Written by expert military history and battlefield guide, Rod Margetts
In August I had the pleasure of guiding the first Boronia battlefield tour of Vietnam.
I planned the tour to coincide with the 50th Anniversary of the battle of Long Tan, but also offered an extension to the itinerary to take in Vietnam north from Hoi An to Hanoi. In all we had twenty-two days to look at Australia’s wartime experience, as well as the wider culture and geography of this fascinating country.
The first half of the itinerary began with four days in and around Ho Chi Minh City, the former Saigon. The excellent Caravelle Hotel provided the perfect base for this segment, which included visits to all the significant locations in the city and a trip into the countryside to investigate the Cu Chi tunnel complex.
Next, we moved south, to Vung Tau and the former Phuoc Tuy Province where the Australian Task Force operated for most of our Vietnam commitment. Over two days we visited and discussed the major Australian engagements and activities. Highlights were a visit to the former Task Force base at Nui Dat and a discussion of the battle of Binh Ba, led by a tour member who had actually participated in the event. The 18th of August had been scheduled for attendance at the official commemoration at the Long Tan memorial cross. As we know, this activity was cancelled by the Vietnamese government at short notice, leaving many tour groups very disappointed. In our case, a pre-planned visit to the how much does cialis cost at cvs
site on the day before allowed the tour group to discuss the battle on the actual ground, and to conduct a private service at the memorial. Just after we left the area, the police closed the road and the cancellation of activities on the 18th was announced.
The southern itinerary then concluded with a drive to My Tho, in the Mekong Delta, for an overnight stay in a local resort and a day of experiencing the diverse Delta culture. Returning to Ho Chi Minh City late afternoon, we had a group dinner, saying farewell to those members not continuing on the northern extension tour.
Next morning, this smaller group flew to Da Nang and moved to accommodation in Hoi An, where we spent two days exploring this historical trading port. A side visit to the ancient Cham ruins at My Son and time for shopping completed our visit. (I even managed to get three shirts made and delivered to the hotel in an hour and a half!).
When creating the itinerary for the northern extension, I had planned for the travel, beyond Hoi An, to be conducted overland, all the way to Hanoi. Given that the standard Vietnam tour is usually a two stop package between Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi (stops being Hoi An and Hue, and flying between the locations), I guess this was a little risky! However, in my personal travel experiences I always regret time spent flying over interesting country, instead of travelling through the area. It is the only way to get a proper feel for the ground, people and culture. So, we spent the next six days on the road, getting an in-depth look at Vietnamese town and village life, and a close-up view of Vietnamese traffic!
Pausing for a day and a half to visit the famous Citadel and other significant sites in Hue, we made our way north to the former Demilitarised Zone, with a side visit to Khe Sanh to discuss the US Marine Corps battle there. Later, at one of the many roadside coffee stops, we met a former North Vietnamese Army officer and veteran of the fighting at Khe Sanh in 1968. He was delighted to meet the ex-Australian military members in the group. The next day and night were spent in the Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park, a World Heritage listed area of the oldest limestone mountains in Asia and some of the most spectacular cave systems I’ve seen.
We then spent three days making our way further north, through Vinh where Ho Chi Minh spent his childhood, and Ninh Binh, before arriving in Hanoi. Our hotel here was located in the heart of the Old Quarter, with its incredible, hectic and entertaining daily life. We spent a day visiting Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum and the infamous Hoa Lo prison (the “Hanoi Hilton” to American aircrew held there during the war), and concluded the tour with a free day for personal touring and shopping.
I think I can honestly say that this first Boronia tour into Asia was a success and that people taking part really enjoyed it. I know I did.
Article written by Rod Margetts
- who was the battlefield tour guide for Boronia Travel’s 50th Anniversary Long Tan Tour.