Viet Nam Tours -
The Long Tan Trek Tour Report - 2011
This page records the October 2011 Long Tan Trek Tour.
(Last updated 03 January 2012)

q Battlefield Tours
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http://nntravel.com.au

qAVVRG WebSite
http://avvrg.org.au

 

[All photos credit to Tour members Peter, Allan, Phil, Suzie, Rae, Garth, Nick, Di  and others.]

 

 

The Majestic Hotel is centrally located, riverside and retains its elegant charm and quiet luxury - a perfect place to start the Tour.

 

 

 

 


The former Presidential Palace, Saigon, now "Reunification Palace"

and

the view from the Palace to the gates where the NVA tanks crashed through in 1975.

 

 

 

The War Remnants Museum has extensive displays outdoors as well as indoors.  Ray and Mitch inspect some of the displays.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The French architecture of the Post Office, Saigon, is stunning...

...and right across the road, the Notre Dame Cathedral has a fascinating history to tell.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then (1975)...

 

...and now (2011).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Huge B-52 bomb craters
still pock-mark a rubber plantation near the site of Balmoral (remember, this crater is now 40 years old). They still dwarf the sightseer and are still very impressive!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shrine to NVA killed
at Coral and other battles in the area

 

 

 

 

VC/NVA shrine and memorial to their dead at Coral and other battles in the area

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Two ex-6RAR Diggers, James and Michael (from the 2010 Tour) stand beside the original Long Tan Cross


and a close-up of the original metal plaque.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vung Tau is a fishing and resort area and the step-off point for the many oil rigs off shore.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Grand Hotel in Vung Tau was used by the Australians during the Viet Nam War as an officers quarters.

I'm sure the standard of accommodation has improved since then!

 

 

 

 

 

There were several Powerpoint presentations thru the Tour, each on a decisive battle we'd cover the following day

One of the map/diagrams of the battle of Long Tan

 

 

 

 

 

On an old helipad half-way up Nui Dat ('SAS Hill'), Dave briefs the Tour on the layout of the 1ATF base.

 

 

 

 

 

The old airstrip is a road now...

...complete with a village and kids...

...and the AVVRG Kindy...

...and a new school being built at the Western end of the airstrip.

 

 

 

 

 

The route took us through grasslands, plantations, crops and even through the backyards of homes built since the war...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Lunch in the rubber plantation - not exactly as D/6 remembers it from 18 Aug 1966.

 

 


 

 

The highlight (or lowlight?) of the lunch was when it was interrupted by a herd of cattle trying to get to the battlefield before us...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The opening shots of the battle were fired by 11 Pl Sgt Bob Buick as he crossed this road in the plantation at this spot...

 

Dave stops for one of the briefings - they were given 10 minutes apart to maintain the "real time" flavour of the battle

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time for another briefing.  There was time for questions at each stop.

Many Tour members remarked on how small the actual battlefield was - just some 500 yards square.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A wreath was laid on behalf of the Tour Group, National Network Travel and the AVVRG.

 

 

Dave with six ex-3RAR blokes (five from WA) stand at the Long Tan Cross - L to R: David C, Peter J, Michael H, Dave, Paul, Bruce and Michael G.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unfortunately, it was a Sunday, so no staff were there.  However, we went inside and looked at the equipment and facilities.

 

 

 

 

 

Standing on what was the minefield, now a road. The rim of the Horseshoe is in the background.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Dave gives the group the basic facts of the incident...

...but hands over to two of the Tour who were serving with 6RAR at the time (Allan B and Graeme M) to add details.

Dave always invites the Tour members to share their experiences and knowledge.

 They were always willing to do this. (Here, Paul relates a personal experience.)

 

 

 

Some of the caves require a trek through the hills...

...but once there, they're worth the visit..

...many being really only the dirt excavated from between huge boulders.

 

 

 

 

 

 

As part of the support for the AVVRG charity work in the former Phuoc Tuy Province, Tour members are encouraged to bring small gifts for the Dental Clinic, Kindy or Orphanage (clothes, toys, sports gear, glasses etc).  Or we can buy food when we visit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The boat ride gives the Tour a feel for riverine ops conducted by the Aussies in the mangrove swamps.  But don't worry - it's smooth sailing - and no one shoots at us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Hydrofoil is a 90 minute trip up (or down) the Saigon River, between Saigon and Vung Tau on the Cap St Jacques Peninsula.

 

 

 

 

 

The slimmer of us tried the VC 'spiderholes' or the tunnels, or made more new friends...

