Day 3 – April 18
While at breakfast at the hotel, 8 Mig 21’s took off from Da Nang and flew right by our hotel. Those guys must get up real early.
We are going to take the 2 lane mountain road over the Hai Van pass into Phubai area. It takes about 45 minutes to get to the top of the pass. Traffic was rather mild as we started the climb. Reaching the top there are some old bunkers and gun emplacements still in place which were obviously built to control the mountain road during the war.
Adjacent to the bunkers were souvenir shops and refreshment stands. I had forgotten how high the mountains were in this area and if one looked to the west they were even higher. Looking back and I’m remembering some of the work we did at night under flares over toward the Laotian border some 30 miles away. The trip down the mountain also takes about 45 minutes. Once down the mountain, the country side is not unlike the trip to Chu Lai, rice fields and all, but there seemed to be more heavy trucks on the move in both directions.
Hue is historical and was the ancient Capitol of all of Vietnam, largely because it was located almost exactly half way between the southern border and the northern border of Vietnam.. There is a real pride within the people about the city. The walled city or Emperor’s residence as you may know is really 3 cities in one, all protected by high stone walls and by a moat supplied by the Perfume River. The walled city is roughly 8 tenths of a mile square and is much larger than I expected.
We had lunch just outside the walled city and we could tell the influence of the French in the food. It was much better than in some of the other localities. After lunch, we started the trip back to Da Nang over the same route except instead of retracing our ride over the mountain pass, as we approached the city we were going to go through a 6 mile long tunnel directly into the city of Da Nang. The tunnel built by the Japanese, eliminates at least one hour and 30 minutes, or more, of travel time.
It was a long day but we finally got back to the hotel in Da Nang at 6:45 pm, had dinner and off to bed.
Day 4 – April 19
The pagoda inside the mountain was fascinating!
Some areas of the beach are nicely landscaped. Driving a bit further down the beach is the Marble Mountain helicopter base.
The only things that remains are some concrete bunkers and a few watch towers. Those bunkers are slowly being torn down. Most of it is gone and cleared, awaiting investment money to build hotels, condominiums, or apartments. It seems to me that just like the Chu Lai area, the war is being erased.
There are now 5 modern bridges across the harbor connecting the city with the beach areas and two more under construction. We are told that either the Koreans or the Japanese are building them. Entering the down town area of Da Nang, traffic is heavy with motor bikes, a few cars and many trucks. In downtown Da Nang there is a display of Vietnamese airplanes that were used during the war. Construction going on everywhere. Our guide tells us that some of the construction has been stopped or delayed because of the world economy. Sounds familiar. We are asked if we would like to go shopping but we decline. We head back to the hotel now to prepare for an evening flight back to Seoul Korea and then on to the USA. As we ate dinner in preparation to depart, we met an active duty US Marine. He told us he would be in Vietnam for 4 weeks. He had been to language school and was doing “some stuff” for the Marine Corps. He did not elaborate nor did I ask.
Vinh and Minh picked us up for the ride to the airport. We bid them good bye with a nice tip. They did everything we asked and were just super. They made the trip educational and fun.
The airport in Seoul (Inchon) is something to see. World Class is every way. We planned to spend the day in Seoul at the airport, go to the airport hotel which is part of the airport, and sleep for 6-7 hours then board the airplane for LAX to make the homeward portion of the trip easier on the body. And that is what we did arriving back in LAX at 10:00 am in the morning of April 20, the same day we left Korea. Both of us were in bed that evening by 700 pm and were almost thoroughly rested the next day.
It is forty miles from Hue to Dong Ha. Dong Ha is at the southern approaches to the former demilitarized zone. It is also where highway Route 9 and Route 1 intersect. Route 9 will take you to Khe San, and the Ashau Valley. The extension of Route 9 into Laos will also take you to Tchepone and on to Savannakhet Laos. Route 9 is an important highway. As I’m sure most of you know, this particular area was the heart of the Ho Chi Minh trail. On the trip back to Da Nang, Vinh told us that the Route 9 road was in good shape and could be traveled quite easily. Khe San is about 25 miles from Dong Ha and the Ashau Valley is 3-5 miles further. He also said that the Vietnam/Laos border is now open. Tchepone is 65 miles from Dong Ha. If I had known, I would have spent another day or so and gone to see these areas. In a previous paragraph I remarked that I didn’t remember the mountains being as high as I thought they were. I would have liked to have seen those mountains up close from the ground, the Ashau Valley, possibly Khe San, and the Tchepone area. That would have been really fun and interesting
I think if I had to eliminate a day it would be the day we went to Hoi An. It was fun but I think I would have enjoyed the trip up Route 9 much more. Loretta, might see it differently.
I always said, that from the sky Vietnam was a beautiful country. Except for some of the poverty in the country side it is also a very pretty place to see from the ground. I didn’t get to walk down that runway like Dean Jagger did, but I came real close. The Vietnamese with their walls kept that experience from me. Hopefully in the future someone will be able to walk the ground where the runway did exist. But I saw where it was and I knew I had been there before. I had not forgotten, I had remembered, I had come back and saw what had become of the place called Chu Lai and for me that had to be good enough.
Was the trip worth it? Absolutely! But I am also aware that there are those who have no desire or inclination revisit Vietnam. That said, I had hoped that some others in my squadron, VMA 311, who had expressed a desire to go, would have gone with us which would have made the trip a more fun and better experience. Just seeing the Chu Lai would have sparked many stories and those stories would have given me solace that would last the rest of my life. But sadly, in the end, it was not to be. However, for Loretta and I, it was a great trip.