Vung Tau to Saigon via Long Tan and Nui Dat
An exhausting day - Vung Tau to Saigon, but not just a hard day of riding but accepting closure in a big chapter of my own personal life after serving here in this region over 45 years ago as a very young veteran of the Vietnam War.
I departed Vung Tau for a special service at Long Tan slightly ahead of the Long Tan Day day anniversary and service this year (18th August) marking the 50th anniversary of the battle of Long Tan. This is a special day for me in that I will be meeting with my former SAS troop commander Robin McBride who I asked to do a special trip to Vietnam from Melbourne to meet with me as part of TLRH reaching Vung Tau and Nui Dat.
It was an overcast day when heading up to Long Tan with a light sprinkle of rain on leaving Vung Tau early hours. Monsoonal season has defiantly hit the country of Vietnam, so from now it will be a ride in different conditions for the journey down through the Mekong Delta, into Cambodia and Thailand. The current weather reports is that Thailand is well into the rainy season with flooding in and around Bangkok, regardless, Truck's wheels will keep on turning, but maybe not burning.
Another great milestone today was that Robin and I met a group of local Vietnamese War Veterans who had fought in and around Phouc Tuy province which was the Australian Task Force area of responsibility.
Some of the veterans included; former Vietcong and members of the D445 NVA Regiment and reportedly had clashes with SAS patrols during the war. After a small service at the Long Tan memorial site we looped backed to Ba Ria to firstly meet Mr. Phan Thanh Viet Vice Chairman of the Association for War Veterans of Vietnam.
There was another purpose and surprise in store for this one-legged Uc (Australian) by first meeting with Mr.Phan Thanh Viet in Ba Ria before the other veterans. On being welcomed by Mr. Phan Thanh Viet fully dressed in his military uniform and with a big smile on his face, he volunteered to cycle with me back to Nui Dat to meet with his other veteran friends.... Hmmmmm! I thought, now Mr. Phan Thanh Viet wasn't exactly a spring chicken and had also fought here over 45 years ago, so I being a little naive and thinking that it may be a very very slow ride with him back to Nui Dat for the 12km journey and taking into consideration I had just ridden down from Hanoi and was I now in very good cycling condition and it would be difficult for him.
But, as always, things aren't what they seem and there is always the flip side of the coin, and in this case, it was no different, because when the starters gun was initiated by me yelling "Mot !! Hai !! Ba !! Di (1,2,3 Go !!!)" Phan Thanh Viet took off like a greyhound at the Dato dogs at a very very fast pace towards Nui Dat with me chasing him for a bit to catch up, from then on it was no slow pace that's for sure.
Later on, I was informed that he cycles at least 20kms everyday without fail. So Under that smiley, bubbly and cheeky personality of Phan Thanh Viet was an extremely fit man and I also established that he was going to make sure that I knew he was a force not to be reckoned with and no one-legged Uc was going to show him up.
On arrival at Luscombe field (the former Australian Task Force airfield) at Long Phuoc we were further met by a group of Vietnamese veterans at the Australian Co funded Truong Man Non school.
What seemed like a short period, but was well over an hour of dialogue amongst the whole group, meeting with the vice principal of the school and many Northern Vietnamese hot tea consumed, Phan Thanh Viet and I were off cycling together again, but this time in convoy with his Veteran association members (former Vietcong and members of the NVA D445 Regiment) in tow escorting us both by riding alongside on motor bikes to the old Australian Task Force base at Nui Dat to further exchange views and experiences of the war.
About two hours of exhausting but necessary talking with the veteran group sitting almost on the top of SAS Hill was our way of going back over some important ground, not only physically by climbing the hill but mentally, because here we were (Robin and I) in more discussions about many aspects of the war including combat experiences which had certainly haunted me for many years after.
Two hours had quickly passed by whilst sitting on the old hill again, but it was time to close another chapter in my life and move on, and it was also an important time for me to hit the road again on the long ride home. I departed Nui Dat being in very good spirit of mind by saying goodbye and thank you to my former boss Robin and the former enemy group whom I could easily say are now my good friends before I continued onto Saigon.
I'm currently in Saigon after 34 days of riding and 2,500 Kms on since starting in Hanoi on the 12th May. Preparations are in process for the next phase through the Mekong Delta to the Cambodia/Thailand border and hopefully with mote donations coming in, it's onwards to Singapore then Australia .
In all, its been an overwhelming journey so far, both physically and mentally but a new phase about to start on the morning of the 26th June for another 7,500 Kms . In the meantime; a bit of rest, recovery and admin before moving on. It was also a day I said farewell to Cracker (my guide) who's been with me since since Nha Trang and to my outstanding driver the happy quiet Duck who has followed me all the way from Hanoi to Saigon,.
In two days I continue on with a new team of support; cycling guide plus driver until the Cambodian/Vietnam border. I will also have the great pleasure of two accompanying support riders Troy Lockyer and Giles Beresford-Peirse from one of the TLRH major partners (Lockforce) cycling with me to Surat Thani Southern Thailand. Troy is also the TLRH Event Coordinator and has been working non stop on many facets of the ride to make sure I got underway from Hanoi on the 12th May. Both Troy and Giles are former serving SAS members (younger generation) so I may have other challenges ahead in keeping up with them.
For those visiting Vietnam, a trip to see the Long Tan Memorial site and Nui Dat is worthy of a mention and please go there if you're in the Vung Tau area. Located about a 40 minute drive North of Vung Tau, but I may suggest it's best to formally organise a local tour guide who is required to obtain local government approvals to go to Long Tan.
In returning to Vietnam and revisiting Nui Dat (the Dat) over the last few years I've always bumped into a few Vietnam Combat Veterans revisiting there for their first time since the war and on the odd occasions sons and daughters or extended family members walking around the Dat in curiosity of this not so forgotten place. And for those who wish to venture further to see the original Long Tan cross itself, it is now kept in the Dong Nai museum in Bien Hoa approx 45 minutes North of Saigon. The cross was recently on loan to the Australian War Museum and has since been returned to the museum in Bien Hoa for its care and conservation.
xin chao va tam biet
Do you like this post?