Name: Bunker Hill
Where: Huế, Thua Thien Huế, Vietnam
Location: 16.427827, 107.564015
What to do: View the abandoned bunkers used by American troops to observes the Perfume River.
Getting there: Private or personal transportation is needed.
The idea of finding ruins from your home country in a far-off land may not seem all that fantastical to some. Roman ruins can be found in Egypt and Lebanon. Khmer temples can be found in Laos and Thailand. Centuries-old British forts can even be found in the United States.
For Americans, such an opportunity won’t often come up. Short of a derelict 7-Eleven or KFC, not too much American architecture has been around long enough to fade away into obscurity quite yet. However, in a few corners of the world, American presence was felt in ways where it was perhaps no so welcome and still leaves a mark. The American ruins in central Vietnam are one such place.
The Story of Bunker Hill in Huế
Huế is a large royal citadel which served as the final historical capital of Vietnam prior to its takeover by the French. Being the literal middle ground and strategic chokepoint of Vietnam, it has been the epicenter of cultural and geographic clashes through much of its history, going back as far as the Vietnamese versus the Cham and up to, most recently, the Vietnamese Civil War (also known variably as the Vietnam War, the American War, or the Second Indochina War).
During this conflict, Huế was the stage for much important action of the Vietnam War. Due to the city’s historic importance, American soldiers were instructed to avoid causing collateral damage to Hue. However, this did not stop conflicts from happening, and a good deal of the citadel is now in ruins, despite being only about 200 years old. Even today, many remnants of the war remain in Huế — some even showcased in the Huế History Museum as a sort of trophy to the Vietnamese victory. These include leftover planes, tanks, and even bombs.
The most interesting of these relics, I believe, are the American Bunkers located in the forested hills south of the city. They are located overlooking a sharp bend in the Perfume River, giving any soldiers stationed here a commanding presence over travel in both directions. The bunkers are locked up today and no signs point them out, however, they are accessible with a little effort through the dirt backroads.
Visiting Bunker Hill in Huế
The forested hills to the south of the Huế Imperial City are well-known for their elaborate tombs housing some of Vietnam’s last emperors, most notably those of Tự Đức and Khải Định. The Perfume River also winds its way through these hills, at one point coming to a very strategic bend overlooked by a high hilltop. These bunkers are only a short distance from the famous tombs, so they made for a nice spot to wind down the afternoon driving the outskirts of Huế.
Looping back toward the Perfume River from the Tự Đức tomb, it was less than a kilometer to the general area where the American Bunkers were supposed to be. However, no signs point the way, and I was left to follow a series of dirt roads in the general direction to where I thought they were.
Thankfully the roads all lead through what is essentially a clear field, which although hilly, is easy to navigate through. Standing out in the south of the clearing is a shoddily-built lookup platform. Pulling up next to that, the forest resumes ahead and the vague outline of angular, grey buildings appear in the trees.
When you see this, you’ve arrived.
There are only a handful of buildings making up the Bunker Hill site and all of them are locked up. The bunkers are mostly built into the ground with their entrances overgrown with bushes. It was tempting to want to get inside, but then again … think of all the spiders and who knows what else is probably living inside after 70 years.
Walking over to the hill’s edge, you can see the Perfume River below. Here, it becomes very obvious very they chose this located to build their fortifications — this specific hilltop gives a commanding view of the river going in both directions and the opportune vantage point from which to attack if needed.
Scattered around the area are a few other items, including some eroded Vietnamese graves long predating the bunkers. Although worth noting, they are best left alone.
My whole time at the bunkers was no more than 20 minutes, but it was well worth the side trip from Vietnamese history to take in a bit of my own history—whether good or bad.
How to Get to Bunker Hill in Huế
The American Bunkers are not typically something advertised to tourists visiting Huế, however, that certainly doesn’t mean that you won’t find tour operators willing to take you there. A little asking around with any tour operator will almost certainly yield results. For the best deal, make sure you ask to include it in a combo tour with some of the nearby royal tombs.
For those looking to go independently, there is a little more work involved. The most convenient option is to drive yourself. However, this is not advisable if you are not a capable and confident driver in Vietnamese traffic.
Vietnamese roads are not well-marked and drivers are unpredictable for those accustomed to driving by western rules of the road. Finding your way out of the city isn’t too hard, but there will be no signs marking where the American bunkers are located. The easiest way to locate it will be using the GPS coordinates (16.427827, 107.564015). However, as long as you’re heading in the general direction of the Tự Đức Tomb, you’ll be going the right way.
When you get close to the American Bunker Hill, you’ll need to turn off into a maze of interwoven dirt roads. These will all generally lead slightly uphill in the direction. Follow these and keep the Perfume River on your right and you’ll eventually end up at the ruins of the Vietnam War-era American Bunkers.
An Indianized Hindu kingdom in ancient Vietnam known for constructing Tháp Chàm, their iconic Cham Towers dedicated to Shiva and other Hindu deities.
The final imperial capital of Vietnam and the administrative center during its time as a French Colony.
River that flows through the historic Vietnamese capital of Huế.
Emperor of Vietnam from 1847-1883.
A conflict occurring between South Vietnam and North Vietnam from 1955-1975. The United States entered the war in 1965 as per the Truman Doctrine to contain the spread of communism. The North Vietnamese army declared victory after the withdrawal of the United States in 1975.