The 2016 Vietnam Tour
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Vietnam_MapVietnam / Cambodia Trip Report [Bob Koury]:

Nineteen intrepid travelers just completed a wonderful trip to the I Corps areas of Vietnam.  A smaller group continued on to Cambodia, to visit Angkor Wat and cruise down the Mekong River from there to the Mekong Delta.

ba_na_hills_vietnam-15The Vietnam leg of the trip started from Da Nang and included a night at the Ba Na Hills Mountain Resort overlooking Da Nang.  Most of us had little knowledge of the mountains, beyond a reconnaissance relay station that was maintained there.  You can appreciate that the French kept their villas up there to escape the heat and humidity below.  There is an absolutely spectacular tram ride from the base to the peak. It would be hard to overstate how beautiful it is.

After Ba Na, we proceeded to Hoi An, spending a few nights there. We visited the Marine Corps areas near Hill 55, Marble Mountain, the world heritage sites of old Hoi An, the ancient Champa Hindu ruins at My Son, as well as other sites nearby.  By popular request we took a Vietnamese cooking class, learning the finer points of making rice paper and spring rolls.

hai-van-passFrom Hoi An, we went back through Da Nang, stopping at the orphanage where Dave Purvis adopted his daughter and then over the Hai Van pass, which remains a spectacular piece of geography. The old French emplacements are still there, but this time with a wedding couple posed on the top with a retinue of photographers and family.

We stayed right on the beautiful South China Sea beach east of Hue at a lovely resort (Ana Mandara) for two nights.  The highlights included a tropical storm, having to raise the power lines to get our bus under, and a beautiful, large cemetery right on the beach just north of the resort.

We continued on to the impressive La Residence hotel on the Perfume River in Hue City.  Anyone traveling there should consider this as a “must do” hotel to visit.  We toured the old citadel and the bustling business, government, university and commercial areas on the south side of the river.

Next, the DMZ area from Cua Viet and west to Khe Sanh. There are new bypass highways around Dong Ha and Quang Tri.  And Route 9 to Khe Sanh has been greatly improved, reducing the travel time significantly.  We found our way through a rubber plantation to the remains of the old French bunker at Con Tien.  The Rockpile and Ca Lu are pretty much unchanged.  Spectacular landscape as you remember it.

We spent two nights at a luxurious (just kidding) but acceptable hotel in Khe Sanh.  The excitement came from watching all of the traffic coming across the border from Laos.  It is a major commercial thoroughfare now.  Another highlight was standing on top of 881 N. and looking back on 881S, 861, and almost being able to see the airfield.   They had a much better view of us than we had of them. Co Roc remains a dominant feature the area.  I could still imagine the lights at night from the tunnels where they would roll out large artillery pieces to shoot at the airfield.  We visited the Laotian border, the Lao Bao Prison and a shopping center complex which was meant to attract Vietnamese to buy high quality Cambodian and Laotian products.  Unfortunately Chinese products now dominate, and the shopping center has not worked out well for the government.

Our trip then took us south down the Dakrong River Valley which I like to think of as the Heart of Darkness.  This was the area of Operation Dewey Canyon.  We spent one night in the small town of Aloui.  When you stand near the shore at Da Nang, you look west at the mountains and are impressed with their magnitude.  However, when you travel through the mountains coming east from the Dakrong River, you are truly in The Mountains. Pretty much the difference between the VC being known as Charlie and the NVA as Mr. Charles.

Next, we enjoyed two nights in Hue City recovering from our travels at the lovely La Residence Hotel again.  We spent one day viewing the impressive Imperial tombs which are South and East of the city.  I am pretty sure they were untouched by the war and specifically the battle in Hue city.  However, my old map of the area did show one of our artillery units being located within the walls of one.

Back to the Da Nang airport for our last day in Vietnam.  This time we took the new tunnel under the Hai Van pass and saved a bunch of time.