Vietnam in the Absence of War: One Immoral War, Two Revealing Bicycle Trips

Thomas G. Rampton

Content and Availability (What's in it, and how to get it)

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A Gallery of Photos follows at the end...

Vietnam in the Absence of War is available as a printed book now. An online bookstore (link above) has been set up from which it (or my other books) can be purchased. Vietnam in the Absence of War is 216 pages, with 159 photos, 13 maps, and two drawings. The text has been thoroughly re-edited since the CD edition to find small errors, clarify meanings, switch a few paragraphs, and so forth.

Vietnam in the Absence of War is available right here on this site, from Amazon, from Book Clearing House, and from Barnes and Noble online. Any bookstore in the country should be able to order it through Ingram, the large book wholesaler.

[The CD edition (a PDF file) is still available from though it's being replaced by the current, re-edited paperback edition. Not an audio book, it has 208 electronic pages with text, 168 photographs (nine more than fit into the paperback), 13 maps, and 2 drawings. The PDF file requires Adobe Acrobat Reader™ version 4.05 or later. Version 4.05 installation files for both Mac and Windows are included on the CD. The book can be read on either platform. Some people prefer a book on CD, for various reasons.]

Cover of the paperback edition

Vietnam in the Absence of War is the story of a first visit to Vietnam as a draftee in the infantry, and of two subsequent bicycle trips from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City in 1998 and 1999.

If you are one of the few who thinks the Vietnam War was the best thing ever invented, save your money! I have written scathingly about the Vietnam War and those who advocated it. There are no bloody war stories here; no accounts of the author's heroic deeds in battle. I damaged nobody. But it was as a draftee that I first learned of this beautiful land. Being drafted and sent there is part of the story, so I have described that experience.

But what's happened in Vietnam since then? This book will add to your knowledge. It's mostly the story of the two bicycle trips. It's about beautiful topography, sea coast, cities, country, many of the people, hotels, restaurants, and how the country is developing. It's about how and why things have changed for the better in Vietnam since 1988. It's mostly about good things, and a few less-good things.

It's about the geology of Vietnam, prehistoric men and creatures, and the once-great Cham civilization. I see several parallels between the Cham and the American Indians. Another section is about wild lands, endangered species, national parks, nature preserves in Vietnam, and the story of Lam Nhi the tiger.

Took me three years to write, or was it thirty three? Well, I didn't do much about it for the first thirty. Then I was able to bicycle through Vietnam.

Other Vietnam topics

The Sharon Ann Lane Foundation will be completing a clinic near Chu Lai named in honor of 1st Lt. Sharon Ann Lane. There Lane, a US Army nurse, was killed in a rocket attack on 8 June 1969 while working in the Vietnamese ward at the 312th Evacuation Hospital. The Sharon Ann Lane Foundation can be reached through Kathleen Fennell,, 610-892-4964, or at Box 90, Media, PA 19063.

In Vietnam in the Absence of War, regarding heroes who did, in fact, serve their country—I should have given more credit to medical personnel (physicians, the nursing corps, and others) there. Some of them, and others, are still serving their country through their actions in Vietnam today.

The Sharon Ann Lane memorial clinic rises in Chu Lai.

Vietnam Again, February-March of 2002

Hung Luong ( Common Ground Journeys) has now conducted two bicycle trips through Vietnam after working several years for another outfitter. I participated in his 2002 trip.

These trips are meant to travel more slowly than some trips do through Vietnam. Hung begins his trips with an overnight visit to Ha Long Bay. A boat ride goes out to an island where there's a large limestone cave. Then we enjoyed one entirely free day in Hanoi, which I used to walk around the old quarter and to the One Pillar Pagoda near the presidential palace. I felt entirely comfortable walking around those teeming streets, though that might not have been true earlier. Some of us went out to eat at a place across from the Hanoi Opera, and I can say that Vietnamese food is truly served in Hanoi! Not just there, of course, but Hanoi and Hue yielded the best eating on the trip.

Accomodations included three nights of camping, though we had a small group and some of us were able to occupy rooms at on-site guesthouses even on those nights. Other hotels were often very nice, particularly at Hue and Nha Trang. In fact, several hotels were new since I'd traveled this route in 1999.

Since this was a slower trip, it included more visits along the way. For example, at Dong Hoi we boated up a broad river just into the mountains, past a place where it was marked that the Ho Chi Minh Trail had begun (though that trail had many branches), to Phong Nha Cave. We floated in for a long way, and walked in farther.

Near Vinh, we visited Ho's birthplace at Kim Lien. This is not a rich part of Vietnam: much the opposite. Yet many national leaders including Ho himself have come from this area.

There was a night of camping (or a guesthouse) near the Vin Moc tunnels just north of the Ben Hai River (former DMZ), and then into Hue for a wonderful layover day. Hue was, for a time, the imperial capital of Vietnam and there is much to be learned there.

Our climb over Hai Van Pass (under which a tunnel is now being dug) was followed by another layover in Hoi An, from which most of us spent a day touring the Marble Mountains and the Cham Museum in Da Nang. Much of Da Nang is just a city with all the demerits thereof but these two points of interest, plus time spent at the now-beautiful "China Beach" area, were well worth a day.

