Client’s Travel Experience
From: Mr. Wayne Bond and Mr. George Bond (Australia)
Tour: Return to Vietnam 7 Days
Date: 21 – 27 Sep, 2010
Hi Family & Friends
Thankyou for your kind thoughts and prayers during our mission to Vietnam.
George & I arrived home last night from spending the past 8 days on a journey that maybe a playwright would envy of our final script.
My agenda was to accompany George to the main places of interest to where he was based during the war that left some darkness within his soul.
We arrived at Tan Son Nhat airport in Ho Chi Minh City to be greeted by an infectious smiling private guide named Kwo (Khoa) and driver Mr Sa.We then followed an itinerary that faithfully came together by those who would now seem to have been handpicked for this incredible journey.
We travelled 2500 kms of highways, pathways, battlefields, rivers and visited many historical sites including the Reunification Hall, Liberation Palace, Notre Dama Catholic Church, Jade Emperor Temple. Taoist Temples, market places and many other traditional places of historical interest.
The Vietnamese people are very gentle and hold the highest respect for family life. They were very kind, courteous and willing to make sure we were always comfortable with our accommodation and travel plans. At no stage did we have any sense of fear or concerns about being there or where we were going.
The Mekong Delta river cruise was a step back in time witnessing family life as being the same as it has been for many generations, with floating markets providing insights into the rural Mekong Delta lifestyle.
On Saturday we had our long bumpy drive from Saigon to Phan Rang which took 8 hours with a few stops along the way to stretch our legs and take a few photos before arriving at the Champa Resort for a very quiet night, as the following day was going to be the most sensitive day of our journey to Vietnam.
Sunday morning en route to the Phan Rang Airbase we stopped and climbed about 200 plus steps to reach the magnificent 4 Cham Towers that were built by the Champa’s in 700AD. It was strange to be here, as it was not scheduled as a planned stop, however someone far greater than ourselves with an insight into where we were going, steered George to a surprising opportunity of having a 360 deg open view of the Phan Rang Airbase and the beautiful mountain range backdrop from this unique position at the Towers. This time was special for George, as he remained alone and silent standing on the highest rock looking across the airfields with all those memories of past years pouring through his mind.
I could feel the vibes of his tensions being released from his soul as we embraced, prayed and buried Georgie’s engraved Saigon lighter, he has held tightly for all those years and now with a renewed symbol of peace and harmony for him and all others.
With an eerie sound of silence George, Kwo and I had a group hug and walked back down the long steps in silence.
A few minutes later we reached the large security gates at the Airbase to find it heavily guarded by the new Liberation Forces. This was very tense moment as we had to remember that we are still the enemy of that time and they will also have past issues, albeit their strict security protocols in place.
Our chosen guide Kwo is not only a beautiful, fearless 42 year old father of 2 who could talk under water and would make Gerry Harvey’s salesman look like kindergarten graduates, won over the Guard Post Sergeant, but could not get past the superintendent to allow us entry.
After further negotiations, George was allowed to stick his foot through a small gap and actually feel the ground of his old Airbase. I followed, but as expected it did nothing for me, as I was more concerned about the steely faced guards being armed and ready to respond if we stretched any further into their secretly guarded compound.
George was happy to do this and then we moved on to another special place of interest being the Top Cham Orphanage, where he had visited many times delivering food parcels to the Nuns and children during the war. We took photo’s and found two chatty kids who were happy and keen for us to teach them how to say g’day.They waved and yelled out ggg’day as we said goodbye.
Our final resting spot was the beautiful tropical beachfront Canary Beach Resort at Mui Ne. We could not have chosen anywhere better to stay and reflect upon our special day and celebrate all that is now good and how the people of Vietnam have become one in moving forward to a better place and better times of prosperity and education for their young population of 50% being under 25.
As it was a Sunday afternoon and off season, George and I had this entire resort to ourselves and all the personalised service provided around the bar and swimming pool with a postcard backdrop of the calm ocean water which lapped upon the shore, we could not have asked for more.
Monday being our last full day started early as we drove to Vung Tau and picked up another special guide who had first hand knowledge of Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam war.
Chien was an amazing character who is a great friend of Peter “Breaker” Cusack and knew more about the battles of our armed forces, we could be excused for thinking he must have been there at the time, however being born after the war he displayed his dedication and obviously studied hard to retain such knowledge.
