I am headed to Khe Sanh firebase by taxi from the city of Hue to the mountains of Vietnam close to the Laotian border. It is a wet, rainy, and dreary day. My driver is a young student who is moonlighting in order to earn money to defray his costs for college. He has brought a dorm friend with him who claims to know the history of Khe Sanh, at least, according to my driver, better than he. The beauty of this ride is—it’s off the meter!< p>< p>The drive is another epic three and one-half hour trial by fire, and with any luck I hope to, in addition to Khe Sanh, take in its forward base of Lang Vey and perhaps with a bit of wishful thinking Hamburger Hill which is an additional two to three hour drive.
The planned route will start North from Hue on Highway 1 (which runs the length, north and south, of Vietnam), turning west onto Route 9 from Dong Ha, over to Rock Pile Mountain, then curving south to the town of Dakrong, turning west again passing the Dakrong bridge and arriving in the town of Khe Sanh which intersects with Route 9 at a large war monument that defines the main street to Khe Sanh firebase and the Khe Sanh Museum.
Rice Paddies, Banana Trees, Bamboo Leaf Hats, Water Buffalo, and Stilted Houses whiz by one after another in what seems to be a seamless panorama of National Geographic wallpaper. Other than the paved highway we are riding on and the overhead transmission lines–time has virtually stood still with little visible 21st century amenities. Modernization has come to Vietnam in peculiar ways, even if a bit anachronistically. Cable TV dishes jutting conspicuously from rooftops of dry-thatched vegetation or the current roofing of metal-corrugated sheeting. To close one’s eyes is to conjure images of thick overgrown growth beat into submission by lumbering grunts trying to eke out an area in which to defend and an area from which to attack.
As we get closer and closer to our destination hunger pains are getting the better of my traveling companions. Every mile produces another indecipherable grumble. Unlike the ubiquitous food stands in Taiwan, sorting out a place to eat on the road here is a bit more challenging. Finally, they spot a place to dine and immediately pull over and light from the car. I don’t do well at roadside hole-in-the-walls anymore, so I chose to give my stomach nothing rather than something to upset it.
Like many of these out of the way diners their customers are generally relegated to a few locals. In this case, two guys–one of which had clearly been drinking too much. Along about five minutes, he noticed me sitting with my two companions and began to yell something in my direction about dropping bombs here while demonstrably pointing to the floor. He repeated this accusation again a little more loudly. My driver and guide cautioned me to ignore him as they ate a little quicker……