 

 

 

 

 

...but the major attraction was firing an AK47 or an Armalite (at $1.50 per round!).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A cyclo ride is the best way to see the old town and get your bearings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The silk factory shows how silk is processed and turned into paintings, table linen etc.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marble Mountain - with caves used as secret wartime VC hospitals - now serves as a Buddhist sanctuary area.

 

The mountains are surrounded by marble carving factories and merchants, but the marble is
now all imported.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At China Beach, resorts have now crowded out the war-time memories and the whole beach is buzzing.

 

There's nothing left at Red Beach II, where the Marines waded ashore in 1965, except the beach.  That's Da Nang in the distance.

 

 

 

French fortifications in the Hai Van Pass
north of Da Nang...

...and the bridges at Lang Co, former Marine base.


 

 

 

 


Tran Cao Van (Street)- scene of much combat when retaking Hue city south of the Perfume River.

As it was in 1968...
...and in Oct 2011.

 

 

 

 

 

The Citadel at Hue was the scene of the heaviest fighting in Tet '68.

 

Many of the huge metal urns still bear bullet and shrapnel scars.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Long Hung Catholic Church - damaged in the Tet '72 fighting and left by Quang Tri city as a war monument.

The Quang Tri citadel was heavily fought over in 1972.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A small museum briefs visitors to the tunnels...


...before they venture underground (the flash makes it look bright but in fact it's very dim)

 

 

 

 

 

 

'Freedom Bridge' is the old Bailey Bridge spanning the Son Ben Hai (river) which was the actual demarcation between North and South Vietnam.  Gary gets ready to cross north to south.

On the bridge looking north.

 

 

Phil climbs on top of an old French "pill box" at Con Thien.

The "Rockpile", with "Razor-back" visible to right rear.  Rockpile was owned by the US, Razorback by the NVA.

 

 

 

 

Khe Sanh has a great indoor and outdoor museum ( seen in the background behind the aircraft).  They're assembling more displays at Khe Sanh - maybe to become a major tourist site?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Da Krong Bridge - saw heavy fighting during the War.

 

Both Da Krong and A Shau valleys offered spectacular views of rivers between huge mountain ranges.

 

 

 

 

Locals pan for gold on the Da Krong River. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The "normal" view, with haze obscuring the heights.

 

But by darkening the same photo...

...the true mass of the mountain can be seen.
In the centre of the photo you should be able to see FIVE ridgelines!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The streets of the Old Quarter were always crowded and busy.

But most streets have merchandise 'themes', so it's fairly easy to find whatever you're looking for.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum isn't open to the public in October or November...

...but we caught the changing of the guard.

 

 

 

The visit to the War Museum was interesting and included an animated diorama on Dien Bien Phu - good preparation for the trip there tomorrow...

 

 

...and the visit to the infamous 'Hanoi Hilton' capped off the day's activities.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The airstrip at Dien Bien Phu sits in the valley floor, still overlooked by the hills which once held the Viet Minh artillery.

The Him Lam Resort lies in a lovely green setting

 

 

 

 

The large Viet Minh cemetery is well tended and offers visitors a view of the human price of the First Indo-China War - thousands of names are recorded by home Province and most of the grave stones are un-named.

A slightly-used tank on Hill A1.

 

 

 

 

 

Terraced rice paddies belie the history of the area.

 

Rae stands next to the entrance plaque of Giap's bunker complex.

 

 

 

 

 

The French memorial at DBP is the only other foreign war memorial on Vietnamese soil - the other one being the ANZAC memorial cross at Long Tan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


What a way to end the Tour - a day on the water in Ha Long Bay

 

 

Spectacular and peaceful - Ha Long Bay well deserves its World Heritage listing.

 

 

Only the huge limestone caves could entice us off the boats and onto dry land

 

 

 

 


 

 

 



And then it was time
to say "goodbye"...

Photo: Bob (2010 tour)

Our thanks to:
Peter, Allan, Phil, Suzie, Rae, Garth, Nick and Di and their cameras for their photos.

And as we get other
photos we'll add and acknowledge them too.

Finally, a big vote of thanks (again!) to National Network Travel's
Judi Gifford,
 who you've all talked to but most haven't met:

"
Thanks, Judi - it wouldn't have happened without you!"

All the best...
Dave & Di Sabben

---------- LONG TAN TREK TOUR 2011 ----------

Dave's third Long Tan Trek Tour departed Australia 12 October with 24 passengers, included 14 Viet Vets, 3 ladies, and ages ranging from the 20s to the 70s.

