A Travellerspoint blog


Thirty Six Years Later: A Soldier's Return to Tri Ton

overcast 25 °C

It had been more than 36 years since Lloyd Sr last saw Tri Ton. When he left the town in August 1971 after a year's service in Vietnam, he was no doubt looking forward to being reunited with his wife, Ingrid and his son, Roger. And he must have been excited – too – knowing that he would soon be seeing, for the first time, his son, Lloyd, born in December 1970.

Armed only with photographs taken in 1970, we arrived in Tri Ton on Sunday morning after an hour long drive from Chau Doc. Our mission was to try and locate the US military compound that had been Lloyd Sr’s home during his service as part of Military Assistance Command. Of course, a town changes a lot in 36 years, so we had our work cut out for us trying to match the profile of a nearby hill, and read what clues we could from an old aerial photograph.

An aerial shot of Tri Ton taken by helicopter in 1970.

In the course of our search, several groups of local Vietnamese came out to see if they could help, invariably sending us off in a different direction than the last. Our interactions were always fun, however, with young mothers thrusting toddlers at us, urging them to respond in English to our hellos and goodbyes. Others joined the group to peruse Lloyd Sr’s old photographs, or simply to marvel at our white skin and alien demeanour. I managed the seemingly endless line of older kids anxious to try out their basic English phrases, and took photos of them with the digital camera resulting in the inevitable sniggers as they considered their own images.


It turned out, of course, that we had driven right past the old compound location as we entered the town! Identifying the correct place was more difficult because every single building had been pulled down to make way for what looked to be a Communist Meeting Hall. Lloyd Sr recognized a very old stone wall that ran one length of the perimeter, however, so he was confident that we had found the right place.

On the left, the two Lloyds at work. On the right, just a few of the locals who dropped by the check us out.

Immediately opposite the compound was – and is – a beautiful Cambodian temple. We spent almost an hour there, retaking some of Lloyd Sr’s old snaps. In contrast to the compound, not much had changed at all!! A few stupas had been added or painted, and foliage was considerably more dense. Orange-robed monks loitered around doors, curious about our intentions but too shy to ask. As we explored the grounds, young boys skipped around us, camouflaging their ‘hellos’ with embarrassed laughter while a scrawny old man arranged wood to dry in the fierce midday sun.

Temple - Then

Temple - Now. Lloyd Sr is holding the 1970 snapshot shown above.

Temple detail.

With our primary mission accomplished, we decided to check out nearby Tuc Dup, which became infamous as the "Two Million Dollar Hill" after a prolonged (and failed) US bombing campaign. While Ingrid enjoyed the gardens below, a group of kids ranging from maybe eight to fifteen years of age immediately took the three of us under their wing. We weren’t quite sure of their function at first, but the trail suddenly ended and we found ourselves clambering over and around giant boulders with only the young kids’ guidance in terms of footholds. If there was a difficult step (and there were many!), one or two tiny hands would appear almost from nowhere to offer support. As we stumbled around, the barefoot children bounced effortlessly from rock to rock, bantering all the while no doubt about their slow charges.

Our young guides, leading us into the depths of Tuc Dup.

This boy appeared to be part of a mining party we passed on our way down.

So while we got more than we bargained for in terms of the climb, the view from halfway up the hill was worth it, with flooded paddy fields stretching for miles. While us old folk rested for a few minutes and enjoyed the view, our guides entertained us by exploding leaves on their hands with the maximum ‘bang’ possible, tiny echoes – perhaps - of the bombs dropped here by the US more than 30 years ago.


Our day out to Tri Ton was memorable, for me, as it took us firmly away from the tourist trail and offered insight into a ‘real’ Vietnamese town. I’ve no doubt that, for the three Thyens, it was rather more significant and we’re working on Lloyd Sr to write a guest entry for the blog, sharing his own thoughts on today’s step down memory lane.

Posted by jacquiedro 20:49 Archived in Vietnam Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

From 'Ho Chi' to 'Cu Chi'

Thyens reunited in Saigon and beyond

overcast 24 °C

On our return from the delta, we welcomed Lloyd's parents who will be joining us as we journey through Cambodia and into Thailand. Hurrah! Best of all, we wouldn't expect any of our parents to slum it with us (except my Dad ;o), so we've been forced (!!) to book some quite nice hotels over the next week. It's clearly a sacrifice, but you can depend on me to put a brave face on those crisp white linens and spotless bathrooms.

