UNDER CONSTRUCTION


Viet Nam Tours -
The Long Tan Trek Tour Report - 2016

This page records the October 2016 Long Tan Trek Tour.
(Last updated 15 December 2016)

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[
Almost all photos used in this Report
were taken by the 2016 Tour members
and members of earlier Tours - thanks Bill, Brad, Dick, Mike, Mick, Jen, Warren, Di and others.
]

 

 

The Grand Hotel is centrally located, handy to the city centre and had recently been refurbished.


From the rooftop bar, there are great views of both the city and the river.
 

 


Downtown Saigon still has lots of green areas among the buildings...

 

 

 

The War Remnants Museum
was on our visiting list:


 

 

 

 

 

 


Tour Guide Tina explains the Palace, once the residence of the serving President of South Viet Nam, is now renamed the "Reunification" Palace.

 



 

 

 

 

 

 

...and we ended up at the
Ben Thanh markets...

...all the while aware of the organised chaos called Saigon Traffic.....
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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

 

 

 

 


Not quite the Badcoe Club, but standing on the same spot...

 

 

 

 

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...

 

 

 

 

The 'Pearly Gates' - the entrance to 1ATF after the public road had been diverted (after 1967).

 

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

 

 


A "high 5" beats the language differences between Bruce and a Kindy Kid...

 

 

 

 

 

 


Strangely enough, it has only ever rained on the Trek Tour once - that was on the 2010 Trek... our second time out!

 

 

 

The Trek route took us from the Nui Dat base to the Long Tan rubber plantation.  through grasslands, plantations, crops and even through the backyards of homes built since the war...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


"BUNFIGHT REPORT" - a précis of events at the Long Tan cross 17-19 Aug 2016 for the 50th Anniversary visit.

 

 

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...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Ba Ria water tower today.  In Tet' 68, it was an area of heavy fighting and then an evacuation point - many "Dustoff" missions were flown from nearby.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


A cartoonist captures the moment
as former Battle Vets are denied access
to the Long Tan cross site
to commemorate the Battle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Jean, Pattie and Bill R
keep an eye on the camera...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


A pair of golden dragons protect the memorial to a Vietnamese heroine of the resistance of the French.

 


Mike R fills in some details on the "Frankie" mine incident
(this pix from the 2014 Tour).

 


The track we followed to what was claimed to be the site of Op Bribie, but the country and location was all wrong.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 


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.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


...on the Vung Tau foreshore...

After leaving Vung Tau for BaRia, we visited a monument dedicated to one of the last battles of the Third Indo-China War:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


The six D/6 soldiers on the Tour who were at the battle of Long Tan stand around the original cross...(L to R) Alan, Bill R, Dave, Laurie, Harry and Bill A.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


The B52 craters remain large landmarks to the memory of the war...

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


The slimmer and fitter of us tried the VC 'spiderholes' - (actually, only two takers)...

 

 

The 50th Anniversary Long Tan Trek Medallion, given to each "Trekker":


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 


 




Bill and Jill get "taken for a ride"...
 

 


...there was a photo
wherever you looked...

 

 

 

 


At China Beach,
resorts have now crowded out
the war-time memories but the
beach is hardly buzzing
as it was in 1966-1972.
That's "Monkey Mountain"
across the water...

 

 

 


There's nothing left at
Red Beach II, where the Marines waded ashore in 1965, except
the beach and the low clouds.

 

 

 


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

 

 

 

 

 

 

...and the old (destroyed) bridge at Lang Co.

 


 

 

 

 

 

 


Our Tour Guide explains the history of the Thien Mu Pagoda
 

 



Tran Cao Van (Street) as it was in 1968 & (below) in Oct 2014.

 

 


Lunch was in a delightful French restaurant near the Citadel on the North side of the river...

 

 

 


Restoration work...

 

 

On the afternoon off, some visited the heritage listed
Tu Duc Tombs.


We stayed at the Hotel Saigon Morin - seen again at the end of the bridge in the photo at the right.....

 


The Quang Tri citadel was heavily fought over in 1972.


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

 

 


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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


The Khe Sanh monument,
on the turnoff on Route 9
to the former battle site.

