Platoon

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This blog entry about the events of Thursday, December 09, 2004 was originally posted on December 12, 2004.

DAY 418:  “I really feel guilty being here,” said fellow American Dara at the border crossing into Vietnam.  “I gave my form [to the customs officer] and he read it and said, ‘American’ and just gave me this look.”

Exit formalities on the Lao side of the new, three-month-old Nong Haet crossing from northern Laos into northern Vietnam was easy, but it didn’t go so smoothly on the Vietnamese side.  I was behind the three Thai tourists at the entrance, who got in with a smile.  The officer let me follow right behind them (I look Thai, remember?) until he saw the blue cover of my passport.  American.

He seized my passport and instructed me to go with the other foreigners down the road to the separate customs office to fill out some paperwork.  I got mine stamped after some time and went back with the others to get our passports stamped.

There was a stack of foreign passports on the desk awaiting our paperwork:  five British and EU ones with three blue American ones underneath.  One by one the passports data was recorded by hand into a log book.  Most processed hassle-free until the first blue one:  Dara took her glasses off for a better match with her photo.  She was stamped and granted entry into Vietnam.

“Congratulations,” I said. 

Her new husband Jim and I both had special passports — mine with the page extension in it — and it took a while for us to process.  There were extra codes to record and things like that, plus my Vietnamese visa was hard to find in my messy passport full of stamps from around the world, all while everyone else was waiting on the bus for us.  It took some time, but Jim and I finally got our entry stamps.  We had officially entered the country and got back on the bus for the rest of the journey.


VIETNAM.  It is not just the name of a country, it has become synonymous with a troubled time in world history.  The very mention of the name conjures up many emotions, particularly to Americans, as it is often referred to as one of biggest military and political blunders in American history.  In short, the Vietnam War, known in Vietnam as “The American War,” was the cold war gone hot:  Soviet-supported North Vietnam and U.S.-supported South Vietnam duked it out after President Lyndon Johnson sent troops into the segregated southeast Asian nation.  The end result was many casualties and injuries, many of them emotional scars for life.

Thirty years later, a unified Communist Vietnam is still on the rebound, with tourism as a big way to develop the war torn nation.  Although tourism is still in its infancy, it has become increasingly lucrative as many backpackers flock to its colonial cities and its picturesque beaches.  Tourism is one way to continue the mending process and re-establish the better relations with America, which really started to happen after economic sanctions were re-established in 1995 and President Bill Clinton’s 2000 visit (the first of any U.S. president since Vietnam was reunified).  Shortly after, the U.S. opened an embassy in Hanoi.

I can’t blame the Vietnamese for still holding any kind of grudges towards Americans.  Unlike former military powers Germany and Japan, who have both focused their energies in business and technology rather than weapons, America hasn’t really changed, what with the army muscling its way with force into Iraq in recent history.  True, I shared some of the guilt that Dara was having; I hadn’t felt that guilt since wandering around Hiroshima in Japan.


THE ROAD FROM THE BORDER TO THE CITY OF VINH was a long one.  Actually, it wasn’t much of a road; most of it was still under construction.  We must have passed by a dozen cranes, bulldozers and steamrollers as we drove on the mountainous dirt road.  The ride was pretty crazy, causing my people to get motion sickness and throw up in plastic bags.  Thankfully there was a mid-way break for a while, for Vietnamese pho noodle soup.

It was a full day of riding through the Vietnamese countrysiderivers, villages, mountains (picture above) and fields of grain.  I spent most of the time just writing and trying to keep myself from getting too nauseous. 

Night had fallen by the time we arrived in Vinh, the central Vietnamese city where Communist leader Ho Chi Minh was born.  The bus left me and a handful of backpackers stranded in a quiet bus station parking lot with no decent amount of local currency or a place to stay.  We regrouped to collect our bearings and tried to figure out a plan of attack.  Each of us wanted to make headway to Hanoi as soon as possible, but the night bus would get there at the undesirable time of two in the morning.  The better option would be to spend a night in Vinh and go first thing in the morning.

The necessity at hand was money.  “Can I leave this [bag] here?” I asked Dara.

“Yeah, I’ll stand guard if someone stays with me.”

“I’ll stay,” volunteered Brit Sarah. 

Jim and I left our newly-established base and went on a reconnaissance mission to locate an ATM.  I asked a nearby hotel concierge for one and in broken English he directed me two blocks away, across the street and left.  Or so I thought.  After walking the two blocks — two long blocks I may add — we found nothing and head back.


“WE HAVE A PLACE TO STAY and a bus in the morning,” Dara said when Jim and I reported back to base. 

“We have no money,” I said.

“They can exchange money too.”

While standing guard, Dara and the others had been approached by a guy named Hai who represented a hotel and travel agency recommended by Lonely Planet.  He seemed to be the only guy that could speak decent English and so we decided to go with him; there were no better options anyway.

“You can walk or I can call you a taxi,” Hai said.  “[The hotel] is two kilometers that way.”

“Two kilometers?” said one of the Swedes in the group.  “We can walk.”