With Lloyd's folks in tow for our last day in Ho Chi Minh City, we took a lengthy stroll through the city. Ben Thahn Market was our first stop where we'd heard you could buy just about anything on the planet. And so we found ourselves wandering through narrow aisles of everything from fruits, vegetables, clothing, shoes, toiletries, and souvenirs. I even saw one woman squatting below another, having her face shaved (not shown below, but photographic evidence is available on request)!

Colorful market scenes. Wish I could work in my pygamas...

Lloyd's Mom had her first experience of bargaining, and came away with a cotton white shirt that is sure to make an appearance later in the trip. But overall, the experience was maybe a little overwhelming, and not the kind of thing you really want to be facing fresh off the plane...

Next stop was the Reunification Palace which used to be the Presidential Home of US-backed Diem prior to his assassination. If you've heard of it before, it's likely you remember images of the gates being stormed by North Vietnamese tanks in 1975, marking the beginning of a unified, communist country. The picture below shows one of the two tanks that stormed the gates and - if you believe the hype - saved the South Vietnamese from the Americans.

Three Thyens Reunited at the Reunification Palace!

The interior of the Palace is quite dull unless you enjoy kitschy-70s decor. There are many 'grand' rooms assigned 'grand' titles like Cabinet Meeting Room, or "Credentials Presenting Room", each with microphones and loudspeakers turned on and ready to magnify the voices of high-pitched tour guides rushing through groups of appropriately-disinterested tourists. I was hoping Lloyd would grab a mic and broadcast his rendition of Tom Jones' "It's Not Unusual" to liven things up.

No singing today, but couldn't stop him from touching....

Most interesting (and understand that's interesting relative to the most dull building I've ever paid to get into) was the basement military area which housed a bunch of prehistoric US communications equipment. And the grandly titled President's Map Room.

The two LTs discussing the area around Tri Ton, where LT Senior was stationed in 1970 - 1971.

On Friday, we faced a full day's drive out to the Victoria Hotel in Chau Doc, our base for the next three nights. Chau Doc is practically on the Cambodian border and also convenient for a day trip to Tri Ton where Lloyd Jnr and Ingrid will be able to see - first hand - where Lloyd Snr was stationed 36 years ago!

But first! We took a detour to the Cu Chi Tunnels, about an hour north-west of Saigon. Cu Chi is part of the Ho Chi Minh Trail originally developed d

I didn't think my hips would make it, but looks like I qualify for membership in the Viet Cong. (I was happy until they told me that this entry had been enlarged for westerners!)

Unlike a previous tourist, Lloyd managed to keep his trousers as he struggled out....

Clambering in and out of the tunnel system was a lot of fun, but I was left wanting more in terms of understanding the tactical importance of the tunnels to the Viet Cong. This is not a factual exhibition in any sense although, to be fair, the promotional material didn't indicate to us that it would be: [the tunnels show] "how the people of Cu Chi lived and fought before and during the resistance against the American Imperialists."

This tunnel has been heightened by 20cm to allow for westerners. We crawled through about 40 metres of it.

It IS interesting to see how the tunnels were built and operated. And there's no doubt that some of the Viet Cong's methods were ingeneous; all the steam from kitchens was stored in underground chambers, for example, and control-released up to 100 feet away only when it would be masked by early morning fog. But I'm still left wondering whether the extensive display of human-traps was necessary. I'll spare you the graphics, but there were maybe a dozen different cringe-invoking prototypes, each backed with a painted depiction of a presumably-US soldier, successfully trapped by fish-hooked stakes. In the absence of a factual context, this display - to me - felt gratuitous.

Posted by jacquiedro 18:05 Archived in Vietnam Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Physical and Mental Exercises in Saigon

An Early Morning in Ho Chi Minh City

sunny 26 °C

We've enjoyed and endured a few of the world's greatest train journeys over the last few months, so when we boarded our final overnight train of the trip on Sunday night, I couldn't help feeling a little sad. I guess I have a romantic notion of allowing myself to be lulled asleep by the quiet, rythmic rumble of the train knowing that I'll wake up somewhere brand new in the morning.

