Saturday – after breakfast we got onto our coach and headed north to Kontum. It was about an hour north. We checked into the hotel (another of the same kind of style as Pleiku), but the new high rise luxury hotel was next door, just about to be opened.
Phill Cummings (179th) Steve Hayduk (57th) Joe Sottile (189th/57th)
Gerry Sandlin (189th) Barry Taylor George Deserres, Bob Taylor,
Towney Sausville (189th)
On the road to Kontum.
We switched to a smaller van to go out to the next village (there was a one lane suspension bridge that couldn’t handle the big bus). We stopped at the village on the Dukbla River
This was a fun trip. First, we walked on a road that turned to a path and then to a little track through the jungle. We passed through rice paddies, tapioca, bananas, coffee plantations. There were lots of cows and bullock carts and old rusted bicycles. Up and down. All the time there were beautiful views of the river.
It’s the dry season, so the greenest things were the rice paddies. The plants are still that amazing new spring yellow green color.
All the time there were beautiful views of the river.
The trek was about six kilometers. At the end of the path, we were met by villagers in dugout canoes. Each was carved out of a single log. Some were made of bigger trees, so they could carry 3, 4 or 5 people. Others handled two, with difficulty! We ferried across the river and had a picnic lunch.
Then everyone got on the boats and headed down river to the starting village and the bus. The river was quite low, so we had to get out twice, walk across a sandbar to the boats, climb in again, and down we drifted.
It was a beautiful day – warm, almost but not quite hot, with a cooling breeze. Sunscreen was necessary, though!
Back at the hotel, most of the men hired a van to go to Dakto, a place where some pretty horrible things happened back in the war. Towney chose not to go, although he had spent some time up there. Instead, we discovered that the hotel was brewing its own dark beer.
We also did some quick souvenir shopping in the area around the hotel, including a couple of very interesting carvings from the hill tribes (and obscenely cheap).
The drive down the coast was amazing – gorgeous views of mountains down to and into the sea, lots of little and colorful fishing boats, fish platforms, tiger shrimp farms. The ride paddies go right down to the sea. I wonder how they keep the fresh and salt water separated! It was cloudy going through the passes, but by the time we got down to the coast it was blue and clear. There were enough clouds for interest.
We ended up in a town called Tuy Hoa, a fairly sizeable city that really isn’t in the tourist books. One part of the city is really developing – it looks like people from outside are spending a lot of money and building big houses, close to the ocean. There are two very distinct styles – one is the narrow tall Vietnamese style, the others are very western (kind of like the big expensive houses in California – I wonder if those are being built by people returning after making their fortunes in the west!). But, that’s not where we were housed. Another old Russian concrete hotel. This was probably the worst of the trip. We went across the street and had a pleasant local style dinner when the other guys came and said that they had discovered a place with restaurants and bars and lots of other things. We joined them, walked across the bridge to a real Tivoli styled amusement park -- all kitch and lights and music and amusements and restaurants and bars and … they had dinner, we had a beer.
Monday morning we were back on the coach heading south on the new highway to Nha Trang. Lots of beautiful views, like yesterday.
And then, Nha Trang. This place could be anywhere, Thailand, Malaysia,
Indonesia – beach and resort city. It is big and bustling. There
are lots of European and Australian tourists, bars, restaurants, shops (didn’t
see that many people on the beach, though, which was kind of strange). We
were staying at the Green Hotel (guess what … it is green!), and the afternoon
was at leisure. We went to a bar, Kimmy’s place, run by a
Vietnamese-Canadian lady (met her later, she is from Ottawa). Kimmy is
collecting money to build a school to educate the street urchins and hopefully
get them off the street.
And then, Nha Trang. This place could be anywhere, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia – beach and resort city. It is big and bustling. There are lots of European and Australian tourists, bars, restaurants, shops (didn’t see that many people on the beach, though, which was kind of strange). We were staying at the Green Hotel (guess what … it is green!), and the afternoon was at leisure. We went to a bar, Kimmy’s place, run by a Vietnamese-Canadian lady (met her later, she is from Ottawa). Kimmy is collecting money to build a school to educate the street urchins and hopefully get them off the street.
