Phong Nha – Motorcycle ride

On the other side of the river.

I wrote the draft for this post on my sketch book, late in the evening, after my motorcycle ride. While writing the draft I was sitting in my room with a beautiful view of the river and the limestone cliffs that towered over the river.

I reflected on the wonderful motorcycle trip that I had just completed. With the caves closed down for COVID I had the excuse to ride my motorcycle in the surrounding area, the mountain passes near Phong Nha.

The cliffs and the forest were some on the most uniquely beautiful areas I had ever seen. The roads had been dynamited right through the cliffs and the trees and mountains stood beside the road. Towering above it and almost completely undisturbed.

The roadside forests

When I brought the bike to a stop so I could snap some photos I became enveloped by the peace and the serenity of nature. The bugs happily chirped from the branches of the trees, the birds sang their songs and the leaves danced in the gentle wind. After spending so much time in the city I had forgotten what the peace of the forest felt like. After I snapped the above photos I put the camera and laid down on my motorbike and meditated upon the sounds of nature

The tranquility of the scene was interrupted by the most unusual sight. The rumbling and popping sound of an extremely old motorbike slowly making its way down the steep mountain road. The only thing louder than the bike was the old man driving the contraption. He was singing Vietnamese pop songs in a high pitched voice that echoed off the cliffs, stopping only to shoot me a friendly yellow smile, he continued his private karaoke session on the rumbling shaking old motorbike. As the sounds of the Vietnamese pop songs faded the sound of the forest slowly returned.

After a few more minutes of meditation I hopped back on my motorcycle and made the journey back to Phong Nha and passed by more beautiful landscapes.

Taken at the top of a mountain.

As I passed through nature I rode through a small town between the forests and Phong Nha I lowered my speed and observed the locals.

I witnessed two boys (around 8 -10 years old) playing a game with pebbles they found on the street. Using the pebbles they found they used two pebbles to make a gold post and taking a small rounded pebble they flicked the pebble in an attempt to score goals. I loved the creativity and the use of free resources that the children used to entertain themselves.

I also casually noticed a young teen couple on an electric bike. The girl on the back quietly and subtlety smiling to herself, clearly enjoying the thrills of first love. Then they passed her friend on a bicycle and the teen’s friend shot her a bright smile and the young girlfriend couldn’t contain her joy. Blushing she covered her face and laughed a loud. I couldn’t help but smile at the lovely scene of innocent love.

After leaving the town I pulled over near Phong Nha and checked on my camera. Further ahead a high school girl on a bicycle came to a stop in preparation for a right turn down a steep a path to school. Before doing this she stopped to throw a second confused glance in my direction.
“What is a foreigner doing all the way out here at this time” she probably thought to her self.

Seeing this I gave a dramatic and friendly wave and despite the distance between I saw a flash of white as she smiled an waved back.
Ah vintage Vietnam.

After putting my camera away I rode into Phong Nha with dinner on my mind.

Rice field outside of Phong Nha

After parking my bike at my homestay I turned on my audio book and walked towards the Indian restaurant for a nice big meal for I was hungry. While I ate my meal I listen to my audio book Vietnam: A History by Stanley Karnow. Hands down one of the best books you can get about Vietnamese history.

After my meal I chatted with a nice family from France (a husband a wife and two kids) were stranded in Vietnam because of COVID but they seemed quite happy nonetheless. It merely gave them more time to explore Vietnam they said.

After speaking with the French family I met a young man from Israel. He was backpacking through South East Asia and was also caught in Vietnam. He was completely unconcerned he had savings and could teach English if he had to. We shared our travel adventures and he told me about a wonderful time when he was in Burma. He came across a small village and befriend the local children by playing soccer with them. After soccer one village girl led him by the hand to her home where her parents prepared a meal for him. The little girl’s cousin spoke a little English and eagerly practiced with him. He spent the night in the village rather than back in his hotel.

This was a genuine and fulfilling travel experience he would never forget. He barely remembered seeing the famous landmarks and sites. But he would never forget that little village.