I wanted several things from this trip that didn't happen. One was to visit some of the national parks, and another was to visit the My Son Cham ruins near Hoi An. With two more days in Hoi An, both would have happened. Through most hotels, a visitor can very easily book tours to various places of interest. From Hoi An, I could have joined an all-day trip to My Son, and from Hue or Hoi An I could have gone up to Bach Ma National Park, which is located not far inland from Hai Van Pass on the same mountain ridge. I still intend a trip through Vietnam with time to make these excursions. It may or may not be a bicycle trip.

A spectacular new road goes directly south along the coast from Qui Nhon! (To rejoin QL1, the main highway, you have to go back inland about 10 km, and then south.) The new road along the coast has been open since 2000, and shows possible signs of guest houses being established. Southbound, you rejoin QL1 north of Tuy Hoa.

In Tuy Hoa, we stayed at a guesthouse on the edge of the city along the beach. In the morning, we ate at a wonderful outdoor cafe in the city before climbing south over Ca Pass toward Nha Trang.

I had never bicycled over Ca Pass before. In 1998 I'd had a flat tire that took time to fix and required that I get on our bus. In 1999 I'd had a broken spoke. It was a goal of mine to bicycle over the pass, and I did. In fact, I had no flat tires or broken anything on the entire 2002 trip. Ca Pass is the second-highest pass on QL1 in Vietnam, after Hai Van.

Nha Trang is a wonderful resort city on the beach. On our layover there, roommate Robert and I took motorbike taxis all over town. First south, to the Pasteur Institute of Oceanography and to the summer palace of Bao Dai, Vietnam's last (though worthless) emperor. Then north to a well-known Buddhist pagoga and to the Po Nagar Cham tower. This cost us just a small amount of money and required that we take the two Honda drivers to lunch with us. Robert--a native of Vietnam--negotiated all this. No way could I have done so well myself!

My two previous trips had gone to Phan Rang and then up the mountain to Da Lat. But this trip went right down the coast to a beautiful guesthouse at Ca Na, which was probably 15 yards from the beach! The next two nights were at a very nice resort near Phan Thiet, with a tour of the city and surroundings including the Po Shanu Cham tower. In Vietnam in the Absence of War, there is information about the formerly great Cham civilization that extended along the coast of what's now central Vietnam, for well over a thousand years

We turned south from QL1 between Phan Thiet and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), spent a night in that area, then bicycled to Vung Tau for our hydrofoil ride into Saigon. What an amazing watercraft this is! From the dock, we walked about three blocks to our Saigon hotel. Bikes and luggage had been taken there by V.Y.C, our very capable and efficient Vietnamese travel company.

V.Y.C (there is no third period in the name) organized an overnight trip down to Can Tho in the Mekong Delta, and a tour through the floating market there in the morning. Where most of Vietnam is mountainous, the delta is about half water. It's a whole different world down there.

Back to Saigon, a tour of the city, bicycles boxed, and then home. Overall, it was all another good experience!


What's changed, or what corrections are there to make, in Vietnam in the Absence of War?

What I called sugar beets in the book are actually sweet potatoes, frequently seen drying along the shoulders of the highway.

In Vietnam in the Absence of War, I was harsh about certain of our hotels. But since then, Vietnam has built many new ones. In 2002, we stayed at new hotels in several cities. Vinh and Nha Trang were among these. We stayed at some from before that are still very nice. The Morin in Hue was one of them. In Ho Chi Minh City, we stayed at the Continental Hotel which is quite old and historic—and very good. I must note that many of the hotels serve buffet breakfasts. Mmmmm!

Vietnam appears to be reworking the entire length of QL1, and some parts are complete. In the north, a freeway actually leaves Hanoi and goes about 35 km south, before you are deposited back onto the old highway. But the old highway is very good throughout northern Vietnam. This was not so a few years ago. The highway is also in very good shape from Nha Trang south to Ho Chi Minh City. In between, due to the turmoil of construction, this was not the case in 2002! By next year, however, the whole road may be in excellent condition.

The freeway out of Hanoi is probably going to be part of the new Ho Chi Minh Highway, which will run closer to, or in, the mountains. Thus, it will bypass much of the coastal plain of Vietnam and avoid the monster floods that often cut the country in half each fall. The new highway is under construction right now, and is visible in several places we went.

At airports, a bus formerly carried you to your airplane and from there you climbed steps to board. This is no longer the case at Hanoi (which has a fine new terminal) or at Ho Chi Minh City. The aircraft now taxi up to gates and you just walk aboard.


A additional reference for Vietnam in the Absence of War is A. J. Langguth's Our Vietnam. This is an excellent treatment of the way our country got involved in the Vietnam War.

An interesting book about Vietnamese history is Vietnam: A Long History by Nguyen Khac Vien. I bought this book at a shop by the sidewalk in the old quarter of Hanoi in 2002.

A Gallery of Vietnam Photographs (more coming soon)

Last photos added: June, 2002

These Vietnam photographs will be divided into several categories for quicker loading. More photos will appear and some will be replaced. Most are in addition to photographs that have already been published in Vietnam in the Absence of War.

This gallery will be an ongoing project, and projects are hardly ever finished.

Topics Available:

Along the coast of Vietnam...

Places, people, and things...

The Cham civilization...


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