Between September 13 & September 29, 2007 we spent some time in Vietnam with our friends Rob & Mary Neal and Max Dong who is an old friend from my National Service days. Max served as a driver at 1 Field Hospital at Vung Tau.
I was simply too busy to post any blogs during our trip so this review of our time will have to suffice.
Rob, Mary, Jill & myself arrived in Saigon five days ahead of Max. During this time, we had a day tour of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Can Tho and the Mekong Delta, Tay Ninh and Cu Chi Tunnels. We also spent two days in the Vung Tau – Nui Dat area where I had served from 1969 to 1970 during the American War (as the Vietnamese now call it).
After Max arrived, we travelled north to Hoi An and then to Hanoi, Sapa and Halong Bay.
Our itinerary covered most places that we visited on our trip in 2004 and nothing much was very different from my earlier trip notes that appear on this site. Perhaps, except for the fact that this visit occurred at the tail end of the wet season and it was much more humid. It rained nearly every day and true to tropical style, the heavens just opened and water just dropped vertically from the sky.
However, I was able to make some interesting observations about progress and development in Vietnam.
- There now a significantly increased number of tourist shops in both Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi. On my first trip back to Vietnam in 1995, we had to search hard to find any form of souvenir or momento. Now there are 4 story department stores with a complete range of perfumes, electronic gods and computers. There are also a large number of ‘copy art’ shops where teams of four or five painters reproduce famous paintings from photographs. There are also a greater number of fine art galleries, music stores and shops selling designer label clothing.
- I was interested to see the scope of development around Vung Tau. Streets that once were narrow two-lane roads are now four lane highways with street lighting. At the site of 1ALSG Headquarters, there is a large memorial to the Vietnamese War Heroes and there is now a road along the back beach that directly links to Long Hai. There a many large hotel and apartment buildings as Vung Tau is rapidly becoming a tourist resort – both fr residents of Saigon and for tourists from countries such as Taiwan and Korea.
- The area of Baria (the capital of the newish Baria – Vung Tau Province (formerly Phuoc Tuy) has a large multi story shopping mall and the centre of town has shifted a kilometre or so to the south so that it adjoins the by pass road on Route 51 (formerly Route 23).
- Nui Dat has reverted to a rubber plantation and also houses a Vietnamese Army training centre in the area by the dam. The Kanga Pad has been quarried and was difficult to recognise but the quarry on the side of SAS Hill is clearly discernable. It is now very much overgrown and for example, it is difficult to find the site of Luscombe Bowl. There is now a made road all the way from the village of Long Tan that connects with what we used to call Canberra Avenue and on to the runway, which now forms the main street of the hamlet. The site of the old 85 Transport Platoon yard is still visible and the remnants of the trenches that ran through our TFMA lines are still visible. This allowed me to find the old location of my tent site within a metres. There is a school / kindergarten along the side of the runway that was built by some Australians, but it is no longer used as the children now go to the government school in Hoa Long.
- I’m impressed to see a lot more development in Vietnam. The country is becoming more wealthy and now has the second highest growth rate in Asia, after China. I understand that Vietnam is now the second largest rice exporting country in the world even though water buffalos and oxen provide 70% of the power.
- Wages seem to be increasing. I always like to use the salary of a school teacher as a benchmark for income and social conditions as teachers generally have a similar social status in most countries around the world. In 1995, the government wage for a school teacher in Vietnam was $US 20 per month. By 2004 it had grown to $US 120 and now it appears to be $US 200 per month. Living standards are improving even though there is a considerable portion of the population still living in poverty.