Story 82 - Two Wonderful Weeks in Vietnam

By Nick Quigley OAM


With a little bit of apprehension I decided to 'bight the bullet' and join a group to travel in Vietnam. I'd heard from other Vietnam Veterans that Vietnam as a travel destination was wonderful.

They said 'go to look at the country and see how it has grown since the war and as a bonus you can visit some of the locations you were stationed at, have no expectations, just go with the flow'

Instead of booking through our local agent, we booked through Travel Options in Victoria.  The owner Keith Murphy goes to Vietnam once a year around September/October and organises a wonderful Vietnam Experience.   Keith is a Vietnam Veteran having served with 1st Australian Civil Affairs Unit in 1969/70.

For a Veteran to go back to a country that was once a war zone and to mix with the people of which some were the enemy is a very careful decision to make, but in my case I listened to other Vietnam Veterans who had made the journey and decided to go.  I'm very pleased I did because we had a wonderful time.

From the trip we have learnt so much about how very lucky we are in Australia.  I'll never complain about the state of our roads, the traffic, the city smells, city noise, congestion on roads, our fresh air and our wide open spaces.

17th Sept 2010 - Day 1 (The First Day)

We left Rockhampton at 6:45am on Friday the 17th Sept bound for Melbourne.  Easy check in at Rockhampton as there were very few people compared to Brisbane.  QANTAS was unable to book our luggage through to Melbourne so we had to collect it in Brisbane and re check it in for the next flight.  Being school holidays the airport was very congested.

We departed Brisbane at 10am and arrived in Melbourne at 12:20pm.  It was rather cool (9C), overcast but not raining.  After booking into the Hilton Airport we found that we had a room overlooking the airport and could watch all flights in and out and all the hustle and bustle of people coming and going.  There was a constant stream of yellow cabs driving through the drop down / pickup zone.

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The Hilton at Melbourne Airport

The airport movement and buzz goes late into the night, but it stopped sometime as there is a curfew.

An interesting observation on the cost of a bottle of water.  At Woolworth's a 600ml bottle will cost 89cents.  At Brisbane Airport a 600ml bottle will cost you $3.50 and at the Hilton a 600ml bottle will set you back $6.

In Vietnam a 500ml bottle of water will cost you 20,000dong which is just over $US1.

We met up with the other three trip Veterans travelling from Rockhampton, Jensen, Kathy and Graham and had dinner at PJ O'Brien's Irish Pub at Melbourne Airport.  Great atmosphere;  Helen had a Pint of Guinness and we all enjoyed the Lasagna and salad.

Then it was back to our rooms for a good nights sleep ready for a big day of air travel next day

18th Sept 2010 - Day 2 (Travel to Vietnam)

We had a reasonable sleep, but I woke at 4:30am and found the airport silent until 5:30am when the first plane came in and the day started again.  There were 48 black Limos parked outside the airport, all with their drivers in long black coats and black hats.    Is this how the other half live?

We were at the International Airport at 7:45am to meet Keith and the other people from our group.  Our travelling mates were Gary and Lisa Sanders and their son Jarrod and his partner Kerrin.  All together 9 of us.   All booked in and through Customs minus Helen's tube of tooth paste.   It held 10g too much, you can only take 100g or less.  Even though the tube was half used the container said 110g, it couldn't go.

We left Melbourne at 10:45am on a Vietnam Airlines A330 - 200 (VN4375) a lovely aircraft, but a great number of the personal TV screens were not operating, but good seats and good food.   First on the flight and you get a cold towel to clean your hands and face, then a glass of wine and a bag of nuts.  Then lunch was served - Kung Po chicken with steamed rice, vege salad and Atlantic smoked salmon.  Then for dinner which was served at 5:30pm we had pork and eggplant, more wine and it was all very nice.


On arrival at Saigon the only things that I could see from 40 years ago were the revetments used by the US Air force and the guard houses around the perimeter.  The revetments are being used to house helicopters and other items.

On the ground at the terminal there were no docking bays with walk off chutes.  The plane parked out from the terminal and passengers were transported standing by bus to the terminal.   The humidity was very high!


Because we were transit passengers we were given a transit sticker and sent on our way to collect our bags, go through customs and Passports and recheck in for the domestic flight to Hanoi.  We had no problems with baggage, customs, medications, bag weights etc and with Keith's knowledge we found our way through the airport to the next flight.  A one hour and 40 minute flight from Saigon to Hanoi.


At Hanoi the airport was more modern and we were met by our Travel Indochina Guide who took us to the Thang Long Opera Hotel about an hours drive from the airport.   The drive took us over the Red River and through streets of bumper to bumper trucks, cars, buses and thousands of Honda scooters.  54million Honda's registered in Vietnam for a population of 84million.


So after a long day we were tucked up in bed to sleep and prepare for an early morning start with a walk around the lake at 6am.


19th Sept 2010 - Day 3 (Hanoi)

Up at 5:45am and ready to do a lap of the Hoan Kiem Lake.  1000's of people all out walking, doing street gym, Tai Chi and aerobics.

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1000s walking, doing street gym and aerobics on the banks of Hoan Kiem Lake

Our observations on this very first walk in Hanoi was that the old and only some young residents use the early morning less congested time to exercise. 

As you walk it is very noticeable that the power and telephone wiring is very complex to say the least.  In fact it is more chaotic, there seems to be no distinction between one black wire to another.   

Very early into the first day Helen found that 'nice looking' new shoes are not comfortable, she joined the band-aide brigade very early into the holiday.


It doesn't matter what you wear outside, within minutes you are wringing wet, the outside temperature and the high humidity see to that.

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Hoan Kiem Lake

Hanoi is a City of beautiful trees, many old buildings and temples and during 1-10 October 2010 will be celebrating its 1000th year  With the celebrations, Hanoi has cleaned up, painted the outside of its more prominent buildings, planted gardens of new flowers, white washed gutters and around the Hoam Kien Lake are large sound system speakers and theatre lighting.   We won't be in Hanoi for the festivities, but I'm sure the lake will light up and there will be a tremendous amount of noise.

Now here is a geography lesson
Ha means River and Noi means City, thus Hanoi is a City inside a river. Many years ago Hanoi was called Ding Lang which means Standing Dragon City.  Vietnam is made up of two words Viet 'a group of people' and Nam 'South of China.'   Tourism started in Hanoi in 1990 with 35% of the tourists being Chinese.

By 10am we were quite thirsty and needed somewhere to sit down so we ventured into a roadside cafe.  The best cooling and thirst quenching drink we have found is a lemon drink made from fresh squeezed lemon, sugar cane juice, a little salt and ice.   After a couple of those you begin to feel normal again.

Hoan Kiem Lake
Hanoi traffic - lots of bikes

To the average Australian you can not imagine the chaos on the streets.  The Brisbane Gateway arterial is nothing compared to any street in Hanoi.  Crossing the street is daunting, but as you leave the kerb, you give way to cars, buses and trucks and the hoards of motor bikes will just go round you.  Coming from both directions, merging and cutting across, turning left or right, you just walk without hesitation across the street.  If you stop someone will run you over.

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Helen having her first ride on a Vietnamese Cyclo (three-wheel bicycle taxi)

After lunch we had nine cyclos arranged for us and we did a tour of Hanoi visiting the Hanoi Hilton (Prison), the Ancient Temple of Literature founded in 1070 and the Army War Museum.  It was a hot day and our poor old cyclo drivers pushed us through the streets of Hanoi for 4 hours for a total of 300,000dong (about $US15).  At a break our group decided to tip each cyclo with an extra 50,000dong.   Traffic - you get a totally different perspective  sitting in a cyclo and being pushed into the traffic.