LIKE SOLDIERS IN A PLATOON, we walked down the main city road under the nighttime sky.  Each of us was carrying gear on his/her back, and one of us, Paul, even had a rifle — a spear gun he would use when going diving off the shore at a later date.  In the platoon, there was Kristoph and Anna from Sweden, Paul and Lisa from England, and Americans Dara and Jim from D.C.  We marched through the Vietnamese city not knowing what to expect.  At one point a huge sewer rat crossed our path but scurried away.

Hai, our new Vietnamese ally led us to the Dong Do Hotel, a decent mid-range place with private bathrooms and HBO.  More importantly there were blankets for the cold night, but I failed to know they were in the armoires and pretty much froze my ass off that night.

My platoon regrouped at the restaurant downstairs for beers and our first real meal in Vietnam, a family-style dinner of vegetables, soup, and squid.  Hai provided complimentary Vietnamese rice whiskey and we toasted around the table with our shot glasses.

“Welcome to Vietnam,” I toasted the troops.

After a confusing arrival into the country, we finally found refuge for the night.  It was a much needed night of rest for we would be deployed into Hanoi the next day.






Next entry: The War Between Tourists And Touts

Previous entry: Journalists In The Minefields




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Comments for “Platoon”

  • I’ve pretty much pulled an all-nighter (just 3 hrs of sleep) to get these last two entries up in time for the WHMMR, before I head out into the NIZ for the next couple of days.

    There you go, the end of Laos and the beginning of Vietnam.  Enjoy!

    More to come; I’m off to Halong Bay now…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/11  at  11:25 PM


  • Wow, unexpected blog!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/12  at  01:00 AM


  • Thanks Erik…..a nice surprise…2 entries…it is amazing were you find internet access!  Some places look like they are not too modern.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/12  at  02:59 AM


  • what’s in the water jug?  Is that the whiskey?  Or is it tea?

    Posted by Liz  on  12/12  at  02:21 PM


  • AR Fans:  I just heard that Rob & Amber (Survivor All-Stars) are a team in AR 7!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/12  at  08:10 PM


  • BACK IN HANOI… I’m off on the night bus to Hue now…

    MORE TO COME…

    BTW, the postcards from Vietnam have been deployed…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/13  at  10:54 AM


  • Scratch that, I’m on a night TRAIN for Hue (I hope!)... turns out I got scammed out from that open bus ticket sale ($27).  Oh well…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/13  at  01:05 PM


  • vietnam…it’s this whole other country…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/13  at  02:57 PM


  • HARSH Erik!

    AR7 YES!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/13  at  03:04 PM


  • EriK: I’m a big fan of the Vietnamese noodle soup “PHO”. I want you tell me how it compares to statesides version (your misssion as you so to accept it)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/13  at  04:29 PM


  • only do it if it’s from a “Pho 69”

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/13  at  04:36 PM


  • Markyt: dude your right, how could I have missed it ... Your right I need too reapply for that MacK card ...

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/13  at  05:45 PM


  • Yo Erik,

      I heard that United Airlines has just restarted direct flights from the United States to The Nam. It’s another indication that tourism is increasing out there…

      Word Life.

      The Six Dollar and Thirty Nine Cent MoMan!

    Posted by Supreme Moman  on  12/14  at  02:39 AM


  • That first line tells it all. Looking at that picture, the background, the way the road is positioned. Man, you couldn’t have done it any better. All you need is the image of the naked Vietnamese girl running towards you with serious burns all over her body from the napalm just dropped onto her village. Man, that’s sad. Stay safe and enjoy your continuing trip, Erik.

    Posted by Tony  on  12/14  at  05:15 AM


  • GREETINGS FROM HUE (pronounced “weh”)...  I’m not too far away from the DMZ between the former North and South Vietnams…

    SIMF2P:  Yeah, I’ve had plenty of Pho since I’ve been here… it’s EVERYWHERE… as common as hot dog vendors in New York…  I think it’s just as comparable to the one in the States…

    S.MOMAN:  Yeah, I saw that reported on CNN Int’l; American Airlines proudly serves Vietnam now. 

    Yes, tourism is coming to Vietnam in a big, big way; I already see this place becoming the next Thailand—and I mean that in a bad way, at least from a cultural standpoint.  Laos seems to remain pure because it’s land-locked and there are no beaches for Westerners to ruin. 