Later we went down to the Sailing Club and had a pizza, the first western food of the trip (the other men were on a quest for cheeseburgers …). Gorgeous setting, gorgeous views. That ended up as our dinner.
Towney and Wendy
Towney and Wendy
After wandering for a bit, we crashed in our seventh floor room with great view!
The tour the next morning (who knows what day it was) was to two places. The first was the Cham pagoda/temple, dating from the 9th century. We had seen other ruins on the trip down the coast, but this was the first that we could see close up. Then to the local market. I bought some Vietnamese pepper (we’d seen it being cultivated at Kontum), and some local pottery (Pho bowls) and a few other things. It was a typical market. There were lots of the usual tourist souvenirs as well as the market stuff.
There goes Gerry
In the afternoon (again at leisure), we hired a couple of Cyclos for a leisurely tour. We went out to the Buddhist temple. What a ride? Cyclos (one or two passengers in front, man pedaling in back) have right of way, but with all of the scooters and motorbikes coming at you from all sides, you wonder …
The temple had one large reclining Buddha and a large sitting Buddha, and the bell. There was a little old Mama-San ringing the bell. She made us sit under the bell while she rang it three times (for a blessing). What an amazing vibrant sound. It reverberates long after the bell has been rung.
Evening was more Sailors Club and quasi-western food. And then to bed before leaving on a 4 – 5 hour trip down to Phan Thiet.
The trip was interesting. The terrain changed noticeable as we headed south from Nha Trang. We drove down the coast past Cam Ranh Bay (beautiful). The road literally went to the beach and then up and around the coastal mountains. From there it was much drier. There were a lot of vineyards, sugar cane and then the salt flats. Most of those had been recently flooded (they did that at the Chinese New Year), so we couldn’t see any of the salt, yet. You could see that some of the flats were drying and had small deposits of salt forming on the edges. There were some huge piles of salt in the distance, and we passed one truck that was loaded with salt.
At Phan Rang we stopped at another Cham Temple. These people are preparing for tourists, it is obvious! This one dates from the 16th century, near the end of the Cham era in Vietnam.
As we headed south it got drier and drier – it seemed to be almost semi-desert, kind of like the dry side of Maui, or Arizona. One usually has an impression of this country as jungle. Not true!
There were lots of sand dunes and burial sites. Not much else. It was kind of moon-like.
As we came closer to Phan Thiet along the coast we began seeing all kinds of luxury resorts, and lots more under construction.
Imagine our delight when we pulled into one – Bamboo Village. It is only a three star resort, but still nice enough!
Joe Sottile, George Deserres, Towney Sausville and Phil Cummings
Joe Sottile, George Deserres, Towney Sausville and Phil Cummings
We had a welcoming libation and then pulled on our swimsuits and went for a splash in the South China Sea. Warm, clean, just enough waves to frolic in … perfection and just what we needed!
Then we went to the pool, sat in the whirlpool, did a little swim, then a walk on the beach to gather seashells. Then happy hour, dinner at a little restaurant right outside the gate. Grilled fish, barbequed tiger shrimp, salad, big beer, rice, dessert, all for less than $5.00.
And one thing about the beach? No hawkers! There were lots of (western) guys parasailing, but that’s about it.
And, after breakfast back into the bus and on the road back to Saigon. We headed inland. This is a very populated area. There were more towns than rural stretches. There were lots of rubber plantations (small trees, though recent plantings, which was typical of just about everywhere that we were), but most of the time we were in urban and suburban areas.
And it was all pretty uniform. There were small houses with the shot in front, sidewalk restaurants and drink stands, all with little plastic tables and chairs. Westerns could never sit on them – too small, too low. For us they’d be children’s chairs. And hammocks – lots of then, even in some of the small restaurants, on the side of the road rest stops (for people on cycles). The driving was quite thrilling – it seems that there were countless near head-on misses – but all of the drivers were in control.
And back in Saigon for one more night. Last minute shopping, mostly, and packing, and repacking. There is one extra bag (everyone seems to have bought one more bag! Shopping was great!). Our last dinner was on the terrace bar at the top of the Majestic (another site of war correspondents way back then … before CNN took over the business).
Back in LA, after the long trip home.
Overall impression? Great trip! Can’t wait to go back!
By: Wendy Uncles