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Lovely Vietnamese wedding couple we saw in our travel

We saw a number of weddings in progress with beautiful brides and flowers.  It was nothing to see 6-12 weddings around the lake.

At 7pm we gathered in the foyer of the hotel and walked around the lake to the Dinh Lang Restaurant
  which was Traditional Vietnamese.  Because of my bad allergy to crustations I was very careful with what I ate.   But in all there was a good selection and I survived.  After dinner we sat in a second floor balcony bar and looked at the night time chaos on the road below.

Just in case of a allergic reaction, before we left I spoke to the Doctor about taking an Epi-pen.   So everywhere we went it was in my bag.    An Epi-pen deliverers adrenalin through a needle like device that you stab into your upper leg.   Then you may still need to seek medical aid at a hospital as well.

20th Sept 2010 - Day 4 (Halong Bay)

It was a hazy, smokey, hot and humid day but  I was up early to use the Hotel Internet costing $US1 per 15 minutes, then breakfast at 6:15am to be ready for an 8am bus and a 3.5 hour drive to Halong Bay which is located in the Gulf of Tonkin, covering an area of 1500 square km.

From ancient history Ha means descending and Long means Dragon, so Halong bay is a descending dragon.

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Sailing in Halong Bay, Gulf of Tonkin

With more than a thousand limestone peaks soaring from the water this area is one of the natural wonders of Vietnam and now one of four World Heritage listed sites in Vietnam.  The tiny islands are dotted with innumerable beaches and grottoes created by the wind and the waves that make a excellent backdrop for swimming or just lazing about on the deck of a Junk.

We visited Thien Cung cave (
the cave of the heavenly palace - famous for its stalagmites and stalactites) the cave has only opened to the public since 1998.  Nearby there is a newly discovered Dau Go grotto (wooden stake-cave where in 1288 one of Vietnamese most famous Generals Tran Hung Dao amassed hundreds of stakes deep inside the cave prior to a battle with an invading Mongol army but we didn't visit it).

The thought of all the steps and climbing nearly put me off.   The humidity and the heat was playing up on my Asthma, but I pushed on.   It was well worth the effort and the view from the top was wonderful. We have limestone caves here in Australia and one very close to home at Olsen’s Caves just North of Rockhampton.

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Some of the 1,600 Halong Bay limestone mountain Islands

But the Thien Cung caves were just as mighty, massive caverns in the mountain.    The path out takes you down the mountain and back to the boat.  

All those who could eat seafood tucked into a feast, but I decided after visiting the galley that it was far safer not to eat at all.  Not even steamed rice, because they use the same water that cooks the prawns to steam the veges and rice.

Then it was back to Halong city where our bus was waiting to take us back to Hanoi.  This trip from Hanoi to Halong Bay, with bus hire and the Junk with lunch cost approx $US50 each.

On the way to Halong Bay we stopped for morning tea at a facility that provides work for War handicapped people.  Those suffering from Agent Orange, Land Mine accidents and other war caused disabilities.    We saw children and some adults hand sewing with silk, churning out products to be sold through the center.

We also met Robin, Phil and Belinda O'Niel from Alton Downs, they too were on their way to Halong Bay to spend the night on a Junk.

On the way back to Hanoi we saw a squashed Honda with the Police (white mice derogatory name for South Vietnamese police.  The nickname came from their uniform white helmets and gloves.) marking the road. Fatalities happen every day.  Driving at night has many hazards, day time is chaotic, night time is a nightmare, you have to see it to believe it.

Some general information on Vietnam
1.     Our guide told us that families living in Vietnam can have two children. If you work for the Government and have a third child you will loose your job.

2.     The speed limit in the city is 50kph and on the open road it is 80kph. Because of the traffic the speed of the city travels at about 30kph.

3.     Most houses are built of brick on a floating raft foundation, the stability of the multi story houses is gained from tying several buildings together.   The size of houses varies but normal is 4meters wide by 20 m long and would cost $US1million in the larger cities

4.     Rice paddies are broken into squares or oblongs and each patch belongs to one person and they all work for a family.   Roughly 200m square will produce 100Kgs of rice which sells foe 4000dong per kilo.

5.     Family graves are erected in the rice paddies and a while after the burial the bones are dug up and stored by the family, providing good spirits.

6.     Rice workers have other jobs as well as looking after their patch.   Many farm ducks, pigs, have fish ponds, look after buffalo and beef cattle.

21st Sept 2010 - Day 5 (Hanoi)

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Vietnamese women in tradition dress "Ao Dai"

While in Vietnam we had a different selection for breakfast. The Hotels we stayed at provided a wide selection to treat all nationalities taste buds.  So to start the engines for our last big day in Hanoi I tucked into rice, boiled cabbage, noodles, rye bread and an omelet, apple juice, yoghurt and several cups of tea.

We walked to the lake again and every time we did this we saw something new.  Today Hanoi TV was filming well dressed Vietnamese ladies ready for the 1000th year celebrations.  Of course you know who asked if they could pose with one of the lovely ladies.

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Temple of Ngoc Son on Sacred Island 

We visited the Sacred Island and the Temple of Ngoc Son, which can be reached via a little red Huc (Rising Sun) Bridge.   It was here that we saw more Vietnamese ladies being photographed.   Being a tourist attraction it too cost 10,000dong (about 50cents) to enter.

On our return we met two French ladies who were about to start 12 months University study in architecture in Hanoi.  What caught my eye first was that both girls were rolling race horses (a very thing roll your own cigarette).  They had just arrived and were resting while looking for accommodation.

Next up two Vietnamese students asked us if we minded being interviewed on camera about our Hanoi experience.  They were collecting interviews from people visiting Hanoi for the first time.  Both were very pleasant and spoke very good English.  Such questions as 'how long have you been in Hanoi' and 'what was your first impression' and 'what did we think of the Hanoi women'.  Our first impression was the chaos on the roads then the number of large old trees. The Vietnamese women are hard workers, always smiling and pleasant to talk to.

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The two Vietnamese students that interviewed us on camera about our Hanoi experience.

9 out of 10 motor bike riders had a mobile phone in one hand while driving on the road, some texting, some talking.   Most girls wear a mask over their face to stop the dust and long gloves up to their shoulders and stockings to prevent sun damage.  Our guide told us that women need to be pale or very fair skinned, while males need to look tanned and tough.

Helen, Kathy and Graham went for a foot massage costing 120,000dong each.  I don't like people fiddling with my feet, so I bowed out.

On our way back we met Keith our Team Leader and we all stopped in at a cafe for lunch.   Who would have ever thought back in 1969 that I would be sitting in a cafe in Hanoi eating and drinking?

The Hanoi celebrations were gearing up quite fast.  All around the lake were sound and lighting systems, outsides of building were being refreshed and some gutters were being white washed.  The City will sparkle.

The French called the city Hanoi, before that it was called Than Long which means Ascending Dragon.

 How many miles did we walk today – don't ask me just ask Helen's feet.

The gardeners near the lake were sprucing things up to look good for the 1000th birthday.   I said to one gardener how lovely it all looked.   She smiled and cut me a flower.   I carried that all afternoon and back to the Hotel where I gave it to one of the girls behind the desk and she blushed.

That evening we had dinner at the Hotel Opera where we were staying.   After we got talking to the young lady at the desk.  She was married, with two children and her Hotel pay was 4,000,000dong a month.   Her husband worked in a jewelry stone mine. Her marriage was arranged.    She said that she works from 7am to 10pm but does get a lunch break and on a 6 day week.

22nd Sept 2010 - Day 6 (Hanoi to Hue)

Today there was lightning and loud thunder, Very Humid, and we had morning rain.

