Going Full Circle
Dong ba Thin Travel Blog› entry 82 of 94 › view all entries
Several of the expats were making another road trip to Bai Dai Beach near the airport at Cam Ranh Bay. I decided to go early, pay homage to my own wartime helicopter base at nearby Dong ba Thin, then catch up with them at the beach. It was one of those times that I needed to travel alone. I followed the four-lane out of Nha Trang along the coast to the first intersection after passing the hills. Instead of turning left for a hundred yards to Bai Dai Beach, I turned right to head inland. The dirt road was sandy in spots and after passing a few houses of a small village, quickly narrowed.
The one or two-acre, man-made lagoons along the northern edge of Cam Ranh Bay were probably fish farms.
At the largest stream, an old jalopy dump-truck was being loaded with sand by two men with shovels. I stopped to watch them. They eventually tired of watching me and went back to work. The truck could have been a salvaged 'deuce-and-a-half' from the American War but it was too hard to tell since, other than riding in them once in awhile, I was not familiar with the vehicle. This contraption had fenders over the front wheels but no cab for the driver and no cowlings covering the engine compartment.
On this desolate cut-across from the coast to Highway 1 I would have expected to find abandoned helicopter rotor blades used for wet-season walkways like in South America or their gutted hulls for primitive shelters like in parts of Africa. Vietnam seemed to have removed all traces of those times - except for the four short lengths of PSP at my flip-flopped feet. The scraps were the only remnants of the war that I had seen outside the War Museum in Ho Chi Minh City or the War Park at the Cu Chi Tunnels.
PSP (perforated steel plates) had been used since World War II for laying out roads or runways in rough and often wet terrain.
The road became its roughest where it crossed a ravine that was fairly steep and winding. Jagged rocks and gravel created prime conditions for a flat tire but I was fortunate in not having that mishap - or any other breakdown. I realized the foolishness of doing the excursion on my own, knowing it was far too late to do anything about it but to continue. On the downward side of the divide, land was more tame.
The sugar mill, colored green like a Russian hospital room, came into view as I rounded a wide curve. Immediately past it, I made a left turn into an open field that was once part of our American helicopter base. The yam drying operation on the old runway had expanded from last year to cover its entire length. There were more chipper machines, more wheel-barrows carting their output, and more people shuffling them to dry in the sun.
I followed the dirt road through an open, unmanned pole-barrier toward the inland side of Cam Ranh Bay. I rode slow to maybe see something familiar from 1970-71 that I may have overlooked last year. A pair of Vietnamese Navy troops halted me at a small guard shack. They were friendlier than the annoyed guard of last year but also spoke no English. The two guards were pleased to have a picture taken as were a marching formation armed with rakes and shovels returning from some kind of lawn or gardening detail. Dong ba Thin was greener now.
I continued a wide slow loop back toward Highway 1. Trees grew where our hootches once stood. Between those and the runway, I strolled the perimeter of the swamp that stood behind our old maintenance shed.
I continued south on Highway 1. Just a few miles down the road, a traffic light marked a left turn to the Cau Long Ho Bridge which crossed blue-green waters to the airport at Cam Ranh Bay. I met up with the expats at Bai Dai Beach. After a few swims and some grilled squid, we all returned to Nha Trang.
Here's a blog from last year's visit to Dong ba Thin: http://www.travbuddy.com/travel-blogs/18515/Going-Back-Nha-Trang-46