                       
    The Flyer for the                    The Itinerary for the       
     2011 Tour                          2011 Tour
(17 pages)

==============================================

The 2011 Tour flew Singapore Airlines from all of the State capitals to Singapore, where the Tour Group assembled.  from there, a short flight to Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC, but we'll call it 'Saigon').  We booked in to the Majestic Hotel - the tour uses 4-star hotels where available:

The first day took in a tour of Saigon, including the "usual" places:

...the War Remnants Museum...

... the famous Post Office... the Notre Dame Cathedral...

... and we were able to view the rooftop from which the US evacuation flights flew in 1975...

The afternoon was free time to shop or acclimatise, followed by a 'welcome dinner' and a fairly early night for most.  Next day, it was a bus north from Saigon to the area of the large battles of Balmoral...

... and on to the VC/NVA memorial and shrine on the FSB Coral battlefield site...


Then it was on to the Dong Nai Museum, where the original Long Tan Cross and plaque are on display...

After lunch, we bussed down Route 15 to Vung Tau.  There's nothing of note remaining of the 1ALSG site.

 At Vung Tau, we booked into the Grand Hotel for three nights...
 

After an evening briefing on the Australian presence in Viet Nam generally and on the Long Tan battle in particular...

...we bussed to Nui Dat, where Dave explained the base layout and the NVA's intentions for a huge attack on the base set for the night of the 18th of August 1966.

Next stop was a visit to the old Luscombe Airstrip which is now the main street of a new village.  We met some of the locals and visited the AVVRG-assisted Kindy...

...after which we started on the Trek from Nui Dat to the Long Tan rubber plantation, following as closely as possible the route that Delta Company, 6RAR, (D/6) took on the 18th...

...and stopping for a "bush" lunch in the plantation a few hundred metres from where D/6 had stopped for lunch on 18 Aug 1966...


After lunch, and recovering our dignity, we walked the battlefield.  It was the highlight of the Tour - the Long Tan battlefield looks VERY similar to the way it looked in 1966. The walk was timed to be as long as the actual battle took - some 3.5 hours.  We walked to all the places where the D/6 soldiers experienced significant events during the battle - the initial contact, the first and final Company positions, the left hook by 10 Platoon, the right hook by 12 Platoon, the place the Company took the ammo resupply and, of course, the place of the heroic stand by 11 Platoon.

Along the way, Dave described what was happening in "real time" "sitreps" - that is, since the Trek took the same time as the battle, those on the tour "experienced" the timings of the events, the delays and the sequences in detail - what took ten minutes in the Battle took ten minutes for the Tour. And those on the tour were able to ask questions and get details along the way.

At 600 and 1000 metres from the main battlefield, Dave also pointed out the places where the APC reinforcement column with A/6 aboard contacted the enemy on their way towards D/6.

Very little of the topography has changed in 44 years, tho' the slight rise that D/6 used for its final redoubt is now a slight depression.

The Tour ended the Trek at the Cross - the site of the gallant 11 Platoon action - at 5:00pm, in time for a short ceremony and photos:

There's a full group photo taken at the Cross towards the end of this page. *

Then back to Vung Tau and the Grand.  On the next day, the Tour visited an AVVRG-supported dental clinic at Long Tan to see further Australian charity at work...
 

We then visited the Horseshoe and stood on what was formerly the infamous minefield...

...before venturing into the Light Green to the vicinity of the mine incident on Operation Mundingburra (on day 3 - 21 July 1969) which gave rise to the song "I Was Only 19".

After this, it was lunch near the beach and a visit to the Minh Dam temple in the Long Hai's.

On the way back, we called in on the Baria Orphanage, leaving gifts we'd brought...

...and then a short boat ride to Cat Lo and back to the Grand...

Next morning it was the hydrofoil back to HCMC...

...where some elected to do more sightseeing and shopping in Saigon while most opted for the visit to Cu Chi...

After a 'Farewell Dinner' in Saigon, we had a final night at the Majestic.  Next day, for those not on the "Decisive Battlefields" extension tour, it was RTA (Return to Australia).

 

----------------- DECISIVE BATTLEFIELDS TOUR 2011 -----------------

From Saigon, the "Decisive Battlefields Tour" flew to Da Nang airport.  A quick transfer took us to the heritage-listed Hoi An for two nights.  On arrival, we took a cyclo tour of the old town and a silk factory...

...ending up at the old Japanese bridge.  Only three came on the Tour with Di and Dave, but Di had to fly home the next day, so Gary, Phil and Rae had the rest of the Tour to themselves.

