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Sunday, 11 February 2007

The Road to Dalat. part 1

We were driving around probably not too sure where to go. We must have been heading to Saigon when I saw this sign post on the right saying Dalat. I had heard the name. It was an old French hill station far to the north of Saigon. It had the good reputation of an agreable place to go. It brought to mind tales of one of the old British hill stations of the RAJ. Simla? Anyway my curiosity was roused and I asked PB if she had been there and she said no. I turned right and off we went.
We were able to come to these decisions without any discussion which was good. On the other hand we didn't know how far it was. It certainly wasn't near. We didn't know what the road was like. I am not giving distances. I would have to check them on a map. I had no map then. Anyway even with a map I would not have been much better off. A detailed military map was the last thing one wanted to be caught with and anything else was worse than useless. The conditions on some of the roads were appalling and it was not unknown to travel mile after mile on second gear. Traffic jams in Saigon were monstrous and in the country side a blown bridge could cause a bottle neck with traffic three lanes deep on either side and no way for any vehicle to get through to clear the bridge. Or for that matter just a blown bridge and not a soul about. To compare a journey then with whatever distance is marked on a map today has no bearing on the reality of the situation .
What perhaps was surprising was the fact that the Vietnamese continued to travel the roads. Their driving was appalling. Driving licenses could be bought. If you were a foreigner you were always wrong. You could, had to, buy your way out of any accident. I read that coach drivers drove at high speed in the hope that if they set a mine off their speed would carry the driver over safely and only blow the rear end off the bus. The accidents were horrific. The Viet Cong set up road blocks and took away whoever they considered an enemy. I remember reading that a French consul in the highlands had his car break down, got a lift on a passing bus, was taken by the Viet Cong at a road block and reportedly died in captivity. The French usually considered themselves above this war and therefore immune.
It is possible that having known war for twenty five years when I arrived in 1965 the Vietnamese had developed a certain fatality to it.

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