There are still American, Australian, and Korean veterans that want to revisit their past. For good or bad…. Whether involved in bloody conflict or support roles, it seems Vietnam holds something special in their memory and many wish to return to Vietnam to compare then and now. I have hosted a few of them in the past but this blog is about one American returning to Vietnam after 45 years. It all started with an email from California.
Alex made a general enquiry about the tours I offer and asked if I could recommend someone that could take him to past and help him with translation services. He is a filmmaker and is interested in not only tracing his past service in Vietnam, but also working on documentary material in the north. I considered his request and came to the conclusion that Hau…… one of my experienced riders would probably best be able to help. We corresponded more and I ran into an issue….. A major one!! The places Alex wanted to go were not on any maps and were perhaps not reachable by a Vietnamese guide. I researched the coordinates and was pretty sure I could get him into the locations. Here was the issue…. My Rider was in the Vietnamese army and could be an excellent translator for any interviews Alex might want to do. I could send him to Hanoi and the tour could start there, however, my rider would be very limited in local knowledge and might be unsure about going to places that are unknown. Once south of Hue, he would be much more knowledgeable, but would be limited by his experience. I considered for a while and then decided to offer him an alternative. I offered to guide him myself telling him that my translation would be basic but perhaps passable (I have yet to know the score on that one….. Guess I will have to wait for the film). We talked on
Skype and I comment to him it was two foreigners bumbling our way through Vietnam to discover the past. Alex seemed to like the idea, do it was a solo tour for me…… Yee Haa!!! I love these tours!! I have done perhaps 6 now and they are always an adventure. So was this…..
I picked up Alex at the Danang airport and we simply drove to our hotel for the evening. We had a chance to talk about our trip and get some details worked out. I had already researched all of our destinations and had exact gps coordinates plotted, so hopefully we would not have problems. We had 10 days to travel from Danang to Nha Trang so we were not in a hurry to be anywhere.
Our first day took us to My Son via the Marble Mountain airbase which is still mostly intact. It looks unused but when we tried to enter, we were stopped by military guards. I timed it so we would arrive in My Son ruins as all the tourist busses were leaving since filming would be difficult with all the crowds. I assumed that it would only take a few hours to visit the site for filming purposes but I was mistaken. Perhaps I should have found a local guest house and gone back a second day, but I have been tainted by the heavy tourist nature of the area…. In my mind we had to leave before the crowds returned….. Sorry Alex. From there
we headed south to the city of Quang Ngai, an area which he served in the war. We started the morning by discovering the ancient ruin of the Chau Sa Citadel on the way to the My Lai area and the location of Son My. This was one of a number of small hamlets where the sad history of war massacres happened. The area is preserved and some of the foundations of the original village along with the history is preserved. We left the monument and traveled to the other areas where my GPS led me. Ales and I were faced with a very eerie mystery. There were graves everywhere. Some in peoples yards, on fence lines, in roadside ditches……. Everywhere. There were also some very old remnants of
buildings, but it is very hard to tell what was simply abandoned, or destroyed. I spoke with the curator of the war memorial, but she could not answer as to whose graves they were. She said some were from the sick and family members, and some were from war. You will have to watch Alex’s documentary when it is released and decide for yourself. We spent the later part of the day driving around the area when were surprised to find what looked like an old French bunker overlooking coastal waters. On closer inspection it looked to us that there might have been an old forgotten French base at that location…… Hmmmmmmm…..another mystery to solve. We are only ending our second day and we have already seen more evidence of buried history than I knew possible in Vietnam. Most history seems buried and forgotten, and the local people seem to know nothing of the foreign structures that remain until this day smothered in jungle growth or jutting out of their crops.
To be continued……..