The next day was  a 'day off' - to recover from the hectic first week and prepare for the hectic week to come.  A little relax and a little retail therapy, and we were ready for more.

North from Hoi An to Da Nang, one of the largest bases during the War.  The first stop was at Marble Mountain...

...followed by a visit to China Beach (a Wartime R&C Centre) and Red Beach II, where the first US combat troops (Marines) landed in 1965.

Then it was up over the Hai Van Pass, past Lang Co (another huge Marines' base), and on to Hue...

The next morning we walked the area of heaviest fighting south of the Perfume River - concentrating on Tran Cao Van (Street)...

In the afternoon we moved north of the River, to the Citadel, where the main Tet 1968 resistance was experienced.

The next day we bussed north to the DMZ.  On the way we stopped off at the Long Hung Catholic church, Quang Tri Citadel, Dong Ha (the logistics centre for the DMZ), Cua Viet (the river-mouth sea port)...

...and on to the tunnels at Vinh Moc, where a whole village went underground for the war years.

We then visited several key locations of the long DMZ campaign including 'Freedom Bridge, Gio Linh, Con Thien, Camp Carroll, Rockpile, Cam Lo Bridge and on to Khe Sanh.

We overnighted in Khe Sanh village before visiting the old Khe Sanh airstrip, scene of the 77-day seige in 1968.

We then drove up the Da Krong valley, past Tiger Mountain and down the A Shau valley - both valleys were scenes of major US and ARVN operations during the War.

At A Luoi, we tried for a view of "Hamburger Hill" - scene of a major US action that, with the 1968 Tet Offensive and Khe Sanh, triggered the change of US policy that ultimately ended the War. Weather conditions in the valley rarely permit a good view of this mountain massif...

On return from the A Shau valley, we overnighted in Hue and next day bussed south to Phu Bai, Hue's airport and a huge base and Intelligence collecting facility during the war.  A short flight to Hanoi gave us enough time to explore the Old Quarter, where we stayed.

The next day we toured some of the city's sites including the Ho Chi Mausoleum, the Army Museum (which displays the tank that breached the Saigon Palace Gates in 1975), the 'Hanoi Hilton' and lots more.




We then flew to Dien Bien Phu for a day and a night, staying at the historic Him Lam Resort, built on the old French position "Beatrice"...

We visited the DBP Museum and the Viet Minh war graves opposite, then climbed Hill A1 (part of the French Position 'Elaine') to see the fortifications there.

Next day it was a drive into the hills to see General Giap's bunker complex, from which he commanded the DBP battle.

Returning from the Giap bunker, we drove to the French General de Castre's bunker and the nearby French memorial to DBP.

At the end of another hectic week plus, we flew back to Hanoi and next day, drove directly to Ha Long Bay for a spot of R&R.

The World Heritage site features sheer limestone cliffs plunging into calm green waters.  A relaxing day on a boat wrapped up what had been for all on the Tour an energetic, yet informative 9 days:


From Ha Long to Hanoi and flights home.  All of the hotels were either 4/5 star or the best available in the more remote areas.  Most meals and all gratuities had been included, so hands only went into pockets for personal purchases or personal tipping.

Along the way, documentaries, presentations and discussions covered most of the significant events or places to be visited or seen.  The Tour included some "surprises" not listed in the itinerary - but each of which were very much appreciated by the Tour members.

The Tour was well accepted by those on it.  A selection of passenger comments follow - more may be added as they are collated:

*

I really enjoyed the trip and the Long Tan walk in particular.
Your intimate knowledge made it a fantastic experience.
Thanks for all the work you put in for the trip.
I really enjoyed the presentation[s] you gave.
Thanks again for a great week and all the best to both of you.
Alan B

*
I would like to thank both you and Di for a fantastic tour of the battlefields etc.
I think the whole 6 days was well organised and all the participants were a very friendly bunch and we certainly all got on well together.  I certainly gained a lot out of the tour and in particular the walk through the actual battle zone. Whilst I was not on the first tour of 6RAR, however having served with the battalion in 69, it certainly was quite emotional and brought a few tears to my eyes.
I often bring up the trip with friends from time to time and will certainly recommend the tour with you both when the situation arises.
Graeme M

