15 November 2000 - 25 January 2001
Comment: I wrote this as a part of another letter over a year after completing the tour and returning to Reno. I have made it a separate letter to maintain date continuity and to support links to the photos that I took while in Vietnam.
CYCLING TOURISTS KILLED IN VIETNAM
HANOI, Vietnam 2002
Two American tourists have been killed while bicycling this month in Vietnam, where traffic accidents are up sharply in recent years, officials said Tuesday.
Jean Woodhead Yokes, 65, was hit by a truck on Jan 19 while on a bicycling tour with 12 other women, and an American man died after a motorbike hit the tandem bicycle he was riding with his wife on Jan 16.
The man's name was not released. His wife was also injured when their bicycle was hit head-on by a motorbike on a road from Dalat to the coastal town of Phan Rang, police in central Ninh Thuan province said.
Yokes was killed while riding from Danang to the ancient town of Hoi An on a tour organized by Trails of Indochina, a tour company official said.
Witnesses said it appeared Yokes fell off her bike and was hit by the truck, which dragged her more than 100 feet, said Danang City spokesman LeThi Thu Hanh.
Yokes was cremated, and the other women on the tour spread her ashes in Vietnam in accordance with her will, the tour company official said.
Authorities did not give her hometown. More than 10,000 people were killed last year in traffic accidents in Vietnam, a record number. Officials blame poor observance of laws and the sharp increase in the number of motorbikes.
The U.S. Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City said there are plans to revise the State Department travel advisory to warn visitors about traffic problems in Vietnam.
This might have been me last year! I was very lucky, and everyone in our group was lucky, to not get seriously hurt. A woman on our tour ran over a student on that same section from Danang to Hoi An. She went down and could just as easily been run over. Our tour leader was hit head-on by a motorcycle in the town of Phan Rang, which broke off the bikes fork. Both of those accidents caused only minor injuries. My last day of riding was on that section from Phan Rang to Dalat. To avoid becoming "bug juice" I ran into a ditch after being forced off the road by a bus over-passing a truck. This was not the first time on the trip but it was the closest and brought back memories of my 1990 crash while on the Cross Country tour. At the water stop I got off the bike and told the staff to "box it" and I did a bus tour for the remaining 2 1/2 days. I had already spent about half of my trip in the bus because of an attack of diarrhea the night that we left Hanoi. This kept me off the bike, or feeling bad when I did manage to ride, for about 10 days. At tours end Ray Cunningham and I hired a tour van with guide and, with his wife Kathleen accompanying us, went to visit our old billets and work sites in Saigon (Ho Chi Ming City).
Overall it was not a good trip for me but I have no regrets about going back. It was good to see what the country looks like, (I never saw anything but Saigon, mostly Cholon section, when I was stationed there). It was also good to talk to some of the Vietnamese people and find out that what we tried to do was in fact the right thing to do. I met with no animosity because of our previous enemy status and the people are very friendly, more so in Southern Vietnam North.
Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City
2001 Bicycle Tour
8 Jan: Arrive in Hanoi
I did not meet a tour escort at Noi Bai airport because of my late afternoon flight so I caught a taxi to the Meritus Hotel on West Lake (the lake that John McCain landed in when he bailed out and became a POW). The Tour bicycle mechanics assembled my bicycle for me while I went to the evening Reception and dinner at Meritus Westlake Hotel.
9 Jan: Hanoi
A picture of the courtyard at the Hanoi War Museum. There were a lot of pieces of US aircraft piled up to the right of the rocket. Inside there was as much presented about the war with France as with the USA.
In the morning after breakfast there was a group Hanoi City tour, including the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Ho Chi Minh's home, the One Pillar Pagoda, the Temple of Literature and the infamous "Hanoi Hilton". Two others and myself decided to do our own tour and went to see the Hanoi War Museum, some of 'downtown' Hanoi and the 'Hanoi Hilton'. Then before a group dinner we went to see the Hanoi Water Puppet Show at the Hoan Kim Lake Theater (this is a must see if you are in Hanoi - GREAT).
10 Jan: Hanoi to Perfume Pagodas
After breakfast we rode through Hanoi, past the Citadel and through portions of the foreign embassy district in the south-west direction to the village of My Duc where we took boats to the Perfume Pagodas. The Perfume Pagodas, a complex of Buddhist shrines and temples are built on the limestone cliffs of the Huong Tich Mountains. I hiked up the mountain to visit the shrines but understand that there is now a cable car. Lunch was at an open aired 'cafe' while we waited for the group to reassemble and get in our boats again. We then returned to Hanoi by motor coach and had dinner on your own.