Chien directed our driver to go into forbidden places that very few Australian’s would get to go, as we walked for miles through the old battlefields of Long Tan & Nui Dat (SAS Hill) and the Horseshoe where most of the heaviest fighting and casualties for the Australia’s defences took place.
We then walked through the thickest of the plantation to come to a beautiful white Cenotaph that was erected in memory of our brave Australians soldiers who were killed during this “bloody” war. Unless you knew it was there, it would not be found.
Chien gave Georgie and I a single red poppy, a small bunch of red roses each and showed us how and where to place them at the base of this memorial. He then continued with a prayer, followed by the traditional Anzac poem “Lest we forget”. This was such a moving time, to be there alone with George, Kwo and guided by such an amazing person called Chien, who has the greatest admiration for the Australian “Digger”. We then drove back to Than Thiet in silence and said “goodbye” to Chien.
Driving back through Saigon at peak hour we had many laughs as most of the 4 million scooters for the 8 million people living in Saigon were out in force, as they weaved between the traffic with no signs and few lights, but the incredible understanding of knowing what the other drivers were thinking.
“I only wish I could be that clever”.
I do feel blessed to having been part of this incredible heart warming journey with my brother George and will always remember the time we both went to Vietnam and learned what the Vietnamese people say and believe, “it is better to make friends than make revenge”.
Canberra, Australia, August 2007
Vietnam is a place of such interesting contrasts (and food) that it is difficult for me to say which trip I enjoyed most, our first or our second.
We were two families, 4 adults and 4 teenage children. In our first trip we confined ourselves to the North, which we liked so much that we decided to come back and start from the south, ending up in Hanoi again.
The first trip was just magic. Hanoi was a very easy city to get to know, the food fabulous and the Army Hotel was a quiet escape from the noise and action. The scenery at Halong Bay was magnificent, added to by the excitement of having our own boat and own crew to look after us. Lunching on the prawns and squid as we pulled out from the dock and cruised in between the islands was something to remember.
The train up to Sapa after that was a bit ordinary, but the only way to get there. It’s worth paying a bit more to upgrade to a nicer carriage. A trip first to the Flower Hmong markets was just stunning, the people, the colours, the activity and so far relatively untouched by tourism. And Sapa itself was incredibly beautiful. We stayed in a home stay at one of the little villages further up the valley, experiencing their almost self sufficient lifestyle, and their wonderful cooking.
We left our first trip with some nostalgia so decided, after 18 months, to go back and explore the rest of Vietnam. The 13-15 year old teenagers had become 14 to 17 year olds, more independent and more adamant about what they would and would not do.
So Saigon, with all it’s busy-ness and activity seemed to suit them. As did the Cu Chi tunnels and the experience of firing with an AK47 (3 of them were boys). They even seemed to like the Mekong Home stay (more memorable food, especially the whole fried fish) and wander through a nearby town seeing how spring roll cases are made, how soy sauce is made.
But the highlight for them was staying at the Vin Pearl 5 star hotel at Nha Trang with its huge swimming pool and willingness to serve them cocktails while parents were not looking. The mothers also especially enjoyed being pampered at the beauty salon, another experience not to be forgotten.
The luxury lifestyle was continued at Hoi An at the Vinh Hung resort hotel, where the teenagers seemed to be content to watch their newly acquired dvd’s in their room with occasionally ordering room service (and cocktails by the pool). Parents in the meantime discovered the clothes and shoe shops and the cooking classes where we learnt how to make those delicious spring rolls so hard to get in Australia.
Next stop Tam Coc, lovely scenery but don’t buy the linen, it shrinks when you get it home and wash it. Cuc Phong National Park and Endangered Animal Rescue Centre were lovely but we were getting a bit tired of the travelling by then. Another home stay in Mai Chai would have been another memorable experience except for the bus loads of tourists who descended on it in the evening and left early the next morning.
Last stop for us was the Army Hotel in Hanoi and revisiting familiar haunts, shops, markets and restaurants.
Travelling with Tuan and his company made everything so incredibly easy for us. He would pick us up from the airport, take us to the hotel, make all the transport bookings, take us wherever we want to go and sort out all the problems for us. We felt quite spoiled by his attentions, and when, after the first trip we went to Hong Kong on the way home, it was quite an adjustment to have to make all the arrangements ourselves.