Helen organised to have the laundry done today and back before we left for Hue costing  560,000dong.   It arrived back all folded, ironed and in plastic bags.


Mr Ling met us at the Hotel to take us to the airport.   At check in with passports and boarding pass then go through the customs X-ray, no water bottles.   We learnt very fast to either drink water bottles on the side before going through the X-ray and buy new bottles after you pass the X-ray.

I asked Helen if she was enjoying the holiday and she said she was wary of the people, especially those in the street.   Cafes were OK, Staff at the Hotel OK, she said you have to be so careful of your handbag and that she feels she is on edge all the time.   Some local people don't have a friendly look about them.   She said the food was made from anything.   Leaves, water and a bit of meat.   In the market she had seen a women making mince with a block of wood and a clever, just chop the meat and slowly turn the block of wood.   So beef soup is a tablespoon of mince, a pint of water and some green leaves.

Our flight to Hue on VN245 only took an hour and we were again herded onto a bus and taken to the terminal in a similar way to Saigon.


Our new guide Mr Thrung (pronounced tongue) met us at the terminal.   He was a very quick witted man who understood Australian humor and he got on very well with everybody on our tour.

Thrung said that Hue was the Capitol for many years and owned by the Nghun families. The Capitol was later handed to Ho Chi min City or Saigon in 1945.   Vietnam's enemies at that time were Japan, the French, China and Thailand.

From the airport to the hotel was about 30 minutes of clogged roads, full of Honda's, cars and more trucks.  The road rules for crossing the street are different too.   You must give way to everything when walking across, there are zebra crossing but to the locals they mean nothing.

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Our room in the 4 star Huong Giang Hotel, Hue

Our Hotel the Huong Giang Hotel was 4 star and our room was like an Emperors Suite, fit for Royalty and a honeymoon couple, and that was the way we felt, our honeymoon is never over.   All trimmings were done in cane.   All rooms for our group were positioned to look out over the Perfume River (Huong River)

We all went to a late lunch at the Banana Mango Restaurant at 106 Le Loi Street Hue and checked out the DMZ Hotel for dinner.  All through town you can hear the boom of drums and trucks driving about covered in Dragons.

The Internet was free at Hue, but did have a 10minute time limit if someone else was waiting.

So early to bed ready for an intense day in the old imperial city of Hue.

23rd Sept 2010 - Day 7 (Hue)

Woke to a beautiful peacefully quiet morning and looking out the window I could see a fisherman close to the shore, catching something, I had to investigate.

The fisher lady was dropping in round crab pots and by the time the last one went in she started to pull up the first.   Only small crabs, but I suppose food is food.

Keith had organised a special motorbike tour of interesting places around Hue and we were to meet our chauffeurs at 9:30am at the front gate.  I thought for a moment that Helen might have difficulty getting on, but she excelled, a Gold Medal.   Our drivers spoke broken English, but their leader had them all organised so that we all got to each destination at the same time.

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Helen on the bike for the day triping around Hue

We visited a Buddhist Monastery, Bunker Hill over looking the Perfume River, The Royal Citadel, Emperor Tu Ducs Tomb, the Elephant and Tiger arena and the Thien Pagoda.

The first on the list was the Thien Mu Buddhist Monastery.   So after putting on our helmets we climbed onto our bikes and away we went.  Through the busy streets, dodging cars with a cigarette paper between us and them. The chauffeurs were without a doubt skilled riders.

The monastery was originally constructed in 1601 and is now a revered symbol of Hue's Buddhist traditions.  At the monastery we were greeted by women selling hand fans, hats, and Buddha sticks and of course most of us bought some.  The monastery was set in a quiet well wooded area with a large lake in the center and the monks' have cultivated a great collection of bonsai trees.


There are now both male and female Buddhist monks and they normally enter the faith at an early stage of about 10 years old.   Monks can now marry, ride motor bikes and have a job on the outside.

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Our day bike travel group - 9 x drivers/bikes and 9 x passengers

We arrived while the monks were praying beside the lake and all you could hear was the tweeting of birds in pristine silence.

Second stop was Bunker Hill looking out over the Perfume River. The bunkers gave a commanding view of both north and south traffic on the river. During the war the hill was covered in mines. Fortunately they have been moved and pine trees planted in their place.

Third stop was Emperor Tu Ducs Tomb (1860s). This area is well landscaped and includes a lotus lake, pavilions and a small palace.  Tu Duc looked after himself very well with 104 wives which he had 5 each night to sleep with him. But with all those wives Tu Duc had no children.   A dose of Small pox when he was a child left him sterile.

The grounds are grandeur with dragons on every corner of the roof and the steps, over the gate and entrance, moats and bridges.

While visiting we saw an elephant emerge from the far side of a field and headed our way with two lucky tourists upon its back.

Our fourth stop was an old Ho Quyen Arena where elephants and tigers fought to their death.   The ride to get to the arena took us down a countryside single lane path, I'm glad the chauffeurs knew where they were going.   A tiger would be captured from the mountains and delivered to the arena.  The elephant had to always win, so the tiger had its' teeth and claws cut out before the fight.

Last but not least our fifth stop Royal Citadel which was constructed between 1804 and 1832 in consultation with royal astrologers and geomancers.   It is on the north bank of the Perfume River and houses the remains of the numerous royal pavilions, temples and dwellings, with a moat and outer walls to stop intruders.

There are many building in the Royal Citadel that are being restored and repainted in red and gold.

We arrived back at our hotel, tired, dry and in need of a good rest - but it wasn't to be.   We had to get ready to go to dinner at the Tropical Paradise where we had traditional Vietnamese food and listened to traditional music and folk singing.   Dinner cost 350,000dong and included dinner, drinks, sweets and a tip.   For a total of 9 people the bill came to 2,441,000dong.

24th Sept 2010 - Day 8 (Hue to Hoi An)

I was up at 5:30am today to catch the water lilies while they were out.   At first I thought they were lotus lilies, but there weren't, just plain purple ones.

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Water lilies on the Perfume River


I was talking to the Bell Boy and he is paid $US150 a month and it is his only job, so every tip counts to a happier lifestyle.

I also felt that we could easily spend more time in Hue and go for a boat trip up or/and down the Perfume River on the Dragon Boats.

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Dragon boat on the Perfume River


But we left Hue today and headed to Hoi An.   Our bus arrived at 9am along with Mr Thrung who was full of new information to give to us.

Thrung said that to stay safe on the roads you need a good horn, good brakes and good luck -  because overall in Vietnam there are over 40 deaths a day.

A standard Vietnamese bus can carry 120 people. You're saying to yourself, that can't be right. The configuration of seats in the bus we traveled on was two to the left and two to the right and a fold down cantilevered seat from one side.   So that makes the seating 5 across. Some people travel with their own folding seats and they'll fit in too.

Some stats on rice production
There are 7 crops a year and about 9,000,000 tonnes produced each year in Vietnam.      The local farmers don't eat their own crops, it is too expensive, most eat Tapioca or cassava as they call it.

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Lots of building still have bullet holes and other war damage.

So we headed south on Highway 1 from Hue to Danang.   There are two ways to go, one through the tunnel and see nothing or drive up over the Hai Van Pass, which on a clear day would give you a remarkable view.  The day we drove over the clouds were low and we could see no more than 500 meters.  But we still got to see the old French fortresses on the left and the US Army bunkers side by side. 

At the pass there were numerous haggler shops selling trinkets, water, bag filling items and food.   A tourist trap on a grand scale, but some good comes at all stops. I bought some bracelets to give to my ladies back at home - Helen, Jo, Angie and Tennille.   I hope you ladies appreciate my haggling to get the price down, but I learnt later that I'd paid double the going rate even after haggling.