I also told him about my experience in Laos where I came across a friendly village where poor but happy children befriended me. You can find more about the experience in this post: https://hunterthetravelingpanda.home.blog/2020/04/09/laos-friendly-village/

We also talked about both of our military experience. We both talked about the good memories and the friendships we had in the military. We also talked of the shitty times in the military and how happy we were to be civilians again. Apparently he and his platoon referred to their sergeant as “Hitler”.

That’s right an Israeli Jewish platoon calling their sergeant Hitler. That sergeant must have been an asshole of a sergeant. Eventually we wished each other safe travels and parted ways. On my way home I joined in on a game of badminton with some locals in the empty streets. After the game I returned to the homestay and fell asleep to the sound of crickets and the flowing river.

Phong Nha doesn’t need caves to be a great place. I will return again after the caves have reopened.

Phong Nha – No Caves

Now if you know anything about Phong Nha, you might ask, why would you go to Phong Nha if can’t go to the caves (the caves were closed because of COVID-19). I went because I heard there were very few tourists and I decided this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to see the beautiful natural scenery of Phong Nha without a horde of tourists. So, off I went.

On the way there (riding my motorbike) I bumped into some locals at a rest stop.

Garden Lizard
More lizards. They are very common here in Vietnam.

After a an hour or so of riding I arrived at my homestay in Phong Nha. It had a sitting area beside the river with a splendid view of the river and surrounding cliffs.

You can see the people digging up shellfish for dinner. You can also see the cliffs towering over the church steeple.
It was a bit cloudy and rainy but that is the way I like the weather.

It was such a relief getting away from the big city and close to nature where the air was clear and the forests were untouched. Near my home stay I could relax to the sound of bugs and the gently flowing river. Further out away from the town birds supplemented the sound of the forest with their song. I share more on that later.

Because the caves were closed there was nothing else to do except enjoy the peace and quiet of the nearly empty town by walking around.

A view from a sub street in the town of Phong Nha

While exploring I came across a truly vintage piece of Vietnam. A rice paddy where a farmer tended to his water buffalo.

I, personally, really liked these photos and wanted to share them. I really felt like they reflected the true and ancient nature of Vietnam. These farmers have been tending to their rice and water buffalo in much the same way for the past 1,000 years.

That night I explored the near empty town and tried some of the restaurants. The local Indian restaurant is one of the best restaurants there.

After dinner, in the stillness and coolness of the evening I settled down by the river and immersed myself in the sounds of nature, the flowing of the river and the chirps of crickets. It was a much needed break from the big city.

That will be all for today. On the next post I will share pictures from my motorcycle round in the beautiful surrounding area.

The Battlefield of Khe Sanh

Sorry for the long time between posts. I have been very busy with exercise, language learning and English teaching so I haven’t had much time to write.

For this post I will be visiting the place where the famous siege of Khe Sanh took place.

The Battle of Khe Sanh took place during the Vietnam war between American Marines, stationed on the hill base of Khe Sanh and between three divisions of the North Vietnamese army. The battle took place over 7 months (from January to June, 1968) and it was one of the fiercest battles of the whole war. The Americans built a base in this semi-remote area to train the South Vietnamese Army and to cut off communication lines for the NVA (North Vietnamese Army) and their Viet Cong allies.

As the battle raged the Marines found themselves cut off and reliant on superior American fire power to keep the NVA at bay. During the battle American Aircraft flew thousands of sorties and dropped thousands of bombs. American artillery matched the terrifying power of the American warplanes. Nevertheless, the NVA persisted in their attacks despite mounting casualties.

As the battle took shape it began to look eerily similar to the famous last stand of the French in Vietnam at Dien Bien Phu. At Dien Bien Phu a large, but isolated, French base was surround and after a protracted siege by the Viet Minh, the base was captured and the French forced to surrender. It was an embarrassing defeat for the French colonizer and an enormous propaganda victory for the Viet Minh. The aftermath of the battle led to the eventual withdrawal of France from Vietnam and the end of colonization of South Vietnam.