Four pictures of the boat ride to the Perfume Pagodas. In the first picture on the left the fellow with the white cap is the Tour Director who was also in Vietnam about the time I was but he was a foreign civilian (German?). This is not a very good picture but most of the Perfume Pagodas are inside the large cave opening and it is dark.
11 Jan: Hanoi to Hue
After breakfast we were bused to the Hanoi Airport for a flight to Hue; our bicycles had left Hanoi last night in the Tour's bike bus and drove to Hue. I woke up during the night with a case of 'Ho Chi Minh's Revenge' and was not ready for breakfast nor the flight - I had some diarrhea pills with me and started taking them. Made it through the flight alright because it was short and went straight to bed, don't remember joining the group dinner at the Saigon Morin Hotel.
12 Jan: Hue - Rest Day
A brief excursion to the roof of the Saigon Morin Hotel allowed me to get this picture of one wing of the hotel and a few buildings near by. Also a snap of the Perfume River.We had a day off that I spent most of in my room. Went up onto the roof of the Hotel in the afternoon and looked around for a few minutes but never got very far from a bathroom.
13 Jan: Hue to Hoi An
I rode the bus all the way today. We went through a very fertile countryside to the village of Lang Co where we had lunch overlooking a palm-shaded beach. From there we went across our first headland, the Hai Van Pass, an incredible mountainous stretch of highway with spectacular views of the city of Danang and its famous bay and finished the day in Hoi An with a group dinner at the Hoi An Hotel.
14 Jan: Hoi An
After breakfast I lounged around and if I remember correctly was able to use the hotel computer to check and send some email. However, the computer was VERY restricted and I'm sure that if my email message had anything in it that the Viet Nam government didn't like it would not have been sent. I felt a little better today and was able to eat and keep it down but was weak. Lunch and dinner was on our own.
15 Jan: Hoi An to Quang Ngai
Today I rode most of the route, from Quang Ngi to Chu Lai, or some 83 Km of the 119 Km total. Did the rest in the bus and when we got to Quang Ngai a few of us rode the bus 9 Km to My Lai and went through the Son My (My Lai) Museum. It was here in Quang Ngi that the Tour Director had his accident that broke the front fork off of his bicycle. We stayed at the My Tra Hotel.
A picture of Tra Khuc River and fishing boats from My Tra Hotel. The Memorial at My Lai.
16 Jan: Quang Ngai to Qui Nhon
I rode another 83 Km today but that was only about 1/2 the total, gave it up at the lunch stop. I don't remember much about this day so I guess nothing bad happened and I was just muddling through. We stayed at the Hai Au Hotel.
A truck that was loaded much to high has tipped over on the very rough streets in Qui Nhon. Highway 1 was in fairly good condition but many of town streets were terrible. This is a military cemetery just off of Highway 1 that I saw today while I was riding. I have seen many of them from the bus but didn't want to ask that we stop so I could get a picture - thought it might be in poor taste considering some of the Tour Staff are North Vietnam or Viet Cong Veterans.
17 Jan: Qui Nhon to Nha Trang
From Qui Nhon there was about 25 km of new highway along the coast, with spectacular scenery, until it join Highway 1 again. From there it was coastal terrain all the way to Tuy Hoa (lunch stop), but I only rode about 50 Km to the first water stop where it was starting to rain. It was raining very hard on the coastal headland, Ca Pass, 4 km to the top and 10 km down, to the picturesque fishing village of Dai Lanh. I was glad that I wasn't on the pass in that kind of weather, Highway 1 traffic is bad but in the rain it is doubly dangerous. Our overnight was at the Ana Mandara Hotel.
It looks like most of the fishing fleet at Dai Lanh village is in the harbor on this rainy afternoon. I think this was taken at our lunch stop. I was then just lucky to be out of the bus when the train stopped; I think this is the Hanoi to HCMC train.
18 Jan: Nha Trang Rest Day
A rest day that I used to walk from the hotel to the Nha Trang market, look around a bit and walk back. We stayed at the Ana Mandar but lunch and dinner was on our own.
In the first row there is some governmental building on the main street between my hotel and the market. The two pictures of flowers at the market aare either a delivery service or a guy that bought a lot of flowers.
The second row shows the grace, style and poise of the women of Vietnam that I remembered and still seems to be present. The second picture is of the main part of the market. Then there was a walkway along the beach almost all the way from the market back to my hotel. On the far right is a picture of a candle shop inside the market with a big supply for Tet.
19 Jan: Nha Trang to Phan Rang
I didn't ride again today and don't remember anything about the landscape - simply more flat coastal plain with mountains to the east. We stayed at the Ninh Chu Hotel with a group dinner.