    I’m actually straying away from the big backpacker havens here—the world-class beaches, the market towns, etc.—and am sticking to historical/cultural sites since I gotta be out before X-mas…

    (There’ll be beach time in the Philippines and back in Thailand.)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/14  at  05:23 AM


  • LIZ:  It’s whiskey, soaking up the nutrients of brown tree roots for an extra kick.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/14  at  07:06 AM


  • I AM EXPERIENCING TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES; PLEASE STAND BY…

    I’ve been to four different internet cafes here by the DMZ on the 17th parallel and I can’t get a connection that doesn’t make me want to pull my hair out…

    Big upload from HCMC (Saigon) when I get there in three days… perhaps one or two entries will appear before then, but no promises…

    You’ve been briefed.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/14  at  12:30 PM


  • Tony, funny you should mention the naked vietnamese girl who was burned by a napalm attack.  I just saw a news segment where she was at a benefit dinner, can’t remember what it was for.  Her name is Kim Phuc and she now lives in Toronto.  There is a very interesting biography called “The Girl in the Picture: The Kim Phuc Story”, by Denise Chong.  I read it a number of years ago, and these Vietnam entries may inspire me to re-read!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/14  at  08:53 PM


  • The mountains also look a lot like the trek that was made in THE JOY LUCK CLUB, I think.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/14  at  11:37 PM


  • ALL - so what’s everyone out there doing for New Years?!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/15  at  03:10 PM


  • Markyt, it’s snowing here again….looks like we will be here in the Canadian mid-north snowmobling and digging out of the snow.  No major plans here!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/15  at  06:24 PM


  • New Orleans for New Years - anyone who wants to come… come on down! What are you doing??

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/15  at  08:38 PM


  • NYE in NYC - any one wanna enjoy a night of drinking, let me know….when the ball drops, the pants drop!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/15  at  08:49 PM


  • I’m going to visit Jan in China!

    Posted by Liz  on  12/16  at  12:57 AM


  • I SURRENDER.  The slow internet connection here in Hue is torture.  The two entries I had all set to go will have to wait.

    Well, I’m off on a 23-hour train ride from the DMZ to HCMC (AKA Saigon), which means I’ll be in the NIZ for at least a day.  I hope to have a big batch uploaded ASAP for the WHMMR.

    Understand?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/16  at  01:56 AM


  • In the meantime, let’s make up MORE abbreviations for things we want to be lazy about… I love your abbreviations, but I have to ask - what is the WHMMR?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/16  at  06:58 AM


  • WHMMR = Western Hemisphere Monday Morning Rush


    As much as we complain about the 9-5, it does have its advantages. Such as, 2 week paid vaction over the holidays. I’M GOING SNOWBOARDING!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/16  at  02:41 PM


  • BWT: I’m jealous LIZ!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/16  at  02:45 PM


  • Erik TGT: Spek Holiday Party this Sunday 12/19 @ 1pm EST.

    Let me know if you’ll be able to log on, i’ll tell shea to keep his ibook on wifi standbi.

    We’ll take pics. (^_^)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/16  at  02:46 PM


  • TDOT - 2 week paid vacay of the holidays???  what’s that about?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/16  at  02:53 PM


  • In LA the agencies and a lot of the entertainment industry is closed down for the next two weeks - and I’m doing the same thing!!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/16  at  05:32 PM


  • LOVEPENNY:  I’ll log on from HCMC… what time does the party run (EST)?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/17  at  04:36 AM


  • TDOT:  re: WHMMR translation.  Spoken like a true Blog Hog!  I swear I mentioned the acronym definition at LEAST twice. wink

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/17  at  12:23 PM


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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by BootsnAll.com. It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

Praised and recommended by USA Today, RickSteves.com, and readers of BootsnAll and Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree, The Global Trip blog was selected by the editors of PC Magazine for the "Top 100 Sites You Didn't Know You Couldn't Live Without" (in the travel category) in 2005.


Next entry:
The War Between Tourists And Touts

Previous entry:
Journalists In The Minefields




THE GLOBAL TRIP GLOSSARY

Confused at some of the jargon that's developed with this blog and its readers over the years? Here's what they mean:

BFFN: acronym for "Best Friend For Now"; a friend made on the road, who will share travel experiences for the time being, only to part ways and lose touch with

The Big Trip: the original sixteen month around-the-world trip that started it all, spanning 37 countries in 5 continents over 503 days (October 2003–March 2005)

NIZ: acronym for "No Internet Zone"; a place where there is little to no Internet access, thus preventing dispatches from being posted.

SBR: acronym for "Silent Blog Reader"; a person who has regularly followed The Global Trip blog for years without ever commenting or making his/her presence known to the rest of the reading community. (Breaking this silence by commenting is encouraged.)

Stupid o'clock: any time of the early morning that you have to wake up to catch a train, bus, plane, or tour. Usually any time before 6 a.m. is automatically “stupid o’clock.”

The Trinidad Show: a nickname of The Global Trip blog, used particularly by travelers that have been written about, who are self-aware that they have become "characters" in a long-running story — like characters in the Jim Carrey movie, The Truman Show.

WHMMR: acronym for "Western Hemisphere Monday Morning Rush"; an unofficial deadline to get new content up by a Monday morning, in time for readers in the western hemisphere (i.e. the majority North American audience) heading back to their computers.

1981ers: people born after 1981. Originally, this was to designate groups of young backpackers fresh out of school, many of which were loud, boorish and/or annoying. However, time has passed and 1981ers have matured and have been quite pleasant to travel with. The term still refers to young annoying backpackers, regardless of year — I guess you could call them "1991ers" in 2013 — young, entitled millennials on the road these days, essentially.




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