I’ve been commissioned to do a story on the legacy of the spraying of the defoliant toxic chemical Agent Orange by the US Army across the Vietnamese countryside. Apart from the use of conventional weapons, chemical weapons were used to defoliate the forests in a bid to flush out the Vietcong. Over a ten year period from 1961, toxic rains poured down continuously over Central and South Vietnam defoliating mountains, plains and crops, destroying clean water resources and upsetting the delicate ecological balance. Its a legacy of devastating environmental damage and serious public health issues which still have a profound effect today.
Flying to Ho Chi Minh city via Bangkok, I will concentrate on health issues and meet with the Victims of Agent Orange Association (VAVA), with Dr Phuong of the Peace Village at Tu Du hospital where AO victims reside and will travel up into the Cu Chi area to visit three families who have seriously deformed children as a result of AO. From HCM I travel to Hanoi to cover environmental issues and interview an environmental expert and visit the Friendship Village.
This is a staged travelogue of the journey.
Arived jetlagged after a Dublin–Frankfurt/ Frankfurt BKK flight. Enjoyed Frankfurt stop-off for a few cold German beers before the second leg of the journey. Lufthansa flight food was really poor. I expected more from a Gernam airline. There is absolutely no excuse for producing food of this low quality for long haul flights. The inflight media entertainment was also limited in its choices.
Qatar and Etihad, who also fly this route daily, are streets ahead in nearly every department – quality of jet used, ambience, comfort, efficiency and friendliness of staff, inflight entertainment choices includingfood and drink.
The only reason I flew Lufthansa was the competitive price and the expectation that German standards would be high. They were barely sufficient.
I left Dublin at 18.00 hours and arrived in Bangkok around 14.30 (8.30 am Irish time) so the trip took 12 hours. After a mere five hours in-flight sleep, I ended up stuck in a massive tragic jam in downtown BKK and didn’t check into the hotel until about 17.30 hrs.
Exhausted, I sleep, shower, eat and more sleep again into Sunday morning. Sunday is taken up with Skyping and Emails finalising arranging for the Ho Chi Minh city start of the trip.
My main concern is Monday down at the Vietnamese Embassy. I have been granted a work visa from theVietnam Minister of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) and have a letter from them to that effect. However I must have my visa stamped before I can enter the country so I’ve a 7.00 am start to get across town in heavy traffic. (I’m staying in Banglampoo along the river on the north west side but the embassy belt is over by Lumpini Park along Wireless Road). I want to be first in the queue. With memories of the queuing at the Dublin Passport office this could be a difficult day. I’m first in the door only to be told the stamp will be ready on Wednesday. “Too bad”, I said. “My flight to Ho Chi Minh City leaves at 7.00 am in the morning.” “Well then come back between 3.30 and 4.00 ”, she replied.
I arrive back at 3.30 pm on the nail and go up to the same woman I met earlier with my docket to Window 3. There are 3 numbered glass windows, all within a couple of feet of each other – one for tourists, two for business, three for special trips. She looks at me blankly, waves the docket back at me and sternly tells me to go to Window 1. I move two feet to her colleague at Window 1 and hand him the docket. He breaks into a broad smile and tells me to move back to Window 3. I take a few steps back to Window 3 as the colleague hands the docket back to the woman. He’s in stitches while she stares at me blankly then looks down at my application and passport which is lying face up on her desk. There is absolutely no communication. She leaves me standing as she flicks through folders, writes two receipts and each time very slowly and deliberately inserts a sheet of carbon paper into two differently coloured receipt books. Finally after what seems like an interminable wait, she turns to me blankly, stares through me and hands me MY STAMPED PASSPORT. I move a few feet back to her colleague and ask: “Is it always like this on Mondays?” He breaks into a huge grin.
The whole day has been spent focused on getting the passport stamped.
I celebrate by heading to a nearby bar for a cold Singha. Its all systems go for Vietnam.