Monday, April 29, 2013


Unexploded bombs, aka unexploded ordinance (UXO) on display in Khe Sanh near Highway 9

There’s been an explosion.

I’m on Highway 9 close to the former DeMilitarized Zone, and due to the blast, traffic has completely stopped in both directions. Everyone’s looking off to the south side of the road, where there’s a big cloud of smoke and dust.

Oh no.

Has there been another casualty from an old unexploded artillery shell? Or did a truck roll over an old anti-tank mine? Sadly, more than a hundred of these incidents from old war explosives happen in Vietnam every year.

Fortunately, that’s not the case. There was an explosion all right,
Dangerous unexploded munitions are still found in these foreboding hills around Highway 9
but it was from a rock and gravel company situated right by the highway. They were blasting to loosen rock for construction. A large dust cloud hangs in the air at the base of a steep, bare cliff. Traffic was stopped in case the resulting landslide was larger than they expected, and threatened the highway traffic.

The rock slide dust gradually dissipates, and traffic starts up again. I remember back when I used to work in Afghanistan, where old unexploded war munitions were often used to fashion explosive charges for quarrying. I wonder if that was what happened here. In any case, it’s good to know that this was an explosion aimed at progress, not for destruction. Still, any explosion is unnerving,
Dakrong Bridge, seen from a distance
especially near the old DMZ.

Heading back to Dong Ha along Highway 9, we pass other construction businesses, such as gravel, lumber and brick making. There’s even heavy construction equipment and earthmovers. I see most are Japanese made, but there are Caterpillar earthmovers too. It’s good to see the American market is finding business here.

Heading east towards the coast, we come to the most visible sign of modern progress around, the Dakrong Bridge. This was once the site of a primitive supply bridge over the Quang Tri River. Starting in 1973 the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) used it to take military supplies and troops into the highlands. Once a mud track, this route south has been built into the Ho Chi Minh Highway; a fitting name since it was on the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

The Dakrong Bridge that replaced it was built with aid from Cuba after the war. Showing the quality of communist workmanship, it later collapsed. But it was rebuilt and still stands today. The current version is a cable stay bridge, with radiating cable supports reaching down from tall concrete pillars. In this poor post-war province, it’s the most modern piece of infrastructure on all of Highway 9.

Since the way the Vietnamese economy is booming these days, I wonder if the Vietnamese government is now giving aid back to the Cubans!

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