 

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

 

 

 

 


Da Krong Bridge saw heavy fighting during the 60s and 70s but this is a new bridge to replace the one destroyed several times during the War

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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...

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A briefing on the current state of POW-MIA searches was given to the Tour group by the US Marine "JPAC Detachment 2" office in Hanoi.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Picturesque views and terraced rice paddies belie the history of the area.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 second-hand tank on Hill A1 provided the opportunity for a (primarily) ex-3RAR Kodak Moment.

 

Vietnam's largest bronze statue sits on top of the main "Dominique" hill, overlooking Dien Bien Phu town.

 

 

 

 

 

The French memorial at DBP is one of only two foreign war memorials on Vietnamese soil - the other one being the ANZAC memorial cross at Long Tan.  This French plinth is actually a memorial to various French units rather than to the Battle itself.

 

 

 

 

A visit to DeCastre's bunker, which has now been better protected by having a cover placed over it...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DBP now has a new Museum which is one of the better museums in Viet Nam.  It is just across the road from the Hero's Cemetery and is well worth an hour or two to visit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the way back to the airport, we stopped for a quick look at the famous Bailey Bridge - still in daily use more than 60 years after it was put there by the French.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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...

...because even the shopping was on the water !


Bill tries a cave on for size...

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 


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

Photo: Bob (2010 tour)

Our thanks to:
Mike, Jim, Bill, Jillian, Warren, 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 2016  --------------

Di and Dave's 2016 Long Tan Trek Tour departed Australia in Monday 15 August with 62 passengers (23 ladies and 39 gents), with ages from 17 to 88 years old.
  Of these 62, 19 continued on to the Decisive Battlefields Tour to the Northern parts of Viet Nam.  Here's the Tour Flyer and the full itineraries of both Tours:

                                       
                    The Flyer for                         The Itinerary for the Tours:       
                   the 2016 Tour            2016 Trek (South) Tour & 2016 DBV (North) Tour
                     
(1 page)                          (8 pages)          (10 pages)

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

 

The 2016 Tour flew Singapore Airlines from several 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 Grand Hotel - the tour uses 4-star hotels where available:

Being 62 Trekkers", we took up two busses.  Mike Rogers hosted one bus and Di the other, with me, Dave, alternating between the two.  The first day took in a tour of Saigon, which took in some of the city's outstanding landmarks:

...including the Notre Dame Cathedral (left) and the architecture of the central Post Office - well worth a peek inside.  From the steps of the Post Office, facing out and looking left, you can still see the the building from which the last civilian  evacuations from Saigon flew out in 1975 (there had been no US military in Saigon for 2.5 years).
 
We drove past the Opera House and the Peoples Committee Hall on our way...

... and then divided into two groups - 

one bus to the War Remnants Museum...

...and the other to the Reunification Palace.  After 90 minutes or so, the bus groups swapped...


Inside the Palace we saw the communications rooms, the many reception rooms and a glimpse into the private living areas of the President:
 

The city tour ended at the Ben Thanh markets, with the afternoon...

...free to shop or acclimatise - or maybe just enjoy a drink at 'The Rex'...

Jean, Barry, Alan and Arthur share a soft drink or two on the roof of the Rex...

Mike and Robyn at the Rex for drinkies.
The background Pink Elephants were only figments of their imaginations after the first few cocktails!

That evening we had a 'welcome dinner' and then a fairly early night for most.

Next day (16 Aug), it was a bus to Vung Tau, where the group was again split due to numbers:  Mike's bus lodged at the Palace and Di's bus at the Grand.  They're side-by-side and both 4-Star so it was not inconvenient:

There's nothing of note remaining of the 1ALSG site, as can be seen in this photo taken of the development on the "Back Beach" which is where the 1ALSG was.  The Badcoe Club site is now a 5-Star Hotel, the "Imperial":

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

...we bussed (17 Aug) through the old 'Pearly Gates' to Nui Dat, where Dave and others 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.  Of all the Trekkers, about one in three was a Viet Vet.  Here, they are photographed with Nui Dat in the background:

Next stop was a visit to the Nui Dat Kindy.  Our visits to the Kindy are always appreciated - not least because we always bring long-life milk and presents for the children...


