Trip to Asia 5 December to 23 December 2019
Halong Bay Vietnam.
After leaving Hong Kong on Sunday we sailed south towards Vietnam in the South China Sea . I have always had an interest in Vietnam since I grew up watching the Vietnam war on television. I have been there once before but my experience was not a fulfilling one as I had failed to do any research as to the port we were to dock at, It was the port for Ho Chi Mien City ( Saigon) and there were of course ships excursions on offer but this meant a 12 hour trip which did not excite me in the least, so I decided to do what I usually do and that is head ashore and explore the town or village we docked at. Well you know the saying in a Robert Burns poem ” the best laid plans of Mice and Men gang aft aglee” ? Well this was most apt in this case, as when we docked and I went to the rail of the ship to view the town, all I could see was a pier, and Jungle for as far as the eye could see, oops.
I tried to persuade the police guarding the pier to let me have a walk into the Jungle as there were various tracks I could see from the ship but they would not allow me to leave the pier. So, my previous experience of Vietnam was a walk up and down the pier and a look at the several small stalls selling local wares.
So yesterday I had made up my mind that this was not to happen again and I had made previous enquiries to ascertain that the visit was not to consist of an inspection of a pier. I was not disappointed as Halong Bay is a very beautiful part of Vietnam, With huge sandstone rock formations protruding from the water and forming a very large amount of islands within the bay.
There was a complimentary shuttle to go from the ship to the terminal Building, a distance of 1 Km but I decided to walk ( a decision I was to regret later) although I had been getting twinges of pain in one of my knees, the result of a parachuting incident many years ago during a night jump into a very bleak Scottish moor , but that is another story. Every so often I get this flair up of this knee condition which gives extreme pain and makes it very difficult to walk. It can last for minutes or it can sometimes last for quite some time.
So I decided to set off along the shore towards what seemed to be the center of the town. Once through the terminal there was a selection of taxis, tour busses and motor bike transport available, all at what seemed like very reasonable cost, and there was a the usual offers of transport by the many agents based out side the terminal building. One guy after offering to provide transport on his motorbike simply refused to take no for an answer and followed me for about half a mile, constantly offering to take be to where presumably I would get better views of the bay and offering translations through his phone. I didn’t realize it at the time but subsequent problems with my knee made me think that this guy was probably a guardian Angel sent by God as a reward for not burning down any churches for some time. So eventually I had to be more direct with this guy resulting in him indeed going away.
So after a walk of a couple of miles my knee decided I had walked far enough and seized up resulting in me having to turn back stopping at regular intervals to rest my knee. I came upon this memorial which was commemorating the defenses of Halong Bay when under attack from American forces when the US decided to attack what was then North Vietnam . Please read the inscriptions on the memorial.
Looking at this memorial brought back all that I had seen unfolding regarding the Vietnam war. Vietnam was a French colony from the late nineteenth century with a gap during the second World war where Japan occupied the country. It was part of what was then called Indo China. There was a communist influence from the North and in particular, China., A young man called Ho Chi Min came to prominence as a leader of the resistance leading the forces called the Viet Minh he had been the prim minister of North Vietnam for a time in the nineteen forty’s but became, probably the most prominent gorilla warfare leader in history as he set about to free his country from colonial control.
His war against the French culminated in the events in 1955 or 54 ( cant remember exactly) at a place in the North West of Vietnam called Dien Bien Phu Where the Viet Minh surrounded the French army and defeated them causing the French to leave Vietnam. Around the same time western countries were dividing up Indo china leading to North and south Vietnam being formed.
This is about the time that the US became involved as South Vietnam was not at this point communist and America started providing military advisers and finance to promote their conflict with the North. American involvement grew over the years as did the efforts of the North Vietnamese to take over the south manly by way of the Ho Chi Min trail which was a road through jungle from the north to the South used by the Viet Minh to get troops and supply to the battlefields in the South. During this time the US initiated chemical warfare under the cover of defoliating the Jungle using a chemical called agent Orange which caused a huge amount of civilian deaths and birth defects.
President Kennedy initiated the largest aid program to south Vietnam but was restrained in his direct actions against the North for fear that it would bring china into the conflict. However with his assassination it left Johnston a free hand and this was when the Golf of Tonkin incident led to the bombing of North Vietnam. A US destroyer the Maddox claimed to have been fired on by numerous North Vietnamese torpedo boats. This was later contradicted by a pilot who few in support of the Maddox and reported that the only vessel firing in the area was in fact the Maddox . However, congress passed a motion to allow the US to commence bombing of North Vietnam.
The memorial in the photos commemorates the early raids on North Vietnam. The Vietnam war was a horrible event leaving millions of deaths and casualties. I remember visiting the Vietnam war memorial in Washington . it has a granite wall with the names of all the service men and women killed in the war, but the design of the memorial was the thing that struck me as it is below ground level, as though the US were ashamed of the war. They should be, and not just because of the millions of Vietnamese that were killed or disabled but also for the amount of damaged US soldiers who came back from that war to be shunned and left on the streets.
In 1975 Viet Minh tanks drove into Saigon and the last Americans left by helicopter from the roof of the American embassy. The Vietnam war was over.
So, after sitting at this memorial and thinking of how it all came about, I headed off again hoping that my knee would adjust itself . It didn’t, and so I decided to stop at a Resturant to have something to eat and more importantly to drink as it was hot. I came across an interesting place which had been built around mature trees .
The Resturant was a buffet and for a very reasonable amount I was able to avail myself of a wide choice of Vietnamese food, starting of with noodles steeped in boiling water , strained then covered with various pieces of meats /fish/ vegetables and what could only be describes as mollusks then covered with a soup. It was tasty but I really am not too sure of some of the ingredients. So then to the main course where I had some “chicken” which certainly did not have the bone structure of Chicken in Scotland and believe it or not, crocodile, yes I ate crocodile. Hence forth I can now be called “Crocodile Dundee ”
After what could reasonably be called an interesting lunch I once more hobbled towards the ship, diverting again into the back streets to see how the ordinary people lived. Yes poverty here, although Vietnam has, like China , embraced capitalism to work alongside communism. Poverty is not in the sole ownership of what we would call underdeveloped countries, just look at the UK with tens of thousands of deaths attributed to the Austerity policies of the present government.
From there I headed towards the ship with another stop at a small hostelry for a beer and another rest for my knee. It had been an interesting day, from reminiscing about the Vietnam war and how it must have affected the ordinary people, to eating a crocodile ( well a part of one anyway)
Crocodile Dundee signing out for another day