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Mountain pass still with an old war observation post/bunker

Looking about this stop we spotted some goats on a roof, so ventured up the hill to find three big fat goats resting in the sunlight on the roof of the old fortress.

On down the other side of the mountain and into Danang. We stopped for a lovely lunch at a cafe in Danang  called the Waterfront after visiting China Beach and Marble Mountain.  China beach was used by the US troops for I and I as Thrung said.  We have all heard of R and R which was Rest and Re-cooperation, so what was I and I?   With a cheeky grim Thrung explained that it was Intoxication and Intercourse!

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China Beach

China beach  was a gritty playground for U.S. troops during the war, but now it's all about spas and seaweed wraps for luxury-minded tourists.    In the distance we could see a large female Buddha statue standing tall just above the sea.

On to Marble Mountain.   After climbing the steps to the Limestone caves at Halong Bay I considered the plight of another great effort to climb Marble Mountain.   My Asthma and breathing was being affected by the high humidity and today it was quite bad any out of the ordinary walking was a real effort.

I don't think I've ever been so puffed, coughing, wheezing and gasping for air.  Ventolin did little to relieve it, the best way was to climb 5 or so steps and take a spell, then do another 5 steps.   The others were on the top enjoying the view by now.   Thrung stayed with me and steadied me every time I stopped, and I made it, I have the photos to prove it, taken on my Lumix TZ10 camera

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Summit of Marble Mountain "Thuy Son".

The view over Danang was incredible.  The VC during the war had a commanding lookout on the very top and were able to deliver a constant barrage of mortars into the US Military Base.

You've got to hand it to the VC, they were a very ingenious group of people.  One of the caves on the mountain opened up right on the very top.  The entrance was protected and well hidden, giving them an advantage over the US Army.

The evidence of war was all around us at this point.  Bullet holes, chips in old statues, 
concrete structures built during the war and all in a very small section within the mountain.

But the use of the mountain wasn't just for a war outpost, it had been occupied by the monks many years before and Buddha statues, pagodas, and a cavern used by the monks and the VC as a hospital.    The climb down was not as hard as the climb up, but I was relieved to see the bus again.

The Marble works is just amazing to say the least.   We watched three craftsmen chiseling, and grinding a large piece of marble in the early stages of becoming a statue.   We also saw another craftsman putting the finishing touches on a carved marble tiger. Incredible work!

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Marble carver at the marble works

The shop had every imaginable statue for all gardens, but not ours.  The Marble works will pack and freight a statue to anywhere in the world at a price.

We booked into the Hoi An Hotel and took a walk down town.   One thing as you read this blog, you will note that we didn't rest much.   Although we did stop at Treats Bar for a burger and drinks.   By now my feet and legs were stuffed, but the lungs felt good.

The finals for the football were on TV the next night and Treats Bar had a OHP and a large screen and it could be viewed on that occasion.

Hoi An is a popular stop, we noted that there were more Europeans in Hoi An than there were in Hanoi.   Hoi An is well known for its tailors who can measure, fit and dress you overnight in anything you would like.

The Hoi An Hotel grounds were huge with a pool, spa, recreational areas etc, but the air-conditioning couldn't keep the smell of the burning rice stalks, the air is full of grass smoke.   This again affected my breathing and it increased my anxiety and lowered my will to co-operate and do stuff while in this area.  What with the humidity and now smoke and the haggling, pestering sales people, I'd just about had enough.

Some more Stats for the trip
Water – Bottles only and you drink on average 3 litres a day
Clothing – Our Australian knit polo shirts are too hot to wear, the best is loose fitting cotton shirts.
For the men a pair of cotton shorts with the bottoms above the knees.  This gives your legs plenty of bending advantage when climbing mountains and getting on motorbikes etc.
Footwear – I found that the best foot ware was open sandals.  No doubt the VC found this out a long time ago when they invented the Ho Chi Minh sandals and made them from old truck tyres.   Whatever you put on your feet must be comfortable and not rub anywhere. The Vietnam Experience entails a lot of walking.
Hats – Generally the Vietnamese don't wear hats, but I found that a broad brim hat was hot, heavy and hard to pack, difficult in caves, tunnels and in the wind, so as the Australian Army had a giggle hat.   A soft cotton, light easy to fold and pack, no real shape to it and possibly a chin tie in the wind or on a motor bike was the best hat.
Money - If I was going again, I would take more US Dollars in small denominations like $US1, 2, 5, 10 sizes.   I'd take less $AU and I'd also take a Travelex Visa passport card with $US credit on it plus an Australian Visa card just in case.   Helen had to use hers at the hospital to pay the bill.
Insurance - After our little excursion to the hospital it sure pays to have a good Travel Insurance policy with you.   One of our traveling friends had a visit to hospital with gastro-enteritis and their insurance covered the bill of $US900

25th Sept 2010 - Day 9 (Hoi An)

After a great breakfast of yoghurt, danish pastries, bacon and eggs we went down to the markets. Different to Hanoi and Hue, but selling much the same stuff along with rows of tailors and silk selling shops.   Beautiful colours and window models of product that could be yours if you dare to enter.


Now I've always had a thing about people touching my feet.   Helen got conned to have a foot massage and I went into the shop with her.   The Vietnamese ma ma said what about you sir, you need massage too, lie here I do you too.  SOOOO believe it or not I did.   I didn't just have a massage but a foot scrape too and she took off half a cup of dead skin.   My feet felt brand new and even to today (10 Oct 2010) my feet feel marvelous.   No corns and no cracked skin.

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Hoi An Markets

We left there and Helen was nearly sick walking through the markets, the smell was dreadful.   It was a hot day, no wind and we were busy trying to get out of the market while all the time being pestered by shop keepers.   We took a wrong turn and walked and walked.   Tempers rising, getting thirsty, we were lost.   My tolerance level was by now zero and in this frame of mind it is hard to think laterally.   After a while we asked for directions to the Hoi An Hotel and by chance we were not far from it.

We finally sat down in the hotel cafe and had some cold drinks.   I ordered Helen a large tiger and out came a litre bottle.   Helen said I'll never drink all of that, but in 30 minutes it was all gone.

While in the markets I had bumped my camera into another mode and the pictures taken had been saved to the 15Mg on board memory of the camera and not the SD Card.   So I got on to the Internet looking for clues.  Beside me was a bloke we had met down in the markets.  We got talking and he turned out to be someone who Greg Moore our Dentist went to University with.   He was Rob Duhig a Dentist himself and on holidays with his two sons seeing Vietnam.

When I got back to our room I felt something wet in my right pocket.  It wasn't warm or cold for that matter, but it was foreign to the normal.   So I carefully put my hand in to see what it was.   A squashed banana! I had taken an extra at breakfast to eat later and had forgotten about it.   With all the walking, lying on the massage table and sitting at the cafe the banana had become part of my pocket.   That will teach you said Helen, for taking extra food.

On the street all you can hear over the tooting traffic is Hello Madam, you buy, G'Day Mate what's your name, you buy, you buy for my baby.   What an existence, we are so lucky here in Australia!

Dinner that night we sat down to pork noodles and rice and Helen had sweet and sour pork.   We had ice cream and fruit for sweets and we both had two drinks of rum and coke and gin and tonic - cost $US15 each.

26th Sept 2010 - Day 10 (Helen not well in Hoi An)

Helen had been complaining about a chest problem for a day or so.   Me being me, knows full well that a chest problem can go bad, but in this humidity and heat it could be nothing too.   But by the 26th Helen had a bad cough with production so we called a taxi and went to the hospital.

