Bright and early – without breakfast – we headed back to the HCMC airport, this time to the domestic terminal. Like most domestic terminals, it was a bit older and a bit more chaotic than the international one, but everything went smoothly. We found breakfast right next to the shopping area. And by mid-morning we were in Dong Hoi, in the former North Vietnam (a place I never expected to be before this trip!). This is a regional town – so things are much calmer, more peaceful, more like home than the hurly-burly of a crowded city, where the motor scooters outnumber trucks and cars by 30:1.
We stopped for lunch at a floating seafood restaurant. The fishing boats were tied up on one side and the fish farm pontoon was on the other. The food was delicious, and very different from the south.
Afterwards we drove south along the former Route 1, the French built road connecting Saigon to Hanoi. It is now paved, and something of an adventure: one makes one’s own passing lane, and the oncoming traffic takes their chances. Ahem. On the drive down there were long stretches where we could see the green Song mountains on our right and the blue waters of the Tonkin Gulf entry on our left, as we passed through vivid rice fields.
Dong Ha is a provincial capital (moved from the town of Quang Tri, which was flattened in the war). Quang Tri province was the northernmost part of the former South Vietnam. Now with a population of 100,000, it is a regional center, not a tourist destination. There is a river here, and we are very near the coast of the South China Sea.
This evening we were welcomed at dinner by Madame Thuy, head of the Women’s Union for the province, along with a translator from the Dept of Foreign Affairs.