After the Kindy, we started the Trek...  Our point of assembly was directly behind the Delta Company lines on the 6RAR perimeter.  From there, we used the internal road through the old Charlie Company lines and "out through the wire" towards Nui Dat 2 hill...



Lunch was taken in the western part of the Long Tan rubber plantation.  We had been unaware of the Police blockade of the cross area because we'd come cross-country, but while having lunch, the news came through that access to the Long Tan cross site had been denied.  We thought that, already being in the area, we'd continue "under the radar" but that was stopped when a media camera team arrived to interview us: the story had gained international attention.
They had gained access to the cross site (apparently without permission) to film and broadcast an interview with Keith Payne VC, and then led to police directly to us! 

Here's a report on the access denial - click on the "Bunfight Report" to the left...


It remained for Dave to tell the group of the denial of access:

After lunch, and despite the refusal of access by the authorities, we decided we would continue the Trek until actually STOPPED...
 

We made it to the North-South road where 11 Platoon fired the first shots of the Battle (...so much for the so-called 'Ambush Theory!).

Here, the police arrived and ordered us not only to not proceed further towards the cross site but to leave the area immediately.

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

For a view of the battlefield as seen from the top of Nui Dat 2 looking South, please see the 2014 Trek tour Report:
http://www.sabben.com/longtantrek/VN%20Long%20Tan%20Trek%20Report%202014.html .

Of course, everyone was disappointed that we had not been able to access the Long Tan cross site or actually walk the battlefield, but the planned service for tomorrow - the 18th - had still not yet been cancelled.

So, back to Vung Tau and the Palace and the Grand.

- - - = = = = = = - - -

By the morning of the 18th, the news was that the service at the cross had been cancelled and that the numbers permitted to visit the cross site would be severely limited.  Knowing this but thinking that a group containing seven of the actual Battle Vets might be granted access, we continued our touring until late morning when we drove to Long Tan.

On the way, we stopped off at some shops in BaRia to get some supplies for the Ba Ria Orphanage.  This was set up many years ago in a joint arrangement between the local authorities and the AVVRG (see website at  ).
We spent an hour at the Orphanage with the staff and kids, handing over a great deal of food, toys, educational material, clothing and lots more:


As always, the staff was most appreciative and the kids delighted to spend time with us.

Leaving the Orphanage, we visited the BaRia Watertower - scene of heavy fighting in Tet '68.

We then bussed to the Long Tan cross site access road.  There, we met the roadblock and police cordon:

We waited at the road-block for over three hours as our case was put to the authorities, but were denied access.  In the "Bunfight Report", we prove that, while some visitors were given access (at least one group after paying a bribe), the site was actually deserted at the time of the proposed-but-cancelled service.

There was nothing to do but return to Vung Tau and hold our own private service in a function room at the Palace Hotel:

Following the service there was a little time to explore Vung Tau...

...before going to the Friendship Dinner that evening (the 18th).  Unfortunately, the authorities had also all-but cancelled this function.  It was originally planned to be a banquet where Australian and other guests could meet and mingle with former NVA and VC soldiers - an informal meeting designed to strengthen the bonds between former enemies.  Hanoi prevented many (if not most) of the local area former soldiers from attending but permitted a group from 33Regt to attend.


Some of the Long Tan Trek group meet with some of the former enemy group.
Ron G and Harry S with four of the former 33Regt soldiers.

The result was that the function did not come up to the expectations of the organisers or the guests.  The banquet was good but the former enemy guests had one brief photo-session before leaving the event earlier than expected and several fairly-obvious Vietnamese undercover police or other authority remaining to watch proceedings.  All-in-all, a huge disappointment.

- - - = = = = = = - - -

Not having been able to get to the Long Tan cross on the 17th or the 18th, we arranged an "early morning call" for the 19th and bussed to the cross site early, before the police cordons were in place.
It worked and we arrived before 8am.  The Australian Consulate staff were already there and we managed to get access to the cross for about 30 minutes.  Not long enough to have a small service but long enough to grab a few photos...


...organising a photo...

...a composite shot of the group, but even then we didn't get everyone in...