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Helen with the Doctor and Nurse at Hoi An Hospital

The on duty Nurse at the Pacific Medical Care Hospital spoke no English at all, she found someone who could speak a little English and Helen explained that there was no pain, but a cough.  So the Doctor came, took her temperature 37.8C, then examined her belly.... “ You too fat” he said, and Helen answered “maybe I eat rice like you and get thin” he laughed and sent her for an X-ray and a blood test.  He was concerned that Helen might have Dengue fever.   With a high temperature the blood cell count will be low if you have Dengue.

The X-Ray came back with a little bit of congestion on the right lung and the blood test was good, showed no decrease in platelet count which is a sign of Dengue.   He said that 1 out of every 3 people through the door had Dengue.

So after paying the account $US112 Helen collected a script of Augmenton, some Telfast, and two other items and the hospital called a taxi and we went back to our hotel.

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Charlie and Barbara Bartkus with Neil and Pam Brewer, all from Rockhampton in Hoi An

Helen rested in the air conditioning and I went for a scout around the hotel area.   Spent some time on the Internet and while there I spotted Charlie and Barbara Bartkus from Rockhampton.  Charlie is a Artillery Vietnam Veteran from 1968 and Neil is a RAEME Vietnam Veteran from 1969/70.  They were on a trip going up the country while we were going down and although Charlie and I had talked about meeting on the 26th, it was still a surprise to see someone you know.

Later in the day after Helen's rest we caught the Hotel bus to the Hoi An beach resort called Cui Dai Beach, about 4 k away.   We found a lovely shop and bought up big on hats, board shorts and tiger balm, eucalyptus oil and other bits and pieces.

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Cui Dai Beach

On the way back I pointed out to Helen a lovely French style building just off to the left and that night we went to this building for dinner.   It was the Nam Long Restaurant, a wonderful setting on the river and wonderful food, service and decor.   I am one to say that you can't eat the decor, but at this restaurant it all just fitted in to make a great place to eat.   We got to the from by maxi taxi. 

27th Sept 2010 - Day 11 (Hoi An to Saigon)

Before we left Australia for Vietnam, Keith rang asking us if we had any special places we'd like to visit and I said Trang Bom and Bearcat.   Later he contacted me to say that Mr Ha had arranged a guide and a car and we'd be picked up on the 27th when we arrived in Saigon.

Comment: I let Bill Antilla know the good news. Bill served with the 720th US Military Police based at Bearcat where I was billeted while we worked for the RTAVF (The Royal Thai Army Volunteer Forces) - The Black Panthers.   So Bill was eagerly awaiting any photos of Bearcat Base.

The day had come round, today the 27th is the big day -Trang Bom and Bearcat here I come!

We had an early morning call and we were all on the bus at 6am (without Breakfast) headed for Danang Airport for a 8am flight to Saigon.

I gave Thrung (Tongue) an Australian Vietnam Veteran lanyard and a 100,000dong tip at the airport, he was a great guide and does a wonderful job.

Landed safely in Saigon and were picked up and delivered to the Duxton Hotel by 10:15am.   Of course our rooms were not ready so we had the bags put in storage and our overnight bag up with Jarrod and Kerrin then Helen and I waited in the foyer for Mr Ha's driver.

Before we left I ducked into an ATM and became a 2 millionaire in a push of a button and took out 2,000,000dong.

Our guide was Troung Kiet a very knowledgeable man with lots of determination.  On the way out of Saigon Troung stopped at a cafe and got 4 baguettes and some custard puffs for lunch.  Both Helen and I dreaded eating them all day, but we were ravenous and bugs or no bugs we were going to eat them.  They tasted lovely, so we had a better feel about street side cafe food after that.

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Helen having cup of tea at the road side cafe

We set out to find Trang Bom and on the way stopped at a roadside cafe where I felt the native Vietnamese had never seen a round eye.   We were the monkeys and they all gathered around to look at us.  Our guide told them we were looking for Trang Bom Fort and none of the young ones knew of it.   So we had a cup of tea in a glass. Two tea bags and half a glass of hot water – strong!, our guide and driver had iced coffee and we moved on.


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Map showing Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) and Trang Bom District with insert showing our old bases


The rubber plantation where we had been an observation post with the 87th US Advisory Team was gone totally and in its' place was many heavy industry buildings.

The traffic was heavy with trucks, cars and buses and all mixed together with hundreds of Honda’s.

We came to the sign post telling us we were entering the town of Trang Bom and I spotted the side road leading off to the left.  The one that housed the VC village back in 1969.  The highway at this point was divided by a concrete upright barrier so we headed on looking for a place to do a U turn.   As we were approaching the street I spotted the Memorial.   Euphoria is an amazing drug.

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Left Photo:  Alan Mulgrew and our ARVN Interpreter walk up the VC Street in 1969
Right Photo: Looking from the ARVA fort toward the Trang Bom Market place in 1969

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The Memorial is a place of remembrance for the Vietnamese people
and all those VC killed at Trang Bom in during the War.

The old ARVN Fort built by the French many years ago was now a factory, although for a while I thought the old fort was one in a large mote.  But after searching Google Earth, I'll rethink about the site.  The large mote and the dwelling within looks more like a sacred place of some sort.  The War Memorial is in front of the mote, this made me think that it was all there on the same site, but I have a doubt in the mind now.   So we stopped for a reminisce and to take some photos, all those years ago and I could say that I had walked there and was still was able to locate the area.

We then drove up the VC road looking for the Buddhist temple.   Back in 1969, three of us were walking up this road, when the monk signaled us inside.   He shut and bolted the doors and we sat on a mat with him with our rifles across our lap and had ceremonial green tea. We believe he did this to get us off the street while the VC went past.

Well the Temple is still there, but not in use and according to the locals it has been closed for many years.

The next place to look for was Bearcat.   But in the mean time we needed a lunch break and stopped at yet another roadside market at Long Thanh, it was called The Dairy Cow Market.   But this one was bigger and cleaner and well laid out with a Black and White cow stature on the road side.   It was possible to buy fresh milk and many other products not seen in the bigger cities.

At this stop we spotted two Australians strolling through the markets and one knew Jimmy Drever (one of our Rockhampton locals).   It turned out that George Bond was with 2 Sqn RAAF in 1967-68 and now lives at Tweed Heads and was on holidays with a friend.

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Farmer living beside th old helipad at Bearcat

A new road had been put in since my map was drawn and it took us passed the area of the Thai base at Bearcat.   Little did we know this at the time, but with the help of locals we finally found the road that would take us into the heart of the Bearcat Base, so I thought.

The road was a farmers tractor track, with melon holes of water, not really fit for a Toyota sedan, but we pushed on until a farmer stopped us and said that the road was not passable any further by car.

Troung asked if the farmer knew of the Bearcat Base and he did and said he'd get a friend with a motor bike to take me on further.

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Helen with the local Bearcat farmers

So aboard the motorbike with camera in hand we headed up this very muddy slippery road.   For a start there was very little other than tram trees, tapioca, bananas, lemon grass and coffee trees to be seen, but turning a corner and there it was the old helicopter pad, again so I thought.   A huge expanse of old bitumen.

We zoomed down the middle and along the sides passing a couple of farmers houses.  They had dogs that barked, pigs roaming free and little herds of brown cattle grazing on the side.  The only other item we found was two of the main entrance gates, concrete pillars each side of the road.   But further down we came across five old buildings, four side by side and a larger one at right-angles to the others.   They were all occupied.

We hadn't gone much further when a man in green underwear appeared and signaled the motorbike to stop.   We both got off and followed him to the larger of the five buildings.   It is times like these that it would have been really good to have spoken the Vietnamese language.   At the door we were met by a more official army officer with a number of pips on his shoulder, we were both told to come in and sit at the table.

