VIETNAM VETERAN TOUR
PLANNING A VIETNAM VETERAN’S TOUR
I have had inquiries from veterans and members of their families regarding tours for Vietnam War Veterans. I looked into some of the tours that are organized for Vets and realized that most of them left a lot to be desired from the standpoint of the average vet. Many of these tours are just too expensive!
I want encourage any Vet, or his family, who wants to travel to Vietnam to consider planning his own trip – just like any other traveler. Here are some of the positives and negatives of this.
COST OF TAKING AN ORGANIZED TOUR
There are two types of tours: Land tours and Airfare included. The cheapest land tour is about US$1000 for 14 days. Airfare included tours may get a break on the airfare from the airline, but the break is probably not passed on to you. This comes to about $75 a day. You will probably be staying in a 3 star hotel.
COST OF YOUR SELF GUIDED TOUR
The largest part of your self guided tour will be airfare. You can control this by traveling during the “low” season. I recommend Oct/Nov to take advantage of the cooler temperatures also. A published airfare from Chicago would be about $1250 round trip. (CHECK MY AIRFARE GUIDE). The real saving will be in planning your own in-country transportation and hotel arrangements. You can fly to Danang from Saigon for $75 and take an open tour style bus back to Saigon for $25. Trains are cheap and comfortable. Hotels – I stay in family-run tourist hotels in Saigon for $10 a nite, less out of town. (CHECK MY HOTELS PAGE) Add food. This is “rock bottom” – $400 for 14 days or $28-$30 a day. Cheaper if you’re sharing a room. Plus a couple local tours.
ITINERARY ON AN ORGANIZED TOUR
This is the “biggie” after AIRFARE COST. They take care of everything. You have to leave home according to their plan, even if you take a “land only” tour. You have to travel according to their schedule. “Go where they want to go, Do what they want to do.” You will have some free time but…..
ITINERARY ON A SELF GUIDED TOUR
You have to take care of this yourself. Get a good travel guide and a map. Locate the places you want to see. Are they close to major towns? You might have to look into local ground transportation. If there’s a road going there do like I did. Hire a guide on a motorbike for $7 a day (I was born in ’46) and have him run you out there. The staff at your hotel can get you any kind of transportation you want.
The upside of this is you’re on your own. If you want to hang around someplace for any extra hour or an extra day – you can. There’s no “Hey, Get on the bus!” This is a BIG PLUS.
You also avoid “historical revisionism” by not going on organized tours. Many large tour companies are owned by the government, as are many larger hotels.
TRAVELING COMPANIONS ON AN ORGANIZED TOUR
You’re stuck with the same people for 14 days. There’ll be one person who’ll ruin it for everybody else. Someone will “know it all”, be constantly late or ?.
TRAVELING COMPANIONS ON A SELF GUIDED TOUR
If you go by yourself – it’s your fault. If you go with family or friends, you probably already know what to expect.
Enforce the “No Whining” rule!
FOOD ON AN ORGANIZED TOUR
The food will probably be OK or even excellent. On a tour you won’t have much of a choice, normally. But you have to pay to be different. Some hotels have “Western” style restaurants.
FOOD ON A SELF GUIDED TOUR
I love Vietnamese food. In 7 trips I’ve never suffered from “intestinal distress”. You can find a hamburger or a pork chop dinner. If you’re a purist there’s even a Kentucky Fried Chicken in Saigon.
Vietnamese restaurant food is prepared fresh, both vegetables and meat. Beef may be imported. Sea food is awesome!
Those are some of the points you should consider planning your own tour of Vietnam.
MY THOUGHTS AND EXPERIENCES AS A RETURNING VIETNAM VETERAN
A Vietnam Veteran Tour was something I considered for quite some time. A co-worker’s experience traveling to Vietnam convinced me to take the plunge.
I took my first trip in 2002, and it resulted in 7 more tours.
CONCERNS ABOUT TAKING A VIETNAM VETERAN TOUR
As a Vietnam Veteran myself, during the 9 trips I have taken to Vietnam, I have never had a problem or confrontation with a citizen of Vietnam. Occasionally I will be asked if I was an “American Soldier”. I always respond “Yes” and am, almost without fail, greeted with a smile and a handshake. Even in the north I have always been welcomed without question.
VIETNAM VETERAN TOUR STORY:
My favorite encounter with a Vietnamese was while I was taking a motorbike trip down the Ho Chi Minh Trail in 2003. My guide, Mr. Binh, and I had stopped for the night at a hotel in Pleiku. We had finished our evening meal at an outside café adjacent to the hotel. Mr. Binh was talking to another Vietnamese fellow. My Vietnamese language abilities are limited so I was not paying much attention. I was watching the evening’s activities on the street. Mr. Binh got up and left; and the other man asked me if I had been in the US Army during the war.
I replied: “Yes.”
He then asked: “Where?”
I said: “Quang Nam Province.”
His eyes got big and he said: “My grandfather was a “Viet Cong” in Quang Nam. He was killed in 1964.”
I said: “Oh.” Not quite knowing what to say.
Then he said: “My father was a “Viet Cong” in Quang Nam and he was killed in 1966.”
I again said: “Oh.” Then: “I’m sorry.”
Wanting to change the subject, I asked: “And what do you do?”
He got a big smile on his face and said: “Oh, I’m part owner in this hotel you’re staying at.”
It was a fairly large multi-story building with quite modern facilities.
By the way I think I paid US$6.00 for the night, including breakfast.
From Communist (?) to Capitalist in one generation.
Nearly all Vietnamese in the south are quite enthusiastic about meeting Americans and are hospitable in every way.
I have met quite a few of Veterans and a greater number of American “Baby Boomers” touring Vietnam and have never heard of any bad reactions from our hosts.
Keep in mind that it has been over 30 years since the war ended and many Vietnamese have the ability and desire to look upon that era as “history” – they were born after the war.
I might even speculate that most Vietnam Veterans are treated better when returning to Vietnam today than when they returned to America from the war 35 years ago.
Most of the physical scars of the war are long gone. One will see bomb craters in rural areas. There are several “museums” dedicated to the memory of the war and many memorial sites for those killed on the side of the victors. My Lai has an extensive site memorializing the massacre that took place there. There is no pressure by tour guides or tours in general to go to any of these sites. It’s left up to the travelers on the Vietnam Veteran tour to decide.
I encourage any Vet to take a Vietnam Veteran Tour. The cost of a self-guided tour for a couple of weeks is a bargain without a doubt. Don’t let the cost of a package tour scare you. I’m sure that there are reasons for not going, but I wouldn’t let money or time be one of them. A Vietnam Veteran Tour doesn’t have to be an expensive trip.
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