I will be posting more of these in future days.
PS: The titles are mine...
VIETNAM: TODAY AND YESTERDAY
February 22, 2008
Hello from Phnom Penh. I've spent the last couple of days here with
Zeb Romine. He's been traveling sort of the reverse of my route.
It's been fun to share a room, see the local sights, have some nice
meals, and talk talk talk. Tomorrow we head off in directions, he to
Vietnam while I take another boat up to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat.
Phnom Penh has been the ideal place to kick back with such varied
local sights as the horrific killing fields and S-21 school-torture
prison leavened with the breathtaking beauty of the royal palace
complex. The weather is warm with a constant breeze off the river.
Vietnam continued to provide very thought provoking experiences. I
enjoyed Hue very much. I knew the old imperial city had been heavily
damaged during the Tet offensive exactly forty years ago. I remember
so well the CBS film taken from the Viet Cong positions in the old
city firing on our troops. The Tet offensive was the turning point of
the war. When all the "secure" cities in South Vietnam came under
simultaneous attack by the VC, most Americans realized that the
Vietnam War was not only nowhere close to being ended, but even
further from being won. It made me wonder just what other surprises
are in store for us in Iraq. The shock might not as great to wake up
one morning with the enemy in our embassy in Baghdad as when it
happened in Saigon. Saigon was thought to be far more secure than
Baghdad. It makes me hope Osama hasn't been reading General Giap's
book. Parenthetically, General Giap is still alive in Hanoi. I saw
his house. He was the head of Ho's army against the Japanese, the
French, and the Americans.
Just prior to the Tet offensive, the five thousand marines in Khe Sanh
came under a terrific attack. President Johnson fear we were very
close to having another Dien Bien Phu. General Giap had planned this
as a diversion and sprung the Tet offensive a couple of weeks later
while most of the American attention was focused on saving Khe Sanh.
Again I remember the Marines lying in the red mud while being pounded
by enemy artillery. The film sequences of the C130s landing with
shells bursting all around them are forever seared in my memory.
Walking around Khe Sanh today it difficult to imagine those times even
with a small museum, bunkers, tanks, and both Huey and Chinook
helicopters parked around. The airstrip itself was steel having now
been disassembled by the local farmers and put to various domestic
uses. The airstrip itself is just a red strip of dirt wandered over
by a few cows and chickens. I think it took more than two months for
the Cav to finally break through and relieve the marines. Not long
afterward the whole place was abandoned and the troops moved further
South. The Vietnam War was like that. Five hundred Marines died
there to protect a place that was completely abandoned a few months
later. I took a complete DMZ tour in addition to Khe Sanh. This
included the famous "rock pile"", the Ho Chi Menh trail, a couple of
old fire bases and the DMZ itself on both sides. I also climbed
through a whole complex of VC tunnels. All of this has far more
meaning to countrymen of my generation.
February 27, 2008
I'm now in Siem Reap, Cambodia. I intended to add a few more lines
before I let this go but it's already too long.
I really enjoyed Hue. In addition to the war sites mentioned above, I
also visited the wonderful forbidden city, the Nguyen Dynasty Tombs,
and did a short Perfume river cruise. I zoomed on past Danang and
China Beach to Hoi An. This colonial and pre-colonial port is now a
World Heritage Site. The river silted up enough to protect its old
buildings. It's a comely laid back place I enjoyed although many
people choose it as their favorite place in Viet Nam. I back tracked
to the Marble Mountains and bussed out to My Son which is what's left
of the Cham civilization famous for sacking Angkor Wat. I had no idea
there was an ancient Hindu kingdom that lasted centuries in Viet Nam.
Next came some beach time in Nha Trang. Very nice. Then some more
hill town cool in Dalat before arriving in Ho Chi Mihn City which
everybody still calls Saigon. Just to give you an idea of today's
Saigon... one of the tallest buildings belongs to the Prudential
Insurance Company. Three million motor bikes swirl through the city
making everything seem a blur. Grabbing a quick ride on a motor bike
has been my main short ride transportation on this trip. It's been
scary but no wrecks so far although I've witnessed at least ten.
Several days in town let me visit all the usual tourist sites
including the Reunification (Presidential) Palace which is preserved
just as it was when South Vietnam fell. I also remember another War
Museum although I saw enough in Vietnam that they all now kind of melt
together in my memory.
Leaving Saigon I spent three days in the Mekong Delta boating around
and seeing how the delta people live. It's so different from the rest
of the country. From the border I took a boat up the Mekong to Phnom
Sorry this is so long and boring. I'll try to do Cambodia while it's
still fresher and I can tell you more what I'm really enjoying about
the trip rather than simply listing where I've been.
Angkor, for example, is one of the most interesting and beautiful
ruins I've ever seen and I've been lucky enough to see a heap.
Enough. My best to everyone.