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Trung smith
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Date Joined Sep 2011
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   Posted 9/7/2011 3:01 AM (GMT -7)    Quote This PostAlert An Admin About This Post.
This is my recent ride down to the Ho Chi Minh trail, an 11 days ride with a group of 4 American friends,a dream trip.


The Epic Adventure was epic in so many ways: Getting friends to visit me in Vietnam, seeing the sun rise over Angkor Wat, getting on a motorcycle for almost the first time and then riding 1,000 miles down the length of Vietnam. The trip was two years in the making, but it was well worth it -- one trip friend called it "life-changing." It definitely will be an event that I will replay in my mind when I'm rolling in a wheelchair instead of down a curvy mountain trail overlooking the ocean.

I hope you've read the daily summaries and looked at some of the amazing pictures. I also shot a lot of video, and will hopefully boil that down into a coherent video in the next several months. But several weeks after the trip here are some impressions and thoughts about the experience:

* Keep your eye on Vietnam: Vietnam definitely has problems. Poverty is widespread, the infrastructure is stretched thin (electricity outages were common), flooding is common, and water buffalo are still used to plow many rice paddies. But you can definitely see the potential in the nation of 80-million people. It's a Communist country, but the entrepreneurial zeal is everywhere. Women selling loaves of bread by roadside, peddlers going door to door selling trinkets, small motorcycle shops selling warm water and beer on the side, even kids speaking amazing English pushing DVDs and postcards. Some day all this drive will result in a regional economic powerhouse, as soon as the government gets more of its act in order, and stops doing penny-ante stuff like blocking Facebook. The infrastructure is also improving. There is a huge highway being built out of Hanoi (which accounted for the scary first part of the trip). Even small villages had paved roads, and there were few potholes on the roads we took. Many rivers had new bridges being built. (The country could do with a few more stoplights though....)

Vietnam has unlimited tourist potential. The landscape is infinitely varied, from jagged limestone mountains to rolling hills to the flatness of endless rice paddies. The coastline consists of white sandy beaches, warm waters and great mountaintop views. The food was also wonderful -- filling, tasty, and without the greasiness common in a lot of countries.

And most of all, the people are warm and friendly. Every American goes to Vietnam with a certain wariness in the back of his mind, but the smiles are genuine and the hearts are welcoming. They were just fun to be with. Service was good too.

If you are considering a getaway, Vietnam should definitely be on the list.

* Reconsidering history: Every boomer has Vietnam imprinted on his DNA. We all grew up with daily news related to the Vietnam War (called the American War in Vietnam), and passions were strong among all those against or in favor of the war. Many Americans believed, as President Johnson said in 1965, "we have to fight the Communists in Vietnam so we don't have to fight them in San Francisco." As a result of the war, 50,000+ Americans died, 3.5 million Vietnamese were killed and the political divide that still impacts US politics today began. It was amazing to visit the places that had been just headlines in my youth -- Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh trail, My Lai, Khe Sanh, Hanoi Hilton, tunnels that survived B-52 bombings and more. More than 40 years later hillsides stand naked where the infamous herbicide Agent Orange was dropped.

Yet look at Vietnam today. Two US presidents have visited. The country welcomes US tourists and investment. It is stable and peaceful, and slowly shrinking its military. It makes you wonder: Why did we spill so much blood and treasure there, and what were we fighting for? Wouldn't it have been simpler and better, as one Senator suggested at the time, just declare victory and go home?

The parallels with Afghanistan are clear. Americans are fighting and dying in a land many could not find on a map, supposedly because, as bush put it, "we have to fight the terrorists over there so we don't have to fight them here." The Afghan government is corrupt, incompetent and isolated. Like the Vietnamese, who fought for more than 50 years to unite their country, the Afghans are skilled and tenacious at fighting outsiders. At first I supported President Obama's well-considered strategy to deploy more troops to Afghanistan, but now I'm not so sure. While I was in Vietnam Afghanistan became the longest war America has ever fought, and the end is very very distant. And I keep thinking, in 40 years, are there going to be motorcycle tours of today's battles, and will our children wonder why so many US soldiers died there?

* The value of friends: The invites went out to the world, but in the end only three brave souls -- Doug Traub, his brother David Traud and Peter Manieri -- put away the demands of daily life and avoided the easy excuses to fly to a distant and unknown part of the world to do something that was crazy and unimaginable -- slum around SE Asia before motorbiking down the Ho Chi Minh trail. Doug soldiered on when his body told him stop, David was the best den mother ever making sure we were all safe and accounted for, and Peter became America's finest ambassador ever with his generosity and open heart. Without the mutual support and sharing, we would have never made it. (There were moments when our guide didn't think we'd complete the trip, and I gained a newfound respect for my daughter Crystal, who had previously made the same trip by herself.) There were moments that will shine forever. (Some will be forgotten immediately: "38 hours!" comes to mind.) And there has to be a special thank-you for our friend and guide Ngoc, who taught us a lot about Vietnam and friendship. If you want the perfect tour in Vietnam or elsewhere in Southeast Asia, with a patient, helpful, well-organized and knowledgeable guide, be sure to contact our friend

But even if you don't make it to Asia, it's time for you to take a trip!
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