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Vietnam War Correspondents' Reunion Preparations Now Underway
Word has spread that what used to be known as the Saigon Press Corps will descend once more on the former capital of South Vietnam. The occasion is the 30th anniversary of the end of the 30-year war in Indochina and a chance to meet with old friends and competitors in Ho Chi Minh City.
It will be an occasion to remember friends who were killed during the war - and to commemorate colleagues from the Vietnam War years who have since died. Eddie Adams, who passed away a few months ago, will be on everybody's mind.
For most of the veterans of the former Vietnam press corps it could be their last visit to this country and their last reunion -- most are now in their sixties and older; the majority have retired from day-to-day journalism.
Similar reunions were held in Ho Chi Minh City in 1995 and 2000. Earlier, the first reunion took place at the Armory in New York. Some of the same faces hope to show up in Ho Chi Minh City on April 27, all a bit older, greyer and maybe a bit wiser, too.
As in the past, the reunion will be a private and non-political affair, a non-official gathering with no speeches. Former war correspondents have become simple tourists. The Vietnamese authorities insist that anybody who wishes to report from Ho Chi Minh City on the celebrations, parades and speeches commemorating the day when Saigon was conquered by the Liberation Front Forces and the North Vietnamese Army requires a "journalist visa." For others, the "tourist visa" from a Vietnamese embassy suffices.
There is no fixed program yet, although - as in 1995 and 2000 - the ex-correspondents will meet on the roof of the Rex Hotel -- site of the famous 'Saigon Follies' -- on the late- afternoon of April 27. There will also be a boat ride and dinner on the Saigon River and certainly a series of daily dinners and drink parties -- as much as the aged livers can endure...
A highlight of each previous reunion was to meet those Vietnamese who worked for the western news media and stayed behind when the communists took over. We hope that many of them are still alive and will show up.
In addition, a large contingent of those Vietnamese newsmen, cameramen and soundmen and who had fled Vietnam is expected, some with their families. Of course, AP's Nick Ut and Dang Van Phuoc will be there.
Carl Robinson, who served as photo editor and writer for The Associated Press during the war and now lives in Australia, has offered to organize excursions to the now-friendly Vietnamese countryside.
He and his Vietnamese-born wife Kim-Dung (E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org) have set up a boutique tour operation from Australia into Vietnam called Monkey Bridge Tours www.monkeybridgetours.com. They run several tours a year into the country, including to places most tourists never see. They are prepared to assist former colleagues in any way -- from simple advice on air travel and visas to actually booking hotels and in-country tours.
In addition, Monkey Bridge Tours has designed three different day-tours out of Saigon during the reunion as well as a specially-designed -- and rather ambitious -- 18-day tour through Vietnam. This tour flies to Hanoi and after exploring the North, including Dien Bien Phu, Ha Long Bay and Haiphong, heads southwards along Route One and the Ho Chi Minh Highway all the way to Saigon, with some amazing stops enroute. The focus will be on places of historical interest from the Vietnam War. The tour cost includes all transport, meals, accommodations, entry fees and local guides.
Many of those interested in coming have asked how to book flights and accommodations.
The variety of ways (and prices) to reach Ho Chi Minh City is just baffling, as is the list of hotels now available within a mile of the Caravelle Hotel.
Roundtrip flights from London to Ho Chi Minh City are currently available in the £ 550 range (about $ 1000 U.S.). But this changes daily, as the value of the dollar declines and declines and oil prices vary. Everybody will have to find his or her own bargain.
For the hotel search, Carl Robinson suggested an excellent Web site at: www.vietnam-hotelguide.com/hotels. All bookings and payments can be made over the Internet. The site has a 24-hour chat-line service. It is a Bangkok-based company that appears legit and trustworthy.
You'll get an alphabetical list of all the major hotels in Saigon by star-ratings, price ranges and even maps. Prices are quite reasonable considering the dollar's decline.
It is amazing how many hotels have grown up beside the venerable Continental, the Caravelle and the Majestic.
A few weeks ago a round-robin letter had the e-mail addresses of those interested in attending the reunion in Ho Chi Minh City. Meanwhile, there may be more.
A lot of people still haven't heard about the reunion yet. So please pass on the news.
© Horst Faas
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