Historical travel guide for the ruined American Vietnam War bunkers in the hills outside the historic Vietnamese capital of Huế.
Name: Bunker Hill
Where: Huế, Thua Thien Huế, Vietnam
Location: 16.427827, 107.564015
Description: Abandoned bunkers located on a strategic hilltop overlooking the Perfume River used by American troops during the Vietnam War.
Getting there: Private or personal transportation is needed.
The war between the United States and Vietnam during the 1960s-70s was a devatating conflict that still is showing consequences in not only the modern nation of Vietnam, but also in several neighboring countries like Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand.
Bunker Hill is a secluded hilltop with several concrete bunkers dating from the Vietnam War located south of the historic capital city of Hue. They overlook a strategic vantage point on the Perfume River. Local sources call these bunkers American, but may actually be made by the French before American involvement began.
Journey upstream from Vietnam’s ancient capital to examine the history surrounding these wartime monuments and learn everything you need to visit them for yourself.
The Story of Bunker Hill in Huế
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.
Hue During the Vietnam War
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.
American Bunkers or French Bunkers?
The forests outside Hue are not the only region in Vietnam where these angular concrete bunkers can be found. I later later that there are several other nearly identical examples throughout the country. These include concrete bunkers with a very similar style at the historically strategic Hai Van pass outside of Da Nang.
While these bunkers are consistently referred to as American locally in Hue and on numerous online sources about Hue, they might actually predate the involvement of the Americans in the Vietnam conflict. As photos of the bunkers at Hue and other locations around Vietnam have surfaced, so has new information that they were actually built by the French during the First Indochina War from 1946-54.
In a conversation with an American Vietnam War veteran following my first publication of these photos, he clarified their French origin and how the American troops later used them, stating
The only “source” i have is experience. During the war I saw many old fortifications built by the french during their war in Vietnam. All of them looked pretty much like the bunkers in your photographs, near Hue city. Please note that I am not saying the US forces wouldn’t have used, occupied, the old french built bunkers if they saw fit and it suited their purpose, they would, and I have seen that too during the US war.
The US military did not build concrete bunkers, they built fortifications using sandbags reinforced with thick lumber, Preforated Steel Plate (PSP), or culverting. This was true even around the US militaries large bases such as at Long Binh, Danang and Pleiku.Dittybopper, via Reddit (see full conversation)
I have no reason to doubt this account, and further discussions do seem to point to these bunkers being originally built by the French before the arrival of the Americans.
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
GPS Coordinates: 16.427827, 107.564015
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.