...and finally a shot of all the Viet Vets (except Harry) on the Trek...

Former D/6 Company Commander and officer in command of the battle, Harry, was not with the group at the cross.  After the "Friendship Dinner" failed, he had a private arrangement to meet a few former NVA officers out of the public eye:

After taking the photos at the cross, the police arrived and the Consulate staff loaded us back onto the buses to continue our touring.

That evening, 19 Aug, there was to be a concert featuring Little Pattie and other Vietnam-era entertainers.  For one reason or another, the authorities once again permitted the banquet to proceed but canceller all the planned "entertainment":
 

 

Next morning it was

 

 

 

We drove through Long Tan village and south to the Horseshoe feature just to the North of Dat Do.

Access to the former FSB is no longer permitted as it is now a working quarry.  Just to the South of the Horseshoe, we stood on the road which was formerly part of the minefield and had a view up a rice paddy to the Horseshoe itself::

A short drive through the nearby town of Dat Do took us to a monument dedicated to Vo Thi Sau, a 19-year-old woman who resisted the French and was made a martyr when they executed her in 1952:

From Dat Do, we moved to the  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".  Tour member, Mike R, was in BHQ, 6RAR second tour at the time and filled the Trek Tour group in on the events from notes he brought with him.
Then a short "patrol" thru some of the bush, just to show the civilians what it was like trying to move silently in the bush:

After this we attempted to get to the area of 6RAR's Operation Bribie which was nearby but to which access had previously been denied.  The guides took us in the general direction but Dave, who had been at that battle, was sure the site pointed out was not the actual site.  The Battle had taken place just off the rice fields and not completely in the thick undergrowth as in the area shown.
We called off the quest for the battle-site and have arranged for a more definitive recce so future Trek Tours can visit the actual site...

Resuming the Tour, we then moved to the LZ which is the subject of the now-iconic photograph of the VN War.  It is where elements of 7RAR were flown out of their Operation Ulmarra (26 Aug 1967).  The site used to be on the outskirts of Lang Phuoc Hai village but is now part of its suburbs:

... a "Kodak Moment" on the spot where 7RAR flew out of Operation Ulmarra in August 1967 - this has become one of the iconic photos of the ANZAC's War and the once-clear area is now suburbia...

After this, it was lunch at the Tropicana. Looking out from the entrance, that's the southern slopes of the Long Hai's, which was our next stop... the Minh Dam Temple:


Hundreds of names of local "Martyrs" are inscribed on the walls inside.

The more adventurous souls decided to spend a little time underground...

...and then to Ba Ria for a short boat ride to Cat Lo wharf...

 

 

The next day, 21 Oct, it was goodbye to Vung Tau ...

            Vung Tau foreshore              Viet Vets Bill and Brad stand in Vung       Outside the Worldwide Arms
                                                          Tau where "The Flags" used to be.            Museum in Vungers

As we bused north from Vung Tau, towards BaRia, we stopped briefly at the monument we'd seen when boarding the boats the day before.  It is a monument set up to celebrate the victory over the last of the ARVN resistance when Saigon fell in 1975.  In the campaign, many soldiers and civilians had withdrawn from the fighting onto the Cap St Jacques peninsula and the sea port of Vung Tau.

Some of the final battles in 1975 were over the road and bridges to Vung Tau:

After this, we drove through BaRia to Bien Hoa where we stopped at the DONG NAI MUSEUM, where the first priority was to get a group photo...:


  All Viet Vets on the Tour father around the original Long Tan cross in the Dong Nai Museum.

...and then to the area of the large battle of Balmoral.  The Balmoral battle site is now a rubber plantation. The lighter area beyond the old rubber used to be the clearing in front of D Coy.  The layout of the Battalion position was explained, along with an account of the actions:


The many B52 bomb craters are still scattered throughout the plantation, still as huge and deep as they used to be, despite many being filled with water...

 

We then moved on to the site of FSB Coral, where we paid our respects at the NVA memorial plinth and lit joss sticks for the shrine...


Mike pays his respects at the NVA plinth to the Coral battle - and others line up to place joss sticks in the Shrine:

And thence to Cu Chi for a riverside lunch and a tour of the tunnels..


