In about three weeks we depart for 17 days for a certain long, skinny Asian nation that was the focus of an awful lot of people’s attention — and an awful lot of bombs — from the early 1960’s till the mid-1970’s. I turned 18 in 1971, during which time Vietnam was the place to avoid going to for my demographic cohort (and just about everyone else). The war’s peak years — as measured by the number of American soldiers deployed there — were 1967-1969; that era saw roughly a half million US troops on the ground. By 1971 that number was down to about 150,000, which was pretty good news to me and my fellow 18-year-olds. The draft worked on a lottery system based on your birthday; you were assigned a number between 1 and 366 (for leap years!) and each year Uncle Sam announced that everyone with a number below some threshold would be called up. In the peak years the highest number that they reached was 215, i.e. nearly two-thirds of 18-year-olds! But by 1971 they were only getting down into the 80’s or so, and my number was something like 126. So I did not come particularly close to being declared cannon fodder and having to get out out of it by limping into the draft board on my non-existent bone spurs.
(Fun personal historical fact: when I registered for the draft upon turning 18, I did not have my own car and so my mother — who was dead set against the whole thing — drove me to the draft board. The registration office was on the 3rd floor; I took the stairs and Mom took the elevator. A few minutes later I hear an alarm bell ringing. Mom is stuck between floors on the elevator, and the fire department has been called. Thus did my introduction to the Selective Service System become a Marx Brothers comedy.)
Anyway, these days there are still tons of Americans on the ground in Vietnam, only now we shoot money at them and they don’t shoot back, which works out pretty well for everybody. And oddly, the numbers echo 1969: in 2018 there were roughly 600,000 American visitors to the country. It’s one of the leading tourist destinations in Asia now: 2018 saw 15 million international visitors, about half of them from China and South Korea. (For reference, the population is about 95 million.)
As we have five times in the past seven years, we are once again traveling in a group of 16 people organized and led by Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT), who do this sort of thing awfully well. They’ll be taking us pretty much down the whole length of the country, as you can see by our route, marked in blue on the map. (The blue line is a little misleading since some of the legs are by air; the country is about 1000 miles long.)
Our itinerary is:
- Halong Bay
- Hoi An
- Nha Trang
- Ho Chi Minh City (neé Saigon)
There are assorted side trips to villages and such along the way, and our stay at Halong Bay includes an overnight boat cruise. I’ll provide details about all these places as we come to them, internet access permitting.
This, of course, is assuming that we get there at all. One additional fact that I have not yet bothered to mention is that in order to adjust to the 11-hour time difference we are currently scheduled to spend 3 nights en route in …. wait for it …. Hong Kong, currently the site of more than a little unrest as everyone attempts to piss off the Chinese jus-s-s-s-st enough but not too much. At the moment I am content to let OAT sort that all out, either by (1) sending us straight to Hanoi; (2) diverting us to, say, Singapore instead of HK; or (3) adding a special Tear Gas Cultural Event to our itinerary. Stay tuned, and we’ll all find out together!