Part 2 of Return to Vietnam has us leaving a guesthouse where I became sand flea bitten and slightly overcharged by the owner who
insisted in calling me her love. Alex thanked me for taking the heat off of him. I had left 2 days early to head to Danang in order to see if some areas were assessable by motorcycle. In another month or so, I have a tour with another American wanting to revisit the past. Apparently Michael and Lynn have made a number of attempts to find specific locations but were unable to get to them for some reason or another. Like this trip, I marked all locations on GPs and am happy that I was able to reach all areas with not too much difficulty. It also gave me some prior knowledge about the area that Alex and I were traveling today. Alex served in the 173rd Airborne and had an interest in finding LZ English, Phu Cat airbase, LZ Uplift, the An Lao valley where he saw action, and An Khe airbase / Camp Radcliff. After a good breakfast of Bo Ne (Vietnam’s version of steak and eggs) we started down highway 1. We spent as much time as we could on back roads to avoid the dangers and first stopped at Duc Pho where there used to be an American airbase. In this location we found very little
left. There were only parallel streets that used to be runway and hard pack in some empty lots where vehicles and aircraft were parked. We left with a little disappointment fearing that the rest of our quest might meet the same fate.
Next was a stop at Phu Cat airfield that is now being used by Quy Nhon as its domestic airport but also by the Vietnamese military as a base. The old American bunkers towards the south end of the runway are
shelters for Russian migs and what remains of the old American buildings are either deserted or being used by the local forces. We became a bit nervous as we were being watched by military guard towers and a couple of bumbling foreigners aimlessly riding around secured areas would only be tolerated for so long. Alex and I made a judgment call and rod off hastily with our objective complete. Nobody followed us or impeded our progress. We arrived in Bong Son and rented a room for a couple of nights making our plans to explore. Again the GPS was true and we were able to find small roads through the jungle and townships. We rounded the corner of a red clay road and were stunned into silence……. There before us was the complete air strip as if never touched. Of course there
was no sign of buildings or American presence, but the locals were putting the strip to good use drying cassava and other items. Drawing on faded memories, Alex and I headed down small muddy roads to an area called the “Dust Bowl”. From there we were able to locate the remains of the helicopter pads. This was exciting!! Until now, I have seen very little evidence of Americans being in Vietnam. Even in the DMZ I saw little…. But now!! Wow! I am seeing Vietnam from a new viewpoint and will no doubt become a more informed guide because of it. You will have to watch Alex’s documentary for more information, however, we were also able to find the area of his hooch near a
center post. In the dust bowl we encountered a local with a homemade metal detector looking for scrap metal. He had a bag of goodies that we wanted to inspect but he became very fearful and evaded us and our questions. Before we left, we took off down the runway to imagine the past. At a higher speed, we were forced to slow down due to the wind shear. An old ex military fellow beckoned to us on the way out and after showing us his multiple scars began to talk. He quickly changes the topic though when a fellow in green clothes stopped close by to listen. Paranoia maybe? I was happy to be gone before the kisses started. The one disturbing trend as Alex’s translator is that many of the very old men who I spoke with were prone to giving me wet sloppy kisses on the cheek…… An experience I can do well without thank you very much….. Sheesh! On reflection, I found the day to be a lot of fun and very educational. We went places that left shocked expressions on faces and people confused.
The day was now getting on and we were running out of time. We returned to Bong Son mission accomplished. During the day I had also arranges a 5 day tour for a couple from Hoi An to Nha Trang. Tien, one of my trusted riders was able to make it to Bong Son on his trip up for the evening. Surprisingly, there were also 2 Danang riders who I know that were forced to overnight in town. We all ended up at the same place for the night and had a bit of fun swapping stories. We went to a street stall where I had a bowl of very good Bun Thit Nuong. Alex on the other hand had one of the toughest chicken legs of his life time. I get a bit of a chuckle thinking of a fighting cock out there missing a leg. Tomorrow we leave for the Anh Lao vally