*
T
hank you for all you did in the preparation of the Long Tan Trek 2011 Tour. 
The arrangements were spot on and the party - a great team of people.
On a personal note - I was a little apprehensive walking again over ground
that I had last walked, in very different circumstances in 1969/1970,
but soon got my act together and enjoyed the trip immensely.
I had forgotten how hot and humid in can get in that place
but after the first cold one at the Grand Hotel
I distinctly remembered how good the beer was.
Thank you once again for everything you did
to make the trip a very memorable experience.
Allan B


*
I thank you both for the wonderful experience and the opportunity
to meet the rest of the trekkers - particularly Graham M*
who I had not seen since our year with 6RAR in 1969.
I was a little hesitant about going but am now very pleased that I did.
I was amazed at the change in Phuoc Tuy over the 40 years
particularly when you see what remains now of the icons of the da
- Kanga Pad, Luscombe airstrip and Nui Dat 1 itself.
Allan B (again)

*
Again - thank you both for an unforgettable experience.
(a shy one)

*
Just a short Email to say thanks for having me on the Long Tan tour.
It had always been my aim to visit the site of the battle but work and illness
always seemed to interfere.  When I saw your flyer I knew I just had to go.
I discussed the situation with my doctors and they arranged
a gap in my treatment to coincide with the tour.
Still it was very much touch and go, however I made it
without too much hindrance to the other tour members.
    Many thanks to both of you for enabling me to achieve one of my aims.
Barry M

 *

I would also like to say a huge THANK YOU again for the trip -
I learned a lot both academically and personally. And had a ball.
Rae S

*
...a great trip was had by all.  Really excellent.
Nick A

*
110% over and over again... thanks so much to both of you...
[I] had the best time ever... ...unbelievable experience.
Great group... the best trip ever [I've] been back before
but appreciated your knowledge and your passion, Dave.
So well done both of you.....
Ian A


*
We had a great trip with you, Dave.
Gary M

*
Thanks to yourself, Di and Judi....all facilities and tour arrangements
were excellent and we shall certainly be recommending your tours
to Vets, friends and other sandgropers.

Michael H

*
Di and I would like to thank all the folks who took the time
to contact Judi or us and pass great compliments on their
experience of the Tours.  Thanks to All - Dave and Di

*

The 2012 Tours - the Long Tan Trek and the Decisive Battlefields Tour - have been planned with very much the same content and sequence, including the visits to the Cu Chi Tunnels and a two-night stay at Hoi An (a World Heritage town just south of Da Nang).  Please visit the 2012 Tours webpage:
VN Long Tan Trek Tour 2012.html
to see a Flyer and an Itinerary.

                              **********************************************************************

                    ***   And the Group Photo taken at the Long Tan Cross, Oct, 2011...   ***


                              ----- =====THE OUT-TAKES ===== -----

 

As for the previous Tour, once the Tour Rules were explained we had no further troubles.

 

 

When Mitch was told he'd get lei'd at the airport, he couldn't believe his luck... until...

 

 

 

 

 

With a traffic condition in Saigon that even the cops give up on, the headlines didn't come as a surprise...

...or maybe it just qualified as "a statement from the Ministry of the Bleedin' obvious"?

 

 

 

 

 

No one was sure of what the stall sold, but no one was game to try to find out, either.  We drove on past.

 

 

Our two best models, Michael and Peter, gave it a good try, but the trend didn't catch on.

 

 

 

 

The 'trek' part of the tour took us through the garage of a house built in the way.  Next Trek, we'll need to make a detour!

 

Garth and friend - separated at birth...?

 

 

 

Dave took a pic of Di...

Garth took a pic of Dave taking a pic of Di...

Rae took a pic of Garth... well, you know how it goes from here...

 

 

 

"Well, we shall just have to wait for you to get thin again", said Christopher Robin.

 

Garth again - wishful thinking?

 

 

 

 

Who said "Two dragons from the South meet one from the North"?

 

 

At first we thought it was a stone-age computer monitor but we couldn't find the power lead.

 

 

 



Rae - our resident philosopher - perpetuates a "Freud" on us...

 

 

 

 

 

Dave takes the opportunity to charm a local lass...
...or is he just doing his Crocodile Dundee impression?
 

 

 

Rae had a secret project going.  Every day, she'd order a cocktail, photograph it, record the name, then consume it.

Somewhere along the line, the sequence got lost, so some were un-photographed and some were un-named, but ALL were consumed.

Always nice to see a worthwhile project through to completion, Rae.

 

 

 

 

 

Oh, and while we're still on drinks, this menu catered for pretty much all the males on the Tour who wanted something special from the bra - sorry - bar.







  

Got a pic and a caption?  There's room for more - your photo next..?