The Officer spoke with my driver and continued to glance my way, never smiling!  After about 5 minutes of talking the Officer tipped some murky water into two small glasses and pushed it across the table to me and my driver.  Thinking about amoebic dysentery and all sorts of other problems, as my driver did, I swallowed the water.   We all stood and although the Officer didn't seem too friendly I put out my hand and we shook hands.   He stood in the door and watched us leave.

Back at the farmers house there had been many a story told.   The farmer had been 12 years old at the time of Bearcat and he could remember all the activity from helicopters in the area.

I gave my Honda driver 200,000dong and should have done the same for the farmer too, but didn't think at the time.  The farmer had entertained Helen and our guide while I was away.   He had a fighting cock (rooster) and had it tethered to a spike in the ground near the house.   The cock had a metal spur attached to its' leg and when they fight it only takes a few minutes to finalise the bout.   The tether was to deter other chooks from the bush coming out to attack.  Nearby was also a scruffy looking dog.  The farmer had had two daughters who now work on the industrial estate close the Bearcat location.  The locals in this area knew the area as a US Base and a large Thai Base during the war, they didn't realise that the two were housed within the same perimeter.

The old bitumen areas have been surveyed and soon will become industrial buildings in the next wave of groath.

So Bearcat was a successful find!  


Comment: Unfortunatly not, after arriving back in Australia and having a much closer look at Google Earth and the map I had taken to Vietnam, I am convinced now that the large bitumen areas we found we actually the old disused Long Thanh Air Base.

At the farmers house had we turned left and gone about 800meters we would probably have been at the Flags where the choppers landed in front of the Bearcat Head Quarters.   However to be in the area was still amozing and I'm so pleased we were able to get that close.  We thanked both men and got back into the car to drive back out.  Didn't get far when we slid sideways and got bogged.  The driver had no idea about rocking the car and slowly the car dug in.  Truong got out for a start and tried to push, then I got out and we managed to rock the car and move it a little bit and after getting spatted with mud it was still bogged.

Helen visualized us staying the night with the farmer!

But the farmer had heard the car noises and he and his friend came to assist us out.   My asthma and breathing was very short and Troung saw this and said you've done enough, go and stand in the shade.

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Bogged near Bearcat

We stopped again at a 'clean European style toilet' as Troung said to Helen. The mens were, but the ladies, Helen found were similar to those in the Hanoi Hilton where one needs to squat over a hole in the floor.   Helen held on.

The drive back to Saigon took about 90 minutes and I think the traffic was worse than Hanoi.  There were double the numbers of Honda’s and nose to tail trucks and buses.   Closer to Saigon the Honda's became a solid stream and have their own road to be on.   But there are still those who think they can get there faster so use the car and truck lanes.

When we arrived back at the Duxton Hotel I tipped the car driver 200,000dong and Troung my wonderful persistent guide 400,000dong, had it not been for him the trip may have turned out differently.

I asked Troung how I should pay for the car hire etc and he said it was all done?   I was well prepared to pay Mr Ha for the special excursion, but found out later that Keith had paid for the outing!

Keith is an incredible and very generous man.   Thank you Keith!

Some of the things Troung told us about the fall of Saigon were that the Government at the end of the war took all land away from its' owners.  The US put an embargo on Vietnam and would only supply them with wheat and sweet potatoes (which are still grown in large quantities).   No money was sunk into the restoration nor were US companies allowed to build in Vietnam.   But when President Clinton took the Presidency he lifted the embargo and next day Coke-a-Cola moved in and set up a large plant just outside Saigon.

What a euphoric day!

28th Sept 2010 - Day 12 (Mekong Delta)

We bussed it down to some point on the Mekong Delta then boarded a boat that took us the rest of the day.

One of the stops was a confectionery factory.   Now not your normal Cadburys hygienic, sterile gloves and masks type of place, this was a Hands on factory.   We saw puffed rice being made in a cauldron of hot black iron sand.   The sand is heated over a rice husk fed fire and a container of rice with husks on is tipped in.   Seconds later the rice starts to puff.   When all is done the container is tipped into a sieve where the sand comes out first, then into another sieve where the husks come out.   The finished rice puffs are then stored in large bags ready for the next process.

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Puffed rice being cooked over sand

The factory was alive with energetic workers and a large number of tourists too.


The next turn took us to a caramel maker.   At different times he made either coconut caramel or ginger caramel and again in a large cauldron over a rice husk fired oven.   The caramel pieces are first wrapped in rice paper then in clear wrapping paper.

You know how hard it is at times to get the two wrappers off a commercial toffee, well in Vietnam they only need to remove the outside layer, because you can eat the rice paper wrapped around the actual caramel.

The rice puffs are also mixed with a caramel and rolled out onto an oblong table.   The workers move very fast, the caramel puffs sets fairly fast.   It is cut up into bite size pieces and sent on to the girls all sitting cross legged on the packaging table to wrap and package ready for sale.

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Lunch Time.  Tour couple with a elephant ear fish.

Back to the boat and down river to another Island where we stopped for lunch.   Stopping at a getty we then walked in and out through the houses to a restaurant where one of the items for lunch was an elephant ear fish, grown in ponds not the Mekon River.

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Dressed in our Non La (Vietnamese conical leaf hats) moving out to our tourist boat via Sampan

Our way back was different again.  We clambered down a rickety ramp and stepped into a three person Sampan small boat.   Our rower passed us a conical hat each for the ride back out to the big boat.   Getting into the Sampan was not the easiest at 64, legs don't seem to bend the way they did 40 years ago.  But we made it and with airy silence we were paddled up the tributary to the larger boat.  With rope rollicks the rowing made no noise, no noise of the paddle dipping in the water either, you can imagine how the VC so quietly infiltrated positions from the river systems without being detected.

Back onto the main boat and up river to a plant nursery where we tasted many different fruits and at the same time listened to a local lass singing and telling a story about her family working in the rice paddies and how she took meals out to her husband, quite entertaining.

Back across the river at a very wide section to our waiting bus.   The Mekong River is brown, full of floating hyacinth and rubbish, plastic bottles, containers, just a big mess.   But the locals still swim in it and set and tend to their fish traps, so the water can't be that bad.

Houses back onto the river and all household rubbish goes into the river.   At the markets we saw the street cleaner sweep a mass of green waste off the jetty into the Mekon.

The trip back to Saigon in the bus took over two hours and many had a doze.   It was a big day today with plenty to see and do.

We had dinner at Restaurant 19 , 19 Ngo Duc Ke District 1 – Saigon City including 3 gin and tonic for me, 3 beers for Helen and our meal and a tip cost as little as 250,000dong.

Tomorrow will be another big day too

29th Sept 2010 - Day 13 (Vung Tau)

We packed an overnight bag for the two of us for one night in Vung Tau.

The hydrofoil left Saigon at 10:30am and arrived in Vung Tau about 1 hour and 20 minutes later.

These boats look like they've been "ridden hard and put away wet".   Boats are Russian built and some where in the 1960's, with crazing perspex windows, reasonably comfortable and get you there safely.

We booked into the Palace Hotel which again was 4 star.   Graham, Kathy, Helen and I went to a cafe and had Australian style cottage pie and green veges.   Home cooked, not a packet job.   Kathy was recovering from a bout of gastro and had sworn off Asian food for a couple of days.

The old Grand Hotel was right next door.  This pub had many scotch and dry spilt in it during the war with the US military making it their main Hotel in Vungers.

From lunch our group walked around the shore line to the Cable Car to the top of the old Radar Hill or as it was known in 1969 "VC Hill".   It is now called Cloud Lake Ecological and cultural Tourism Park which has been in the more recent years converted from waste land into a theme park.    After the US Communications base closed down, the land on the top of the hill lay as waste land.   All but one of the giant troposcatter antennas collapsed.   One still remaining has been refurbished as a monument to the years gone by.

