Tag Archives: Vietnam – 2nd Tour

Saigon and the Rex Hotel

After my lucky escape in Vung Tau we rode the hydrofoil to Saigon and booked at the Oscar Hotel for the night before going on to Nha Trang the next day.

That night I figured we should go and have a beer at the Rex Hotel. Famous during the war as a residence for Generals and journalists, it is a part of the folk-law of the Vietnam war.

Being Infantry I never got there but had heard how the assembled multitude would admire the infantry’s ongoing pyrotechnic side show as we swapped red for green tracer and added in the odd napalm ‘appocalypse’ mixed with the Puff the Magic Dragon ‘spiralling red light show’ as millions of rounds sought out enemy troops.

Ah. The vision splendid of pyrotechnics in war

I hope the bastards appreciated all the effort we went to to liven up their Happy Hours after a hard week in their airconditioned offices.

Suzan Weber in Demillle’s Up Country talks on some of the history of the hotel.

She smiled then said, “About the hotel – it was once owned by a wealthy Vietnamese couple who bought it from a French company. During the American involvement here, it housed mostly American military”

“So I’ve heard”

“Yes. Then when the Communists came to power in 1975, it was taken over by the government. It remained a hotel, but it mostly housed North Vietnamese party officials, Russian, and Communists from other countries”

“Nothing but the best for the winners”

“Well, I understand it became a pigsty. But sometime in the mid-1980s the government sold an interest in it to an international company, who managed to get rid of the communist guests. It was completely renovated and became an international hotel”

From Up Country by Nelson Demille pp98-99

rex1.jpg

A couple of Tiger beers followed by a couple of Black Label scotches soothed the soul as Stu and I sat and talked about things in general. The Rex was as far removed from my war as Brisbane is and thus didn’t conjure up many recollections, but alcohol loosens the mind and some surprising events resurfaced from repressed memories.

Over by the crown and elephants a Philipino Quartet played and I was reminded of a time when I was last in Vietnam and suffering from malaria and a kind nurse offered to push me down in my wheelchair to a visiting Philipino show near the hospital at Vung Tau.

There were lightly clad, pretty Philipino girls doing a song and dance routine that quickly degenerated into a ‘simulated sex with the microphone stand’ routine and then went straight on to a ‘real and naked sex with passing soldiers’ routine. Military Policemen found God and converted from being athiest bastards to followers of religion of the type quoted by Protestants and Methodists and stopped the show, while my chaperone giggled, squealed and quickly wheeled me out of the theatre.

“Your’e not well enough for anything like that yet Kevin, your’e not even strong enough to walk”

All my protestations about it being a horizontal sport made no impact on the determination of the Lieutenant to deliver me safe and sound back to my hospital bed.

I lived to fight another day but I always felt the last chapter of that story never got written.

Vung Tau

After the emotion of visiting the old battle sights we settled in Vung Tau for a couple of days RinC (Rest in Country). We visited the Ettamogah Pub for breakfast each morning and planned our day. Sometimes the planning took the form of a one-liner – ‘taking it easy today’. On other days we explored the town that had once been my leave port.

I didn’t recognize much at all and I guess the fact that I had only been there a few times and that was 30 plus years ago might have had something to do with my poor recollections.

The other contributing factor could have been that I was usually drunk when I had been there previously.

The more gentle of my readers may think that is a poor show but considering that I was Infantry and that some of the mates I had spent earlier leave passes with had been killed or de-limbed by mines then you might understand that each subsequent leave pass was spent in the knowledge that it may be my last -literally. The sword of Damocles imbues a desire to live the rest of your life to the fullest, at the earliest.

And I did!

That’s my excuse anyway.

Nui Dat and Long Tan

While aspiring film producer Martin Walsh tries to get a movie of the Battle of Long Tan underway I am walking through the rubber where it all happened nearly forty years ago. The rubber is being tapped now and workers walk through the plantation where years before just over 100 men of Delta Company, 6RAR stood their ground against 2500 odd enemy soldiers.

