Day 12 – A Luoi to Khe Sahn – 75KM

25 04 2012

I love traveling, and I embrace all of the experiences that travel brings. Whether good, bad or indifferent…it’s still experience that shapes me. There is one exception to this rule though…mosquitos. Mosquitos are a major food source for many creatures across the world. Unfortunately I seem to be a major food source for mosquitos around the world. So when I see or hear them…I get a little paranoid and generally bitten. So despite sleeping under a mosquito net, my mind still did overtime that the little f–kers were biting me. Therefore sleep didn’t come easy last night. However, I refused to let that dampen my enthusiasm !

Toan promised me an easy day. We had a relatively short distance to travel to Khe Sahn, and a good amount of time to do it. So a lazy breakfast of fish soup, and the usual coffee with condensed milk and we were ready. However Rat Bike wasn’t. Whilst the major problems such as leaking petrol, buckled wheels and an inability to stop had been rectified…it did sound like a washing machine on a spin cycle. We discovered that the flimsy steel chainguard was rubbing against the drive chain causing an awful noise whilst riding. The chainguard itself was virtually destroyed, but Toan tried his best to repair it. He managed it too but there was a great deal of cursing that I didn’t understand.

Our trek today back onto the north bound Ho Chi Minh Road. It took us past some major battlefields during the Vietnam conflict, and some beautiful scenery. Again we were flanked on one side by children cycling their way back from school. The children smiled and waved shouting HELLO as we went past. I tried my best to grab a picture, but as you can appreciate it’s a little difficult when riding !

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We passed Hamburger Hill, scene of the infamous NVA occupation. Now I may be classed as old (36), but I am too young to remember the Vietnam conflict. My memories of the conflict are derived from Hollywood movies and the Internet. Hamburger Hill was etched into my memory by an early 90’s film, and I remember it being gruesome. Hamburger Hill is just on my left.

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We drove through many tribal areas with children washing in the clear streams and rivers, playing and having fun. The road was well kept, and simply breathtaking going up and down through the mountains. I saw a guy riding a bicycle wearing a white mushroom shaped polystyrene helmet. I burst out laughing as he looked like Viet Smurf !!!

Stopping at a small coffee shop, I became the object of curiosity with the Grandmother. They said that a foreign guy has passed through a few years back…so this place is definitely off the beaten track. The Grandmother and her daughter were asking questions about me, and Toan was translating. It was lovely to just sit there and listen. They told us that they had moved from Dong Ha 20 years back to set up the store. It sold everything from candy to motorcycle tyres. The Grandmother was lovely, and so charismatic, despite not understanding a word that she said. Sometimes you don’t need to speak to have a good conversation.

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After several pit stops, required due to NBS (Numb Bum Syndrome), we reached the border of National Highway 9 and Ho Chi Minh Road. Again a major battlefield between both forces. Our track took us to Khe Sanh, and we turned back onto the West Ho Chi Minh Road.

Next stop was the museum at Ta Con air base. I hadn’t expected this, and I think that I should have mentally prepared myself for the impact. Ta Con was a major airbase held by US Forces during the war.  In 1968 there were 28000 US and South Vietnam and 17000 NVA troops stationed in the area. That is a staggering amount of people. The NVA attacked Ta Con several times before the US abandoned the complex in July 1968. By all accounts it was horrendous, and as I walked around the fields I just thought about the conditions and hardship that the troops must have felt, not to mention the sights that they saw and fear that they felt. I almost become sponge like with the feelings in places like this, soaking them in and processing the feelings.

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Toan found something that shocked me, and really brought home what had actually happened in this awful place. He gave me a bone fragment, next to it a piece of scorched camouflage material. Sometimes there are no words to describe my thoughts and emotions…

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Leaving Ta Con we made the short journey to Khe Sahn and to the Thai Ninh Hotel. The rooms are ok, and it’s apparently a three star. I wanted to take a sauna to steam the dust out of my body. Now lets just say that the European version of “Sauna” is very different to the Vietnam version. Not going into details but I may require therapy. There was also a mumbled question at the end by a beautiful girl in a short dress…which luckily I didn’t understand !

Walking around Khe Sahn of an evening was quite an oppressive experience. I heard several shouts of “Tay Ba Lo”, and also had a couple of things thrown at me. We went into a hotpot place, and some drunks started shouting abuse at me. I am used to being abused by drunk people, but it kind of took me by surprise. It’s the first experience of direct hostility in Vietnam. Perhaps it’s because Khe Sahn is such a small place, or because there are still anti-American memories here ?

Nothing to report on articles carried by motorbikes today ! Only a smurf on a cycle !

Tomorrow Khe Sahn to Phong Na.

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