A giant Buddha has been errected and broadcasts messages and music to the tourists visiting the park.   Lots of work is still going on and all the attractions are not yet complete.   Your ticket covers you for return on the Cable car and includes rides on the merry go round, jet star, space gyro, air castle and nighttime karaoke.   There are plenty of cafes and watering holes and it would be easy for a family to spend a day at the park.

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Our communication site on VC Hill in 1969.  110 Sig Sqn Radio Relay (RR) site and
104 Sig Sqn also used it for VHF retrans during some operations

One attraction for me was the Bunker on the highest peak.  As we were going up in the cable car I spotted the outline of the bunker.  In 1969, 104 signals had a Retrans Station based in the bunker. It was like a repeater station as we know them today. I have many good and bad memories based at the bunker on VC Hill and I wanted to see if I could get back up there.  The photo on the left was our 104 Station.


So I talked to one of the security blokes and he showed me where the path was to get onto the road.

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Old bunkers on VC Hill still manned by the Vietnamese Army!

Hot, puffed and excited again, I pushed up the steep hill until I got within 25meters of the bunker.   Out came a big barking dog with its hair standing on edge and following it an Army man "STOP – YOU No Go"!   I stopped, got my breath and tried to explain that I had been up there in 1969.   I got my second wind and started to go on up the track. "STOP STOP, No Go"!    That was it, I had to turn back, a bit disheartened though.   I could see that there was an aerial on the bunker so I dare say the Red Army had a post on the site.   All I wanted to do was stand on the Bunker, not look at anything. The security man didn't come with me past the turn from the path.

So down to the Cafe I went like a dog with its tail between its legs, had a drink of water and we all went down on the cable car to the beach below.


The others were through with walking so we caught a taxi to the Ned Kelly Bar opposite the wharfs. We had a few drinks there and waited for the Sanders crew to return from their excursion to the Jesus statue. Jarrod was the only one to climb to the top so we'll have to wait to see his photos.

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Nick and the three Bar Girls - Uc Dai Loi still number one!

After a few more drinks I said to Helen that I'd go and organize three Bar Girls to come and sit with us three Veterans, so I saw the boss lady and she said pick the three you want.   So Graham, Keith and I had these lovely young bar girls for a photo shoot.   There ages were 27, 28 and 37, much older than I thought they were.   But it did bring back some great memories from the days we spent in the bars in 1969.   Graham had a broad smile and I had to put my hands in my pockets.

To thank them I bought them each a double gin and tonic, I was Uc Dai Loi Number one.   One said to me ' you take me home, I look after you very well, we make booku boom boom'.   The bar girls were like porcelain dolls with very short dresses and high heeled shoes, long slender legs  .......

We moved bars to the Etta Bar where life and entertainment was just as good.  More bar girls but more importantly walls covered in Serviceman’s signatures.   We searched the 1000's and found a few names that we knew like Trevor Hagan OAM.

We had dinner at the Etta, a steak sandwich with chips and the beers flowed and the Sanders played the bar girls at Pool.   Jarrod lost a game and had to crawl under the pool table end to end.

The night had to come to an end sometime and we left by taxi to drive about three blocks back to the Palace and to bed at 11pm.

30th Sept 2010 - Day 14 (Long Tan Cross)

I was up and dressed by 5:30am this morning and went down to the hotel email to send our location.   We left Vung Tau at 8am by bus and with a new lady guide who was great.   She had the same sort of personality as Thrung.   We drove through Vung Tau up Hwy 15 to the Long Hai mountains.

The Long Hai were a constant problem during the war with a lot of VC movement and we soon found why the VC liked the area.   You can't really imagine what you are going to find when visiting such a place and I'm sure that thought went through some of
 our soldiers minds when they were sent there to flush out the VC.

The caves with in the mountains were huge and no doubt bomb proof and the VC would have known that too.   Some very good Australian soldiers were lost in fighting in and around the Long Hai.  While in the area we also went down a tunnel system.   It had been enlarged for big people, but it was still squishy and pitch black without a torch.  The day we were up there, there was a power cut.  Vietnam relies on Hydro Electricity generation and when there is no rain there is no power either.  So they have three days on and three days off supply, a bit like load shedding that we occasionally have in Australia.

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VC widows group visiting Long Hai with Helen in the back row

At the Pagoda of Remembrance that holds the names of thousands of Vietnamese VC killed in each district we were surprised to find out that a bus of Vietnamese tourists had arrived.   More surprising was that they were the widows of the VC killed.   It makes you feel totally helpless, here we were in the same area as an officer of the D445 and the widows of the VC.

As soon as the widows spotted Helen she was singled out and taken to pose with the widows and their traveling photographer.  The ladies were all very old and so much shorter than us Australians.   I took photos of them all with Helen in the back row.  They mingled round Helen, holding her by the hand and arm and you could see a sense of understanding between the women.

When we went to climb the mountain track to the VC caves the Vietnamese widows came part way with us too.   I had two holding my hands and I steadied them as we clambered over boulders on a very uneasy track.   We had to part company, the widows went on a different track and we turned to climb higher up into the mountain.

We bussed on to Dat Do, which again is nearly unrecognizable, although the market place is still the same and a couple of the original houses are now set off the main road and still inhabited but in their very old state of disrepair.   40 years ago I had ridden on top of an APC through Dat Do when we were returning from a temporary bridge operation east of the town.

Now I never went to the Horseshoe, but did have mates who did.   Jim O'Leary was one that comes to mind and I'm sure he wouldn't recognise it either.   The mountain has been mined as a quarry and is loosing shape.   The flat country and the hills are lush green and covered in crops.

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L-R  Keith, Graham and Nick at the Long Tan Cross - a very sobering moment

Next was to visit the Long Tan Cross.  A sobering moment for any Veteran.  The rubber trees around the Cross are all new, only 15 years old, so to the untrained eye there are no landmarks or tell tail signs that anything ever happened there at all.

To get into this area you must have a pass or permission and this is gained by visiting the D445 Head Quarters in Long Than.  The brass plate that was on the original cross is your passport.

In a sombre mini service we each placed a red rose on the memorial for the 18 Australians killed in this place on the 18th August 1966.

Graham and I recited the ODE to the fallen;

    They shall grow not old as we

    that are left grow old
    Age shall not weary them, nor
    the years condemn
    At the going down of the sun
    and in the morning
    we will remember them

    Lest we forget

While standing there is the rubber we noticed two small figures heading our way and they turned out to be 'cow boys' young fellas who look after cows in the field.   I know we are not supposed to, but we gave them some dong to add to their pocket money collection.

From the Cross we traveled across to Nui Dat, our old Australian Task Force area is now nearly unrecognizable.   The hill has changed shape and has very few trees on it.   Kangaroo pad is now a farm.   Crops like sweet corn, tapioca and bananas.   The rubber trees in the 104 Sig Sqn Lines are all new and I couldn't find the old graves we used to walk around.

Luscombe Bowl is a street lined with houses

Along Luscombe airstrip there is now a Kindergarten built by the Australian Vietnam Veterans Reconstruction Grroup (AVVRG).  This group also has provided much needed funds to help the Baria Orphanage and Primary School.

The southern gate is still standing but only the uprights.  When you take in to count 40 years of growth in the area we were lucky to be able to see some things we could recognise, but in 10 years time there is likely to be nothing to see.

The road to Baria is narrow and has farms either side.   I could not pick out anything familier.   Baria is now a big city.   We had lunch at a very nice restaurant of which I didn't get the name.   Beautiful food and a great setting.   Pork, mushrooms, chicken, fried rice, vegetables, soup, bananas and plenty to drink.