 

That night, 21 Aug, we had a 'Farewell Dinner' in Saigon...

...at which we handed a Trek plaque and a commemorative "50th Anniversary Trek" medallion to each 'Trekker'.  We also had an occasion to toast XXX,



Bill A, Bill W, Dave, Harry, Laurie and Alan.


That was our final night at the Grand, Saigon, The next morning (22nd) for those not on the "Decisive Battlefields" extension tour, it was RTA (Return to Australia).

For those staying on, it was onto a flight to DaNang...

from here on:  UNDER CONSTRUCTION

----------------- DECISIVE BATTLEFIELDS TOUR 2016 -----------------

From Saigon, the "Decisive Battlefields Tour" had a great flight to Da Nang airport.

A quick transfer to lunch, and then to Marble Mountain.  It's a steep staircase to climb (and to descend again later), but it's assisted now by an elevator to about half-way up.  All agree it's worth the effort...

A short trip south took us to world heritage listed Hoi An for two nights.  On arrival, we visited a silk factory...
 
...where orders for bespoke silk clothing can be placed with a 24-hour delivery to the hotel.  Silk pictures and silk-embroidered linen were also popular purchases.

A cyclo ride is the best way to view the old city: Tour Guide Mr Dung (pronounced "Yoong" if you're curious - that's him on the bicycle) led the way...

The cyclo ride took in several places of historic interest, with the history of each explained by our Tour Guide...

...ending up at the old Japanese bridge... ...then into one of the oldest houses in the town, where again, hand-embroidered linen was a good buy...

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 sightseeing, and we were ready for more.

We returned to Da Nang, one of the largest American and South Vietnamese bases during the War.  First, a visit to China Beach (a Wartime R&C Centre)...


and then to Red Beach II, where the first US combat troops (Marines) landed in 1965.

Then it was up over the Hai Van Pass - (that's it in the hills behind Mick and Ian in the photo above).  A concrete pillbox on either side of the road (both seen in the pic below) were part of the defences installed by the French, but the Pass had been defended as far back in time as records exist:

We then continued around the mountains to Lang Co (another huge Marines' base, mostly for river and coastal patrol boats).  While there, we looked at what's left of the original bridge and the fortifications which protected it during the War:

Then it was on to Hue, and, after lunch, a relaxing Dragon Boat cruise up the Perfume River to the Thien Mu Pagoda... 

The next morning we walked the area of heaviest fighting south of the Perfume River - concentrating on Tran Cao Van (Street), where we had a quiet moment for the marines who died while re-taking the city... and a group photo to remember it all by...

 
Parts of the city still show the scars of war
in the walls and buildings, but the city's
rebuilding program is slowly wiping away
this visual history.

The photo at right was taken
on the 2016 Tour and shows
this wall now "restored".

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

There's a lot of restoration work in progress in the Citadel...
 

The afternoon was free time for shopping and sightseeing...

The next day we bussed north to the DMZ.  On the way we stopped off at the Long Hung Catholic church (which is kept in its 1970's condition as a war memorial to the fighting in Quang Tri), Quang Tri Citadel, Dong Ha (the logistics centre for the DMZ), and then to Cua Viet (the river-mouth sea port).
The freighters stood off shore (top left in pic below) and transferred freight to landing barges which entered the river mouth and unloaded on concrete ramps on the river banks - which have now become the docks for the local fishing fleet...

 ...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, Cam Lo Bridge, Con Thien (Hill of Angels), Camp Carroll, Rockpile,  and on to Khe Sanh.

Jill and Ian lead the way across the "Freedom Bridge" -           Lindy and Russell were pleased to get to
  the South half of the bridge is painted yellow,                        the old French bunker at Con Thien after
               the North half is blue.                                     half an hour uphill in long grass & tangled vines.


The monument marking                                      A photostop at "Rockpile"...                       
the entrance to Camp Carroll.                                    which is exactly what it is!                           

That night, we stayed in a hotel in Lao Bao - on the border with Laos.  First thing in the morning, after viewing the border crossing point, we then visited the Lang Vei monument (a Russian-made amphibious tank first used by the North in the South in the NVA victory over the Lang Vei Special Forces Camp)...
 

