Monday, April 18, 2016

Return to Vietnam

 I used to have nightmares about being back in Vietnam. I’d wake up in a sweat, my heart jumping out of my chest. Frightening thoughts and feelings would haunt me for the rest of the day.
 It’s been almost fifty years since my “tour of duty” in Vietnam and it was time to return. Katie and I spent fifteen days traveling by bus, train and plane from Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) to Hanoi.  We got back to Singapore just the other night and Peter asked me, “How was your trip?”  I answered, “It was heaven and it was hell”, kind of like the first time.

The country has changed, and yet it hasn’t, the biggest change being, no war. Every moment we were there, I was thankful for that. In 1967-68, I had an intense desire to experience this beautiful country and culture sans war. In the midst of that conflict, my heart opened to the Vietnamese people and as I discovered, it never closed.

It’s strange, all these years the Vietnam War has been foremost in my consciousness, as if it were still going on, but as we traveled around the country, I saw very little evidence that a decade of American presence ever happened. Over sixty percent of the population was born after the war ended. People forty years old and younger are the first generation to experience life without war and foreign domination since the French colonial times, which began in the late 1800s.  

Vietnam is a country on the rise. From the end of the war until 1986, the
government basically stuck to the hardline communist approach concerning their people and economy. In 1986 they adopted the Doi Moi policy, which allowed free enterprise and opened the country to more trade with the rest of the world. Almost immediately the economy took off and Vietnam has been steadily modernizing ever since. In 1994 the trade embargo was lifted by President Clinton.  In 1998 they joined APEC and now have free trade agreements with much of the rest of the world. Vietnam has a literacy rate of 92.8% and this year it is the world’s second largest rice producer. It seems only a matter of time until Vietnam becomes a major economic success. The people are eager and more than ready to enter the modern world and raise their standard of living.

I hate to express this thought, but if America had never gotten involved in the Vietnam struggle to begin with, the country would be farther along in their development. That of course would mean all the suffering and death on both sides need not have happened, which is hard for a veteran to acknowledge.  If I think about it too hard, it makes me feel sick. I should adapt the Vietnamese tendency to not look to the past, but toward the bright future. I hope future generations of Americans learn from the mistakes of our time.
I plan to write more blog posts about our experiences and the various places we visited, but here is a summary of our trip.

We flew into Ho Chi Minh City....

Then we took a sleeper bus to the beach town of Mui Ne.... 

From there we took another sleeper bus to Phan Rang. The bus driver had an inordinate amount of gas and he farted, belched and talked on his cell phone for the entire trip, all the while blowing the horn and weaving in and out of traffic.  


In Phan Rang we stayed in a resort and visited my friend Tuat and his family ....

From Phan Rang we took an all night train(the cockroach express) to Danang....

Then a local bus took us to the ancient city of Hoi An....

From Hoi An we boarded the “bus from hell”(there will be an entire blog post on this bus ride) to Hue....

From Hue we flew to Hanoi and caught a plane back to Singapore.
We are happy to be back in the world of potable water, sidewalks and crosswalks where the traffic actually stops and allows us to cross the street.





  1. Good blog, Mike. Some difficult memories and difficult conclusions. I especially like the bit about looking to the future. John

  2. I felt relief at your noticing that the war is not still going on. I see how the mind can be stuck in the experience until it sees the evidence that things have changed.

  3. that reunion photo with Tuat is special. I hope to hear about what you two shared. ... and of course more about the farting bus driver. Ah, the memories.

  4. Thank you for sharing your trip and some of your thoughts, Mike.

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