“I don’t want no damn Din Bin Phu” exclaimed President Lyndon Johnson who was horrified at the prospect of America having its own Dien Bien Phu. The President ordered that Khe Sanh must not fall.. Eventually the Americans launched Operation Pegasus, which was a plan for an overland relief of the siege. Using superior firepower the Americans fought their way overland to Khe Sanh and broke the siege. Although the siege had been broken there were still scattered firefights in the surrounding hills as the NVA still maintained a presence in the area.

American commanders decided that the base of Khe Sanh was not worth keeping and the base and it’s airstrip was taken down and the Americans abandoned the area they fought so hard for. The NVA would move into and later take control of the area.

From a purely militaristic point of view the battle was indecisive or a draw, but both sides claimed victory. I am not sure who really won this battle nor will I claim the intellectual competence to make a claim on such a complex topic.

The total casualties for this battle were very high. The Americans and their South Vietnamese allies suffered 3,500 killed and 9,000 + injured. The NVA is estimated to have suffered more than 5,500 killed and an unknown number of wounded.

My brief summary does not do this moment of history justice but it is an explanation for the pictures I will show you.

There is a small museum and an outdoor area where some of the helicopters, tanks and aircraft used at the time. Because the museum was created by the Communist Government of Vietnam it is filled with propaganda and was heavily biased (like a lot of countries but as a history enthusiast I try my best to be unbiased and I didn’t like the obvious bias on display here).

Some of the artillery shells used in the battle. As you can see they were massive and caused untold devastation.
The NVA used tanks at Khe Sanh.But even these mighty war machines were unable to break the American perimeter.
The photograph is excellent but I don’t like the caption. It depicts the Americans as cowards and they, like their Vietnamese counterparts, were very brave and skilled soldiers and do not deserve to be mocked like this.
This caption is verifiable untrue and I’ll explain why below.

The American withdrawal from Khe Sanh was anything but panicky. After the siege was broken by reinforcements from Operation Pegasus, the Americans withdrew all of their equipment, destroyed anything that would be valuable to the NVA and even left small numbers of troops behind to clean up remaining NVA forces. After the organized withdrawal the NVA moved back in.

So now we can see the museum writers are blatantly lying for propaganda purposes and I was disgusted with this blatant distortion of history. The government and the country have a right to be proud of their countries military history but I believe it is always wrong to lie when talking about history. If they told the truth the story would be just as interesting and heroic the lies are unnecessary.

The Bell UH-1 Iroquois or more famously known as the “Huey” is the iconic helicopter of Vietnam.
The Chinook transport helicopter. This amazing helicopter is a perfect blend of speed and strength. I had the immense privilege of riding in one of these helicopters when I was in the Royal Canadian Air Force so I know first hand what these fine machines are capable of. These helicopters are still in use today.
This is a transport aircraft (I forgot the name) and was the workhorse of American logistics. It transported men, firepower and supplies all over South East Asia.
A tank and an APC used during the battle. I am not as familiar with the ground forces because I was in the air force.
Some more of the massive bombs used in the battle. Judging by the size of them I think these were air dropped.

Trenches were recreated to mimic the defensive structures during the battle.

I am grateful that I did not have to duck into these trenches to dodge to mortar fire. I am a very privileged and lucky panda and visiting these battlefields reminds of of this and I am grateful.

As I wandered the battlefield I was struck by the peace, tranquility and beauty of the place. Their was a gentle breeze to negate the heat, flowers danced in the wind and bees buzzed happily among the flowers. Domestic hens lead their babies on the edge of trees searching for food. What an incredible difference between today and 1968. In 1968 the peace of this place would be disturbed by roar of artillery strikes, the thunder of aircraft, the firing of rifles and the screams of soldiers.

And here I peacefully walk around the green fields, I am very lucky panda to be born into the generation that I am in.

Respect to all those (no matter what side) fought here.

On the way out I bought a coffee and relaxed. Two friends I met the night before dropped in and we had a chat. I then hopped on my motorcycle and returned to Da Nang.

While on the way back I took a wrong turn and found a beautiful lake.

The physical beauty of Vietnam.

That will be all for today. Thank you for joining me stay tuned for more adventures through Vietnam.