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Vietnam - Dong Hoi, Dong Ha, DMZ, Hue

Phang Na cave is the biggest cave in Asia. The Viet Cong used it to store men and materiel on the way to the Ho Chi Minh trail. The active branch of the HCM trail is off to the left of this photo, but there isn't really much left of it other than a plaque. Of course, there wasn't much of it but a bicycle track during the war either, so that's not all that surprising. The big rock you see to the right is the sum total of the damage done by a U.S. attempt to shut it down with bombing. I couldn't find out if the small temple off to the right was destroyed and rebuilt, or just missed.
This will show you the general quality of the boat we took. Tourism is pretty slow just now, so the couple that took us out had been waiting six days for this one load of tourists. They work in the fields in the meantime, but they really prefer the boat work, probably because the tip I gave them was several day's wages in the fields.
I remember taking this photo as a kind of "aha" experience. I looked around at the mountains around me, and really felt at home. I wasn't Vietnam so much as being back in the mountains. I made me realize I've spent just about too long in the flatlands.
The DMZ was the scene of of some of the bloodiest fighting of the war. It isn't all that hard to figure out why if you look at the map. The Viet Minh and NVA were just over the border. We took the bus from Phang Na Cave to this area in less than 2 hours. There are still some substantial areas of scorched earth in various parts of the zone, but all we could see was this monument with the ubiquitous HCM image. This was the very first day for cycling, and it was raining so we took the bus that day :(
The citadel at Hue was the old imperial city, and the capital of Vietnam off and on. There was extremely bloody fighting in the citadel during the Tet Offensive in 1968, but a lot of it remains intact including some urns that are among the biggest ever cast in one piece.
The flag here is on one of the guard towers on the outer wall. The imperial city had three levels. The people that manned this level and did any fighting that need to be done weren't even allowed to go inside of the second level, let alone the third.
This mausoleum about 15 km outside of Hue was where coronation and other important imperial ceremonies were carried out.

Photo Courtesy Et Tienne

As you can see, I still compete with the elephant in size so more cycling is obviously required.
This is Thien Mu (Celestial Lady Pagoda), built in 1601. If you remember the magic numbers, the magic number for Buddhism is seven. It's hard to see here but the temple has seven tiers, each of which represents a different incarnation of Buddha. Vietnamese Buddhism is a mix of several brands of Buddhism, with the predominant influences coming over sea from India and over land from China.
This car is associated with one of the most enduring images of the American War. In 1963, the Buddhist master of this temple drove this particular car into Saigon, got out, poured gasoline all over himself and burned himself to death to protest the Diem regime's harsh discriminatory policies against Buddhists. Diem was a power-mad Catholic in a predominantly Buddhist country, so it isn't all that surprising. At that point, Kennedy's "Special War" had been going on for some time, but Vietnam hadn't really entered the American People's conscience. Photos of his bonfire blazed across television screens and newspapers around the world, and is frequently thought of as the signal for the beginning of the end for the Diem regime.