We then returned to Khe Sanh and the old airfield base - scene of the 77-day siege in 1968.


After Khe Sanh, we then crossed the Da Krong Bridge and 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... (see the 2011 Tour Report for a view).

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 Minh Mausoleum, the Army Museum (which displays the tank that breached the Saigon Palace Gates in 1975), the 'Hanoi Hilton' and lots more.




Thought we'd better show you
the "real"  Hanoi Hilton...


Leaving the POW inmate mannequins in the "Hilton", we then went to the US Marines "POW/MIA" Mission and had a briefing on the current status of their MIA recovery program.  The briefing was most professional and comprehensive - appreciated by the whole group - and a group photo was taken on the steps of the Mission offices:

There was free time in Hanoi to take in a drink or two at one of the leading hotels in Hanoi - the Sofitel Metropole...

...before we flew, next day, to Dien Bien Phu for a day and a night, staying at the new Muong Thanh Hotel.
 

That afternoon we drove into the hills to see General Giap's bunker complex, from which he commanded the DBP battle.



On the way back, we passed two wonderful monuments... The first was to all who worked in the DBP campaign - from planning to surveying to road construction to supply to fighting - not to forget the command elements.  The second was dedicated to the artillery crews - set on a hillside to remind the viewers of the task the Viet Minh had to get the guns into their positions in the hills.  That's the monument at top left of the panoramic view of the valley.....

Next morning we visited the Viet Minh cemetery, Hill A1 (Part of "Elaine" defences), the French memorial and General De Castre's bunker...




 Finally, we visited the new DBP War Museum, shaped in the manner of the old Viet Minh helmet:


And what must be the oldest still-functioning Bailey Bridge in the world...
 

At the end of another hectic week plus, we flew back to Hanoi and 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 and drinks.

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.

And we met some great people along the way...

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

*

Hi Dave and Di,
You just have to look at our group photo
to see that ours was a very special group of people! 
Thanks for sending the photos on to all of us
so fast with all the names,
( great for me as I am not so good at remembering!! )
(We) had a wonderful time,
a memorable trip for us both, thank-you again...
 We have some special photos, and memories,
which we can share with family and friends.
  All the best for the remainder of the Tour, and safe traveling.

 Requested Anonymous

*

Hi Dave and Di, 
Another wonderful, informative, and worthwhile Tour/ Trek.
My third time with you, and the first for my son Luke,
who asked me if I could take him.
Of course I couldn't say no, could I...?
 So here I was in Vietnam again, seeing my old friend Mr Ha,
Wombat, and Miss Tina, ( the tour guide with the sweetest smile )
 This would indeed be the most personal tour I have ever experienced,
and it was interesting to hear my fellow 'Trekkers'
say much the same thing,
one couple saying that it was the best part of their trip away;
they joined this tour on the way home after a trip to Europe.

 Luke especially enjoyed himself, interacting with everyone,
and seeing all the places I had been
talking ( or 'shouting' about ) all these years !!

He loved chatting to you Dave,
and he got into the ear of just about everyone,
learning and gaining as much information about what they did in life.
 Never a dull moment with Luke around, and
he loved the children at the Kindergarten on Nui Dat,
finding it fascinating that I left Vietnam from that same spot
after my war was over in Sept 1969.

 Thank you Dave for sharing your very personal experience
of The Battle of Long Tan with us,
it is not something that is often done ... these days.

 We are also, all of us, very fortunate to be able to experience this
with the very valuable assistance of Mr Ha, and his contacts,
and his Tour Company OSC Viet Nam Travel.

 Also, thank-you Tina, love your cute smile,
and of course Mr Wombat, who kept us all rounded up,
and safe from getting wet on his ' Wombat bridge' -
you are both\ legends!!

 Thank you too, to Judi, National Network Travel Melbourne Australia,
AND of course Di for her 'mothering' of us all,
we who may have needed mothering,
which is most of us OLD buggers!

 Thanks again Dave and Di,
 Mike and Luke R.

A wonderful experience.