Getting to Long Tan was an experience by itself. Anh, at the Ettamogah Pub organised the permits necessary that any tourist, veteran or otherwise, needs to visit and pay respects at the Long Tan Cross. $10.00 USD per visitor for the permit that comes with an escort and $40 USD for the vehicle and driver. The escort, a polite young man did his country proud. He treated us with respect as we did him, and only mentioned the word ‘Victory, six times over the day.

Vung Tau – First impressions

We caught the Saigon-Vung Tau Hydrofoil. A futuristic looking fast ferry that is Russian built. Like all things Russian, (in my experience) it looks magnificent at 100 metres and tragic close up. The Vietnamese don’t help as repair and maintenance doesn’t feature beyond keeping the engines working.

Screws and rivets rusting out, few light globes working, bits of timber falling off everywhere and all of this moving along at maybe 60 kph. An accident waiting to happen.

On this occassion, all integral parts maintained close formation and we arrived at Vung Tau 1hr 15 min later to be met by two regiments of small people all shouting something that sounded like Taksi!!

I’d forgotten about the standard Vietnamese marketing ploy of harrassing the shit out of people from several flanks at once until they fold and buy something. We succumbed and caught a taxi to the Ettamogah Pub.

Any Australian, or any other westerner for that matter, should drop in at the Ettamogah Pub. Run by Alan and Anh, (Aussie and Vietnamese) the place offers a bolt hole for frazzled travellers. No Vietnamese Marketing Assaults allowed inside, the food is good, the bar girls bad very good and Anh is always keen to help Aussie Vets looking to go to old battle scenes.

Any vets reading this site should be aware that going back in time never really works. Nothing is the same. The town now has a population of about 200,000; a two lane highway leads to Baria and the back beach is now a resort site with kilometers of hotels and bars removing money painlessly from tens of thousands of tourists.

The Flags, the site of thousands of drunken RVs, no longer exists. The Peter Badcoe Club has gone although the pool was only recently ripped out to make way for another jerry buily hotel.

In short, I recognized nothing at Vung Tau – it was as if I had never been there before.

I’m hoping for better results tomorrow when we go to look at Baria, Nui Dat, Long Tan, Hoa Long, Phuoc and all points inbetween.

Until then stay safe and enjoy your Christmas

Saigon

At last I’m in Saigon. The city of 8 million people, 4 million small motor bikes and absolutely no trafic rules that I can ascertain.

Yesterday I flew Brisbane through Bangkok arriving late and tired. I had a good seat courtesy of my youngest daughter’s boyfriend who told me to phone the day before and book a preference. It worked. I had more leg room than the pilot.

Good flight, good food, indifferent movies.

Arrived at Bangkok at 22.30 and waited around the carousole for around thirty minutes until someone told me that being in transit I wasn’t going to see my baggage untill I got to Saigon. Clean clothes and shave pack were things for tomorrow.

Damn.

The lack of a fridge or coffee facilities in the room forced me to use Room Service and I gladly signed a chit for 450 baht. Not having noticed the conversion rate I didn’t have a clue what that meant in AUSD but next morning in the lift I noticed a Christmas Lunch for 400 baht. Visions of the coffee costing 50 or 60 bucks were unfounded as it eventually converted to $13.00

Ordered coffee next morning and thanked the waitress… ‘Cam On’. The girl looked blank and should have as I thanked her in Vietnamese! She gave me a quick reminder and I thanked her meaningfully, in her language.

I wished I could have stayed longer in Bangkok as it would have been a buzz to go to the Old Asia Hotel where I lived for 6 months during the Vietnam War. Maybe Tai was still behind the bar and Honest Sam may still be selling rubies. I brought my wife a ruby from Sam way back then for $90.00 for one carat which is now worth several thousand dollars. It would have been good to do it again. A fellow always needs some brownie points.

Ah, Thailand, where the woman are petite, pretty and all smiles and the fellows are…mmm…I don’t know..didn’t really notice.

A short flight to Vietnam sitting next to a young Vietnamese woman who has just finished two years in Switzerland preceeded by four years in Vietnamese Universities.