We said good bye to our Guide as she had to return to Vung Tau to her family.   As much as we tried to encourage her to eat with us at this restaurant, she chose to sit with the bus driver.  It may be a company policy, not to get too friendly with the clients, all the guides ate separately.

While in Baria we visited the orphanage.   Nothing like it was during the war where there were over 200 babies jammed in between the walls.   Although not at all modern, but a safe place for displaced kids.  There were eight babies and one was only 6 weeks old.   He had been found wrapped up outside the gates.  Older children were also in residence and school and high school age too.   The orphanage is their home until they get married or move away.

Before we went to the orphanage we stopped at a local supermarket and guided by our guide a selection of food stuffs were purchased.    We thought that by each putting in a donation and with the combined sum it would have better buying power.  The selection was made and Keith said he would pay for it all and the money collected could go straight to the orphanage.   He is an amazing man!

Babies are toilet trained in 6 months, it is a bit like survival of the fittest.  But both staff and kids seemed happy.

After Baria we drove north through Binh Ba to Ben Hoa and across to Saigon and back to the Duxton Hotel.  This time we are in room 422 and looking out over the main street in the front.

We had a snack at the Amigo Grill next to the Duxton.   It was very nice, I had smoked salmon and salad and Helen had prawns.

We organised my bike tour for the 1st Oct and the laundry with a local bikeman called Mr Dong.   He was very good the day Graham went out and I thought I'd do the town while the girls went to the markets.

1st Oct 2010 - Day 15 (Our last day)

Today marks the first day of the 1000th year celebration!

Our last day and we head home to Australia tonight arriving tomorrow.  But in the mean time Helen Kathy and Graham are going to the markets and I'm going to the Saigon Military Museum and the Presidential Palace.

104 Sig Sqn Vetstory 82
Nick and Mr Dong at the Saigon Military Museum with a USAF Bird Dog (Cessna O-1)
used for Forward Air Control (FAC) during the war

So off I went with Mr Dong on his motorcycle.   Dong is a Cambodian who came to Vietnam around 1975 at the fall of Saigon.  If he had stayed in his own country his safety was not that good.   He has married a local Vietnamese lady and has five children.   He did a good job looking after Graham the day before and he did a great job looking after me today.   So if you visit Saigon and stay at the Duxton you'll find Mr Dong out the front on the right side near the Amigo Grill Restaurant.

By going with Dong, the entrance fees into the Museum and the Palace were lower than normal, ie Dong could get the tickets cheaper than I could.   Just inside the gates are the two replica Russian tanks that crashed their way through the front gates to the Palace grounds on 30th April 1975 at the fall of Saigon.   The grounds are magnificent, beautifully green and well looked after and the palace was named 
Norodom Palace after the then king of Cambodia, Norodom (1834–1904).  The avenue in front of the palace bore the same name.  From 1871 to 1887, the palace was used by the French Governor of Cochinchina (Gouverneur de la Cochinchine); therefore, it was referred to as the Governor's Palace.

While looking inside I met some very interesting people and my memory must be shot because one was my guide on the trip to Trang Bom.   I think the problem was that we had seen so much and met so many people that my mind had not caught up.

I spoke to a couple who wanted a photo taken and I said that I'd take it with all of them in the photo.   Having done that I spoke to two young ladies and their male friend and Truong Kiet who I didn't recognise.

The two young ladies were visiting the Palace for the first time and both were studying at one of Saigons Universities.

104 Sig Sqn Vetstory 82
Nick with the two young ladies, Dang and Phuong

Dang studied Information Technology graduated in October 2010 at the age of 22. 

Comment: She is now working for Google in New York (2018).   She is also married to a Google Engineer and they have one child.   Tran Hai Dang was born in Saigon and now holds a Bachelor Information Technology degree and is working as a Java Developer.   Dang said that even though she has her BIT degree there is still plenty to learn and now she is getting company training and with her background knowledge can now see her training in reality.


104 Sig Sqn Vetstory 82    104 Sig Sqn Vetstory 82
Photo Left:  Tran Hai Dang on graduation     Photo Right: Xuan Phuong on graduation


Xuan Phuong graduated on the 14th November 2010 with a science degree in Engineering Food Technology.   

Comment:   Phuong studied at Ho Chi Minh city University of Industry.  Phuong was encouraged to study from an early age after being born in HCM City.  She like Dang went to Le Hong Phong high school  for the Gifted.   As a student you were expected to work hard and achieve high grades.
     Phuong chose Food Technology so that she could do something about the way and what people ate.  Her degree will enable her to research foods and alergies and try to assist with this problem in the outside world.  Her family always encouraged Phuong to do her best but not always for herself, do it so you can help others.

Being a person alergic to redshell fish and 621, I would be very happy if Phuong was able to find a safer way to add preservitives to food.  With the red shell fish, I can deal with that - Just don't eat it.  Phuong wants to continue her studies and maybe a Masters in a foreign country, at the moment she is looking at Sydney.

In correspondence with Phuong and Dang after we returned to Australian, I suggested that they look into worm farming to help with the digestion of kitchen, paper and card board scraps.  Phuong has found a local website where a young Vietnamese man is growing worms

The Saigon Military Museum is quite stark. A display of Agent Orange deformed babies, shrapnel from B52 strikes, 175mm artillery, Huey helicopters and much more war memorabilia and lots of young people looking through.   Lots of young Vietnamese people are asking what happened during the war with the USA, they ask questions and probably go home none the wiser.

Helen, Kathy and Graham went to the markets and didn't have a good relaxing day like mine.   They got ripped off by a taxi and taken for a ride by some cyclos, but Helen did manage to get a pair of Ho Chi Minh sandles that she was wanting.

They all got back to find me sitting in the lounge sipping a gin and tonic and relaxing.

With the packing all done we went for lunch then to a variety shopping center where we found cloths and nicnacs cheaper and cleaner that the markets, no haggling, air conditioned shopping and only a few steps from the Duxton.

At 4pm our tour group all met together at the Saigon Grand Hotel for a farewell drink.   It was a happy occasion and a chance to thank Keith.

After a quick shower we were off in the bus to the airport. By this time it was bucketing down, pouring rain, the traffic was slower and the driving road conditions even worse.

104 Sig Sqn Vetstory 82   104 Sig Sqn Vetstory 82
Left Photo:  L-R- Kathy and Graham, Helen and Nick and Keith farwell drinks at the Grand Saigon.
Right Photo:  L-R Keith, Jarrod and Kerrin, Lisa and Gary at farewell drinks at the Grand in Saigon. 

After booking in and passport cleared we all sat in the cafe waiting for the 8pm departure on flight VN781 to Melbourne.


Kathy had bought a thank you card and we each signed it and put our remaining Dong currency in the envelope as a gift to Keith.   He was quite embarrassed, but after a discussion we all agreed he could give it to the Baria Orphanage during next years tour .

We arrive in Melbourne at 9am on the 2nd Oct 2010 and clearance through passport took a while because a second aircraft from Singapore arrived at the same time as us.  No sniffer dogs, no problems at customs.

We said our last good byes to Keith and the Sanders family and we headed over to domestic to catch our flights back to Brisbane and finally Rockhampton.  Virgin were able to book our luggage from Melbourne to Rockhampton which was a blessing.   We arrived into Rockhampton at 7:45pm and were picked up by John and Mary Elson and went home to their place for dinner.

We got to our home at 11:45pm.   So that was our "Two Wonderful Weeks in Vietnam".

Nick Quigley
104 Sig Sqn in South Vietnam
18 Nov 68 - 17 Sept 1969

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