*

Thank you again for all your dedicated work.
It was wonderful to be part of the 2014 trek.
Now I just have to write the play!
Best,

Verity L

*
 

Thank you Dave and Di...
... for the most interesting trip I have ever done in my life.
Thank you Dave for sharing your incredible experiences,
and for bringing the Battle of Long Tan to life for me.
I felt extremely privileged to be walking
the hallowed ground of Long Tan with you.
Since returning to Singapore I have been telling everyone
that they should sign up for your 2015 trek.
Take care, and thank you again.

Simon T

*
 

Dave,
Thanks again to you and Di for such a fantastic time in Viet Nam.
I learnt more about the wars there than I have in the last 45 years!
Matthew S.

*
 

Di and Dave,
Thank you again for a great adventure.
Will get back to you soon.

Anon

*
 

Hi Dave and Di.
Thank you once again for presenting a brilliant tour.
I thought it would be impossible for you to improve on the tour
which I enjoyed in 2013 when we visited Long Tan
and the battlefields in South Vietnam.  I was wrong.
The tour of the north you arranged for us was
absolutely perfect! 

Your selection of hotels was excellent.
The transport provided was first class.
From the air-conditioned coaches to the very air-conditioned cyclos.
The various internal flights you arranged were hassle free.
We were simply handed our boarding passes at the terminal
and climbed on the aircraft.  There was never any waiting around
for things to happen.  All your timings were spot on.

Dave's battlefield briefings on the evenings prior to visiting the various sites
were, as usual, very professional and prepared us for the
"on the ground" experience we were to encounter the following day.

The free day in Hanoi was very welcome.
Not being as young as we were, it allowed us to recover
from the many steps to temples, caves, tunnels,
mountains and trenches which we had enjoyed during the tour.
We were free to shop, explore, eat, dodge motor bikes
and drink to our hearts content.
What I found amusing was, even though we broke into small groups
and went our separate ways, we managed, in a city as crowded as Hanoi
to somehow run into each other and finished the day
riding back to the hotel as a complete group.

The final two days of R&R at Halong Bay was a delight.
All the hard work was done.
We had a chance to relax and enjoy the scenery
that this magnificent part of Vietnam has to offer.

I have often remarked how quickly people bond and make friends
with total strangers when they share a common experience.
This tour was no different.  As a group, we worked together,
we ate and drank together, we laughed together
and when we finally said, "Goodbye", it was to friends.

Thank you, Dave and Di and Judi.
Jim F

*

I just want to say thanks once again to both of you
for all your hard work in making the tours
so interesting, informative and enjoyable.
I now know much more about the Vietnam wars than I ever expected to know,
and also I can’t believe how smoothly everything ran.
I have done enough travel in my time to know that
all sorts of things can go not quite according to plan,
but travelling with you was practically seamless.
Anyone who had a complaint is pretty hard to please in my opinion –
and that’s from someone who did not really want to be
part of the trip in the first place.
So thank-you.
Jillian M

*

Greetings Dave and Di,
Another thoroughly enjoyable and enlightening tour itinerary.
SVN 2011 was great and the appetite to do
the NVN Decisive Battlefields Tour was born.

Thank you to Dave, Di and our local Guides
for their untiring efforts and "Well Done" fellow participants.

Just terrific to see some square - gaiting again,
and I have to admit the 8 RAR guys won the day,
( two red heads ) and old Ned Kelly aged 4 years on Tour.

My thanks also to Judi for all her assistance pre tour.
Cheers
Michael H (3 RAR 66/7)

*
 

Thank you Di for the great read in the fab notes that you made.
I know that Rosemary will also read them with great interest.
I also know that Rosemary was quite skeptical of coming
on the Viet Tour in the first place, as it really was "my thing",
but after it was over she felt that it was such a wonderful
indeed privileged experience, and was in complete contrast
to our 9 preceding weeks in Europe.

I can't get out of my head all the beaut things we did,
and what a great team of fellow travellers!
Wish we could get together easily somewhere
for a dinner or reunion - but Australia is just so big isn't it!