Of course, the reality is a little different: sleep can be fitful, interrupted by carriage attendants, over-zealous air conditioning, noisy cabin-mates or the train horn sounding at all hours of the day or night. But I will miss these trains because of the adventure they symbolize, at least in my mind. But all good things must come to an end, and - still half asleep - we pulled into Ho Chi Minh City just after 5am on Monday morning.


We wouldn't have a hotel room until after noon, so we headed straight out to explore the town. Wandering through a park in search of breakfast, we witnessed hundreds of Vietnamese executing their morning ritual of exercise. For some, this was Tai Chi. Others joined organized aerobics-type classes to pop music that filled the air. I know we shouldn't laugh, but it was hard to keep a straight face at many individuals who had picked one, simple movement to repeat over and over and over again. One young man stood thrusting his pelvis forward at great speed for several minutes. Some ladies did the same with their chests with such vigour that we feared they'd put their backs out.


Is this exercise? We couldn't possibly comment, but would highly recommend an early morning excursion to any one of the local parks to figure it out yourself. If our parks back home were this entertaining in the wee hours, I could probably be persuaded to go out running more often myself!

After breakfast, we grabbed a cyclo to the War Remnants Museum, which used to be called the War Crimes Museum which might give you a hint as to the content. We expected a one-sided view of the so-called American War, laced with heavy propaganda. One-sided it was - to be sure - but the propaganda wasn't laid on as thick as we expected. The exhibition of the war through the eyes of the photo-journalists (and therefore through the eyes of the world) was particularly well done, although it was quite harrowing to see some pictures that long since gathered dust in my mind, and perhaps in the eyes of the world too.


From our perspective, the Museum fell short by not explaining the rationale - as weak as it seems in retrospect - for US involvement in the War. In the midst of the Cold War, the US felt action against the Communist North was critical in order to prevent the spread of Communism throughout Indo-China. The museum does present the war very much as the American War: the exhibits talk much about hostilities between the North Vietnamese / Viet Cong and the Americans and practically ignores conflict between Vietnamese (i.e. North Vietnamese / Viet Cong versus South Vietnamese). While I'm trying to read up on this to learn more (currently 'The Girl in the Picture' which offers a very frank and less-than-positive view of life in the South after reunification), I confess that, for once, the more I read, the less I understand. We'll be leaving Vietnam in the next week, but I suspect the Vietnam War will be on my mind for months to come.

Anyway, we choose not to share with you the truly harrowing pictures on display at the museum: pictures of the massacre at My Lai, for example, or pictures of thousands of deformed children born to fathers exposed to defoliants used by the US. Instead, a picture of one exhibit that I personally found extremely poignant: the donation of one American Sergeant's medals to the Vietnamese people, with the simple message: "I was wrong. I am sorry." Regardless of your view on the Vietnam War, that any serviceman or woman should be so ashamed of service imposed on him or her in the name of 'duty' is the true tragedy for me.


The War Remnants Museum still firmly in our minds, and with a better awareness of the internal propaganda 'pitch' since the American withdrawal, we are - once again - extraordinarily impressed with how genuinely foreign tourists are welcomed by the Vietnamese. Of course, many in the south are old enough to remember the economic boom funded by US Government spending that accompanied the US presence here, and this might be one of the reasons that tourism has been embraced so readily.

Later on Monday, we checked out a noodle shop known as 'Peace Noodles' which - while continuing regular service to customers - allegedly hosted the Viet Cong in its upstairs rooms as they staged the infamous 1968 Tet Offensive. The beef pho (noodles) weren't as good as we'd been led to believe (perhaps because the original shop owner Mr Toai died eight months ago), but we enjoyed reading the guest book signed (we assume!) by young communists urging other nations to follow Vietnam's example. Many others simply stated apologies, or took the opportunity to comment on perceived parallels between the Vietnam and Iraq wars.


We'll spend a little more time in Saigon later in the week with Lloyd's parents who arrive late on Tuesday night. In the meantime, we will tomorrow be heading out to the Mekong Delta to spend some time on the water and for a homestay.

Posted by jacquiedro 17:38 Archived in Vietnam Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

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