. The joint owner Ralf Miethe received his geological diploma at the TU-Berlin/ Germany and the most special thing is that we can explain any hard questions about of all landcapes in Viet Nam.

    DIEMO was founded in the summer of the year 2010 and is the first and the only one Viet Nam company with a special kind of rental service.You can rent a bike without driver and guide at one of our offices for discovering Viet Nam country. You can return it at one of our offices such as HaNoi, Hue, DaNang, HoiAn, NhaTrang,DaLat, BienHoa/DongNai, Vung Tau and HoChiMinh city (SaiGon).

    Everybody has a dream and our task is to realize it. The amazing landscape of Viet Nam are more than adventurous place. There are places to dream and if you will open your heart you can see and feel it, the power of nature.

    We are importing our vehicles directly from the manufacturer.

    DIEMO ist ein vietnamesisches- deutsches Joint- Venture- Unternehmen und der Name ist eine Kombination von DIEM BINH MINH Co.,Ltd und der deutschen Ãœbersetzung DIEMS MORGENROETE Co.,GmbH.

    DIEMO steht für,besser ist die Brücke zwischen Viet Nam und Deutschland.

    Der Mitinhaber und Generalmanager Ralf Miethe erhielt sein Geologie-Diplom an der TU-Berlin,daher ist es uns eine besondere Freude sämtliche Fragen zur Entstehung dieser märchenhaften Landschaften von Viet Nam zu erklären.

    we are the only one company in Vietnam has a big Motor for rent .
    for imformation pls check on the website:

    Posted by vovanlam83 on 4th January, 2012

  • You will have chance to come back Quang Tri former battlefield with HIGHTWAY 9, DARKRONG BRIDGE, HO CHI MINH TRAIL, A CONSITENT VINH MOC TUNNEL which was especially underground build. KHE SANH, TAKON AIRPORT. Besides, it also has historical relics such as: CON TIEN, DOC MIEU, BEN HAI RIVER, and HIEN LUONG BRIDGE, where left the hard sorrow of the country separated one time.

    This is the best opportunity for you to enjoy DMZ Tour with the extraordinary, thorough, whole-hearted, joyful and pleasant services with air-conditioned bus; whole–hearted guide staff, safe driver and the professional DMZ Tour organization staff in Hue.with Diemo travel they can do the group tour or Motorbike tour for you.

    Posted by huemotorrider on 4th February, 2012

  • fyi

    Posted by SAM on 28th September, 2012

  • I wish I had seen this yesterday - we just got off this tour tonight. Farsical!!!!!!
    The only thing that has changed in 7 years is that now you habe breakfast in Hue, then drive around picking other people up- we were picked up at 6am - only to return to our hotel at 7.20am to get more people!!!!!
    The tour guide didnt get on until the mekong hotel, and didnt accompany us once outside the bus, she had memorised huge chunks of information and her English pronunciation was so unclear.

    Posted by Andrea McMillan on 16th April, 2013

  • I wish I had seen this yesterday - we just got off this tour tonight. Farsical!!!!!!
    The only thing that has changed in 7 years is that now you habe breakfast in Hue, then drive around picking other people up- we were picked up at 6am - only to return to our hotel at 7.20am to get more people!!!!!
    The tour guide didnt get on until the mekong hotel, and didnt accompany us once outside the bus, she had memorised huge chunks of information and her English pronunciation was so unclear.

    Posted by Andrea McMillan on 16th April, 2013

  • I wish I had seen this yesterday - we just got off this tour tonight. Farsical!!!!!!
    The only thing that has changed in 7 years is that now you habe breakfast in Hue, then drive around picking other people up- we were picked up at 6am - only to return to our hotel at 7.20am to get more people!!!!!
    The tour guide didnt get on until the mekong hotel, and didnt accompany us once outside the bus, she had memorised huge chunks of information and her English pronunciation was so unclear.

    Posted by Andrea McMillan on 16th April, 2013

  • I wish I had seen this yesterday - we just got off this tour tonight. Farsical!!!!!!
    The only thing that has changed in 7 years is that now you habe breakfast in Hue, then drive around picking other people up- we were picked up at 6am - only to return to our hotel at 7.20am to get more people!!!!!
    The tour guide didnt get on until the mekong hotel, and didnt accompany us once outside the bus, she had memorised huge chunks of information and her English pronunciation was so unclear.

    Posted by Andrea McMillan on 16th April, 2013

  • I wish I had seen this yesterday - we just got off this tour tonight

    Posted by Travel Swop on 3rd March, 2014

  • Thank you for your information, i have plan to visit DMZ in Viet Nam on April 2015. Hope we have a good trip when we stay there

    Posted by John200885 on 19th January, 2015

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