I have had a lovely email from Michael R,
and hope to catch up on a few others by email as well.
And also whilst on "hope" - is to go again with you next year,
the northern tour if not the full tour.
Am also trying to talk Michael into it again as well.
Warren & Rosemary R

*

My wife and I joined both the 2014 Long Tan Trek
and the 2014 Decisive Battlefields tour
and had a fantastic time.
Jill was not keen to go initially but enjoyed the trip
and (in the words of her Christmas letter)
she "now knows more about the Vietnam Wars than she ever expected to know".
She also learned that the Viet Minh were defeating the French
at Dien Bien Phu at the time of her birth!

The tours cover all the key points of the Australian involvement
and give a very good insight to the major American and French involvements.

RSM Di does a wonderful job with the organisation
and Dave provides excellent content throughout.
We thank both of them for a great experience
and we recommend the tours enthusiastically to
all those interested in knowing more about the Indo-China Wars
and especially about the Battle of Long Tan.
We also recommend doing both tours together
in order to get a more complete picture.

Thanks again for a great trip Dave & Di -
 we loved it!!  I have already promoted the tours
with one of my colleagues who is very interested.
Cheers
Bill M

*

The ANNUAL Tours - the Long Tan Trek and the Decisive Battlefields Tour - have been planned with very much the same content and sequence as these 2014 Tours.  In the south, we've added an extra night in Vung Tau giving a free day to revisit old haunts, and retained the Cu Chi visit.  And in the north, we includes a two-night stay at Hoi An and two nights in Ha Long Bay - BOTH World Heritage listed locations.
Please visit the Tours webpage: Next Trek Tour is 2017:
VN Long Tan Trek Tour 2017.html
to download a Flyer and/or an Itinerary.
 

(...keep going - there's more below...)

 

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

***   The Group Photo taken at the Saigon Opera House, Oct, 2012...   ***

 

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

***   The Group Photo taken at the Reunification Palace, Saigon, Oct, 2012...   ***



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

***   The Group Photo taken at the Long Tan Cross, Oct, 2012...   ***

 

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

***   The Group Photo taken at the War Museum, Hanoi, Oct, 2012...   ***

 

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

***   The Group Photo taken at The Marines JPAC Det 2 Office, Hanoi, Oct, 2012...   ***

 

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

***   The Group Photo taken at General Giap's HQ, Dien Bien Phu , Oct, 2012...   ***

(who has a photo of the group at Giap's HQ?)

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

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

 

"How much for a ride back to the hotel?"
"WHAT?  Two dollars???  I'll walk!"

 

Is texting on a motorcycle
in Saigon traffic
a recognised form of suicide...?

 

 

 

Wombat tells Verity and Bill about
the fish that got away,
which was pretty impressive...

...until Luke told them of HIS
one that got away...!
 

 

 

 

Mr Nguyen was hoping that no cars
would backfire while he had his shave...

 

 

 

 

Di was sprung at the Medallion
when they had a special on
chocolate covered pancakes...
...with banana...!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One day I'm gonna grow up...
...to be a bridge...!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Streetside pedicure and manicure

 

 

 

 

Teddy Bear's wedding...

 

 

 

 

The Saigon Police Department decide
to adopt a 2-Up formation...

 

 

 

Paul M proves that life imitates art...

 

 

 

 

Jim - that's the pot
calling the kettle "black"
isn't it...?

 

 

 

Desperate Dave steals a kiss
from the only girl in town
who can't run away...

 

 

 

 

 

Not quite sure what Luke and Wombat
had in mind for the hydrant
but if either of them lifted a leg,
we were out of there...

 

 

 

The brochure for the
secluded "Waterside Weekender"
got the "split level" right
but didn't mention
the natural air conditioning...

 

 

 

 

 

...and the other brochure
about the secluded "Country Retreat"
didn't suggest it was THAT secluded...

 

 

 

 

 

Michael H makes a personal fitting
a condition of the sale...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Like "Wombat", Tina adopted
the name "Koala"
so Dave photo-shopped
a photo for her...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MOST of the meals were
"set menu"...
but NOT ALL of the meals were
quite as classy as the others...

 




 




  

  

  

  

  

 


 

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

 

 

 

 

 


----- =====DI's FAVOURITE PIX ===== -----

 

Di's favourite shots:

 
   

  
 
 
 
 
 

next..?