Day 2. Sunday 22 December Saigon, Long Tan

This morning after breakfast, the three of us boarded the bus that would take us to Vung Tau and Long Tan.   Sa, our tour guide, kept us entertained with lots of stories about life in Vietnam – politics, the economy, employment, daily life in the different regions (North, Coast, Central and South) and the different languages spoken in each region.

After we left Saigon, we travelled along Highway 1, which is a toll road and has 4 lanes each way and separate motor-bike lanes.  Along the middle of the road and at each roundabout there were beautiful, well maintained gardens and in many places, sculptured trees in the colourful median strip.

We passed a huge private Amusement Park/ Playground/Theme Park and a large Coca Cola factory.  We crossed  a bridge overthe Dong Nai River and Sa told us that the water from the river is treated and pumped to the Saigon City Centre.

After an hour of travelling, we stopped for a quick comfort stop and when we returned to the bus, while we continued our journey, we watched a documentary about the Australian Mine Fields bungle and then stopped again form morning tea and to pick up our Australian guides at Ba Ria.

As we drove towards Nui Dat, the guides talked to us about the history of the Vietnam War.  We saw the Nui Dat Hill (which means mountain of clay) and then on to what was the Australian Military Camp during the war at Nui Dat.  We saw the remains of the Luscombe Bowl, which was used as a stage where Little Patty, Col Joye and Johnny O’Keefe entertained the troops.  We stopped at what was once the airfield known Luscombe Field and were told about the brave helicopter pilots who flew close to the battle to pick up the wounded.  There is a village here now and we were interested to see some grain mats on the edge of the road where the villagers were drying corn.

We then drove to Long Tan through the Rubber Plantations to where the Australians fought the well-known Battle of Long Tan against overwhelming odds, and many lost their lives.  At this site is one of two foreign memorials to non-Vietnamese soldiers.  The Australian memorial, the Long Tan Cross, sits quietly in the middle of a working Rubber Plantation.  We experienced an emotional time at the memorial where a Vietnam Vet laid a wreath and Sandy, on behalf of her brother, Peter, who served in the Vietnam War, laid a wreath in memory of Peter’s fallen mates.  After this, the group observed a minute’s silence and then were given the opportunity to have a closer look at the memorial and have photos taken.  The memorial was 50 metres off the road down a paved path and it appears that the memorial and the surrounding area are well-maintained.After leaving the memorial, we had the opportunity to see how the rubber trees are milked for their sap.

From there we drove though the Long Tan village and saw Horseshoe Hill, which was where the artillery was located and then through Dat Do Village where we saw a Golden Statue of a young 15 year old girl who was a Vietnamese heroine during the time of the French occupation.

We came back via the coast to the South China Sea, now called the Eastern Ocean, which is a resort area in Vung Tau, where we had lunch at Tommy’s 3 at Front Beach.  Upstairs was an Aussie bar with lots of memorabilia – the bar and restaurant are owned and run by an expatriate, who now lives in Vung Tau.

As we continued our journey back to Saigon, we were interested to see nice houses and well-maintained unit blocks right next to sections of run-down dwellings that were a combination of residence and shop or people sitting on little stools out the front selling their wares.

Our tour guide also explained to us that the haze over south Vietnam is caused by the smoke from peat fires blown over from Indonesia.

We arrived back at our hotel just after 5.00pm after a long and interesting day.  We had our showers and met the rest of our tour group to walk the short distance to Xu Restaurant where we enjoyed a Luke Nguyen-inspired degustation dinner.

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