20 Jan: Phan Rang to Dalat
I rode about 1/2 way again today before I got run off the road by a bus and called this bicycling tour over. I QUIT! It is to dangerous for me plus I'm not feeling 100%. When it gets to the point that it is no longer fun it is time to stop. We stayed at the Novotel Hotel.
Two pictures from Ngoan Muc Pass. I quit bicycling just before the climb began and was very glad that I did, I probably could not have made the climb - steepest of the Tour. Two pictures of a Chama Tower. The Chama were an ancient people that lived throughout Vietnam and may have been related to the builders of Angor Wat in Cambodia.
21 Jan: Dalat - Rest Day
A rest day that included a visit the Summer Palace( or mountain home) of Bao Dai, the last King of Vietnam. Nothing very elaborate, about what you would expect of a well off person in the USA during the 1950s. I then spent some time in the Dalat market, a two story partial open sided building that included a lot of stuff other than your normal fruits, vegetables and meats.
This is the garden at the Summer Palace of Bao Dai. Some of the small farms just outside of Dalat and two pictures of the Dalat market.
22 Jan: Dalat to Bao Loc
I vaguly remember lots of rubber, coffee and tea plantations along todays route with the first portion a steep down hill then flat. We stayed at the Seri Bank Hotel.
23 Jan: Bao Loc to Ho Chi Minh City (Siagon)
The land continued to be flat and more plantations. We loaded all the bikes into the bike bus, except for 2-3 'hard corp' riders, a few miles outside of HCMC to avoid the city traffic. We stayed at the Majestic Hotel home of many foreign correspondents during the Vietnam War. We had a final group dinner on the roof of the Majestic Hotel and then dancing and a big Tet Party at which I was able to last for a couple of drinks and maybe made it until midnight before going to bed.
Two pictures taken from the roof of the Majestic. The one on the right shows the Saigon River, a floating restaurant in the foreground, a dock in the mid-distance and a tall building on the horizon. I did not know it at the time but that building is about two blocks from the the Capital Hotel in Cholon.
24 Jan: Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
Ray Cunningham,his wife Kathleen and myself hired one of the Tour Drivers and a van to search for our billets and work sites in Saigon and Cholon. He had been billeted and worked across the street from ARVN HQ near the main gate to Tan Son Nhat Airport which we found easily although there is a new multistory hotel on the site now. We also found Phu To racetrack easily and although we could not get inside, I looked through the gate and it seems to be the same as I remember it and they still race horses there. My billet and work place (Cholon PX) was much harder to find. The area around both has been torn down, built up and does not look like it did. Found both after asking people we saw on the street- the secret was to find someone old enough to have been alive during 1968 and had lived in the area then. Here are the pictures that I took:
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) - Ray:
The entrance, flanked by a military monument, to a new multistory hotel where Ray's billets had been. He was almost sure that the 5th Army Hospital was just to the right of here. The second picture is directly across the street where the ARVN (Army-Republic of Vietnam) Headquarters was. The existing building appears to still support some governmental function. The third picture is about where I thought one of the entrances to Tan Son Nhat Airport once was. A fountain and small garden in that same area that did not exist in 1968.
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) - Phu To & Capital:
This street looked somewhat familiar and is one of the places that we stopped and asked for direction. From there we found Phu To racetrack easily. The second picture is one of the side entrances not the main gate to the grandstands. The other two pictures are of the Capital Hotel of 1967-68. It now appears to be apartments and covers the entire block. Just below the Tet banner is the entrance to a movie theater (which I looked into) that back then had been a theater but had been converted to offices for the 7th Finance. My section worked in the lobby, just off the street, behind an eight foot wall of sandbags. A claymore mine attack the week before I got there may(?) have prompted the move of our office to the PX Compound. To the right and around the corner was a BOQ (Bachelor Officer Quarters) and across the street from it was an old house converted to The Black Cat Bar - that is where the new multistory building is that I saw from the Majestic roof.
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) - Cholon PX Compound:
The pictures on the far right; I believe this was the main entrance to the Cholon PX. It is now used to manufacture safes from the steel plates stacked by the door. In the second picture I am standing in front of a side door of that same building which I am sure was the door to my work space. The PX was in the front half of the building with an Army Personnel Section, my Finance Section and two Cashiers from 7th Finance in the rear half.
The other two pictures are of other buildings near by that were used as warehouses for the PX. Some of them seem to still be warehouses and others may have been converted into apartments as it appears my office space has been.
25 Jan: Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
Transferred to Tan Son Nhat Airport by the Tour bus and flew back to Japan where I stayed overnight and then flew to San Francisco, CA where Shirley pick me up and we drove to her place on Lake Tahoe.