Long Thanh and Vung Tau, 'Nam
Upon entering Vietnam, I knew that I would want to take some time to explore the areas where my father was stationed and also vacationed back in 1969. I made a couple phone calls to him once we started working our way into the south and also pulled out a map to get an idea of where he spent his time. He told me that he was stationed in a town called Long Thanh. He was in the Army. Fighting for freedom from good 'ole "Uncle Ho."
We arrived in Saigon by train and started to haggle with the taxi drivers and tour agencies to see who would give us the best deal on a private car from the city to Long Thanh and then down to Vung Tau. Our plan was to head to Long Thanh, which is now a very small, very poor town with an extremely nice golf course, hit a couple balls on the driving range, and then head south to Vung Tau, a beach town where my dad vacationed during his stay. After much haggling and asking around, we found a taxi driver that would spend the day with us for $20 each. We hit the road at 9am and found ourselves at the golf course by 9:45. We rented some clubs, grabbed a basket of balls, and took turns hitting the balls in the name of my father, America, and freedom. It rocked. While we were whacking away and baking in the brutally hot sun, I couldn't help but think about my dad, dressed in his full army gear, melting in the sun while trudging through the rice paddies. Before this day, I never really thought about "the price of freedom." All of the men and women who serve our great country have paid and we, as citizens, reap the benefit. It struck me pretty deep, standing on top of that hill, and I stood and thought of what may have happened right here on this ground.
After a while, we loaded back into the car and drove a few more hours until we arrived in Vung Tau. There are two main beaches on this peninsula, Front Beach and Back Beach. Back Beach is where we made our home for the night and it seems likely this is where the soldiers would have come for a rest from the every day happenings of war. We rented motorbikes and headed out to explore. One of our main goals while here was to find a boat that would take us along the water and into the Mekong Delta. We weren't sure if we could find such a thing, but we started asking around. Our first stop was at the ferry dock. The nice lady there informed us that they have one route - Vung Tau to Saigon. We wanted to be off the beaten path and so she handed us a card of a private boat company that may be able to accommodate us. We phoned them, put in our request and were told we would receive a call back. While waiting, we moved on into some local neighborhoods looking for a fisherman who may be able to take us across the water in his boat. We came upon a group of men sitting by the water and struck up a conversation with them. We explained what we were trying to accomplish and the men thought it over. They called in a couple of captain friends and while we awaited their arrival, the local neighborhood kids started to swarm around us - I guess we were quite the sight - the white people who happened upon their quiet fishing village! After some time and much discussion, the fishermen decided they could not take us across the water. They all agreed it was too dangerous and way too costly. They then sent us to a local pier to see if the local ferry could help. We said our goodbyes and headed in search of this local pier. Along the way, we found ourselves more and more immersed with the locals. We stopped several times to ask for directions and finally came upon the correct street. As we headed in, the crowd became thicker and thicker. This street was a full blown market! There were fresh veggies every where you looked, fish of every kind, and people every where! With some frustration, we came to the end of the road where it seemed we had reached a dead end. Some local women approached us and informed that we were indeed in the right place and that the boat leaves every morning at 9am. If we wanted good seats, we should arrive between 7 and 8am. We thanked them, headed back through the market, and knew that our trip on this local ferry was going to be quite adventurous, but we were ready! We left the following morning and headed into the delta.
It was a great day to honor the men and women who have fought for our country and I will never forget the deep feeling of gratitude for living in a country that honors freedom the way we do in America!