Her job hopes?

She is going to work in hospitality as all the young people with any sort of education can see the tourist dollar is coming.

Are your parents meeting you?

No, just my boyfriend. If I told my parents before hand I was coming they wouldn’t sleep until I got home.

Good story with the boyfriend being the winner. Love or hormones, it was sweet and she was so excited when the plane touched down.

Flying low over the city the Saigon River still snakes through the suburbs and the old aircraft bunkers protecting memories and old oil slicks at Ton Son Nhut are still there as if the Vietnamese are maintaining them. Small memorials to many brave deeds.

The last time I was there I wrote;

Tan Son Nhut airport still beggars description. Every cliché that ever was has been used by war correspondents to describe the chaos and order. The chaos apparent, the order witnessed by the lack of mid-air collisions. Then the busiest airport in the world, our arrival deposits us in an inferno of heat and fuming avgas produced by the tropics and uncountable aircraft. Not a system in sight but oh, the aircraft! F4-Phantom jets, Republic F-105,\nC123 Providers, RAAF Hercules and Caribou, Huey Choppers like a locust plague on the Nullabor Plains, Jet Ranger Choppers and small bubble choppers we later called the Flying Sperm (was there something on our minds?) Sky Cranes, “Dragon Fly? Chinooks and Push-Pull Cessna’s used as spotter aircraft. Military Inventory Overload! Get me to an Aussie base!

Not so this time. Nowhere as busy and instead of trying to kill us they were just checking our passports.

Tomorrow we, my son Stuart and I, are off to Vung Tau by ferry. Tonight might be the time for a beer at the Caravelle or some such other pub steeped in history.

Will post again from Vung Tau after I’ve visited the old battle grounds – the bars-and other sites a vet might like to see again. Long Tan, Nui Dat, Hoa Long, Lang Phouc Hai, Phouc Buu, The Horseshoe and all places inbetween.

Back to War Tour

This afternoon at 16:30 I depart Brisbane for Saigon. Blogging will be minimal over the duration of my sojourn in a Third World country however I will try. The biggest problem that I can forseee, will be my Third World standard knowledge of mobile blogging.

Best of the season to you all and thanks for visiting.

I’m going back

My eldest son has suggested I stop talking about it and do it. That is, go back to Vietnam and face my demons. So sometime this southern summer, most probably December, myself, my wife, my son and his fiance are heading off to look at Vietnam, Ancor Wat, Thailand and whatever inbetween.

I served in Thailand during the war and look forward to visiting again. Maybe have a Singah beer at the old Asia Hotel where I lived for several months and generally play the tourist that I wasn’t in 1972.

Vietnam though, will be a trip of discovery. Everything old will be new again. Different eyes, different experience. No fear. No having to fit your entire life in a 36 hour leave pass in Vungtau because your days may be numbered

Man, they were pretty heavy leave passes. You haven’t partied unless you’ve done so thinking for tomorrow we die!. Lends strength for party games, allows for consumption of huge amounts of alcohols which in turn makes you taller, stronger, wittier and able to beat the provost at any game they call.

What I want from my readership is useful advice on Vietnam today. I know some of my peers from all those years ago live in Phuouc Tuy province today. I know some of my readers are from Vietnam. I know others are vets and may have travelled there lately.

I need contacts. I want to meet our old enemy – the soldiers, not the communist party stooges – and have a chat and a beer with them. I’d particularly like to meet Vietnamese veterans who served in C2 D445 Battalion.

The last time we met, in August 1970, I didn’t get a chance to say hullo. They fired and killed a mate of mine and then ran. On reflection it most probably wasn’t the time and place for a chat – it was time for death and I was looking to create some. Maybe I did – we found plenty of blood trails but no bodies. C2 D445 Vets are the only ones who would know.

Love to meet them.

I’m a different man now. Have a beer, a chat, swap stories and photos of wives and kids.

Civilized now.

Help me readers – leave some meaningful advice.

  • Facebook