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2018 Premier's Anzac Student Tour journal entries

I was particularly captivated by the Independence Palace. Having read about the palace as it was overrun during the Tet Offensive, it felt quite surreal standing in the very same place next to the replica of the tank that broke through the gates.

The luxurious furnishings with bright red and gold left exactly how they were at the end of the Vietnam War were a stark illustration of the divide between the rich and poor. Megan - Day 1 Journal entry.

From the War Remnants Museum to the Reunification Palace - Ho Chi Minh City
Cao Dai Temple
After our scenic drive through the outer areas of Ho Chi Minh City, we arrived at the Cao Dai temple. The temple artwork was intricate, beautiful and vibrant. It was interesting to experience and watch the daily rituals and prayers the followers of this religion practised. When I exited the temple, I could still hear the hum of the music. Olivia - Day 2 Tour Journal entry.
The temple structure itself was built to reflect and symbolise all the religions. We witnessed the midday ceremony that is filled with a combination of religious prayer to convey the feeling of not only inclusivity, but also unity and peace - Vy.
Today’s visit to the Cao Dai Temple in Tay Ninh provided a glimpse into Vietnam’s culture and presented a hopeful and idealistic view of human cooperation, tolerance and inclusivity -Indigo.

By walking through the underground tunnels and the battlefields, and seeing how the soldiers lived, ate, and worked in horrendous conditions, one thing appealed to me: the Vietnamese values of patience and resourcefulness. The tunnels were cleverly designed so that each of the compartments had a specific purpose, and that they went to such great levels to gain an edge over the enemy. As our tour guide showed us, the Viet Cong created clever snares and traps from stray wood, made bombs from remnants, and designed sturdy, hidden tunnels to outsmart the enemy. In the video and through Bien’s explanations, we learnt how the Vietnamese valorised the resourcefulness and motivation of their soldiers, quite similar to how we commemorate the ANZAC spirit - Aryan.

The first thing I noticed in the narrow, dark, muddy tunnels was the blistering humidity. After just 15 minutes below ground I had beads of sweat dripping from my face, which really made me consider the harsh lives that the Vietnamese people would have experienced being down there for up to 10 days at a time. Seeing the many ingenious solutions that the Vietcong used to stay hidden, such as diverting the cooking smoke away from the tunnels, and using American rubbish to throw search dogs off the Vietnamese scent, as well as the gruesome spike traps buried throughout the jungle, really made me shift my view on the Vietcong and the war as a whole. I can now see the resourcefulness and immense motivation the Vietcong had in their attempts to defend their country in the face of foreign threat - Shaun.

I found the tunnels particularly interesting, as we were able to walk (or sometimes crawl) through the complex system, knowing that not too long ago they were being used in warfare. The tunnels were expertly crafted, with different bunkers and levels, and airshafts that were disguised as termite mounds or rocks - Verity.

Rubber plantation on the way towards the site of FSPB Coral.
As we approached the sites, we noticed that the area was covered with rows of trees, and we later learnt that they were both now rubber plantations, with craters still apparent from when the land was extensively bombed. It was simultaneously saddening and inspiring to see how the local people had continued with their lives, despite the effects of war - Hilary.
Long Hai and the former Minh Dam Secret Zone
A short walk into the jungle and we came to a commemoration shrine set in the base of a tree. We paid our respects with one minute of silence and placing of poppies- a small part of our ANZAC tradition to remember the eighteen Australian soldiers who lost their lives in that area - Megan.

At night in particular I could not imagine the difficulties associated with inhabiting such harsh terrain. The caves themselves encapsulated cook houses, hospitals, dining rooms and meeting rooms; there were steps present for visitors the use, but they weren’t there during the war. The soldiers simply climbed through the rocky rubble and carried out their business. We also had a service at this site for the fallen soldiers of Long Hai where a tree features a “Lest We Forget” sign. Seeing this sign filled me with a sense of pride; even in a foreign country where the Australian soldiers witnessed such devastation, there is still a strong presence of their being there. Reflecting on this day I can see why all veterans feel such a connection to the land they fought on - Darcy.

Long Tan
The Long Tan Cross was enclosed by a chain, which was abundant with poppies, from other Australians who had previously paid their respects. Unlike previous destinations, the mood and atmosphere was incredibly sombre and reflective. While at Long Tan, I felt like I was home, knowing this was ground where Australians fought and died against a much larger force, embodying the ANZAC spirit - Madeline.
Day 5 Green Shoots International School and Day 6 tour of My Son and Marble Mountain

As we approached the school we instantly noticed the relaxed, welcoming attitude. The primary school children were playing soccer in the yard, everyone had their shoes off, and the teachers were mingling with the students. The secondary students took us on a brief tour of the school, before showing us into the secondary building, where we would begin the day's activity - a model United Nations - Hilary.

Our arrival at Green Shoots International School in Hoi An

Our first stop was My Son Temple where the Cham people practiced their beliefs of Hinduism from 4th Century until 13th Century when they were forced South due to Vietnamese invasion. The design and detail of the temples were astounding, especially through sculpture and artistic expression - Vy.

Cham performers
My Son
Thankfully the pagodas and statues spread through the caves and lush jungle tops of Marble Mountains had been preserved, and avoided the destruction of war. The pagodas in particular were ornately complex in their design and exploded with colour and oriental motifs, as well as the powerfully intoxicating scent of incense and mountain flowers. The primary production and export of the small town nestled within the mountains, is of course marble - Shaun.

Our guide took us down to the cave which the Viet Cong used as a hospital, which was massive! It now houses a giant Buddha statue and many altars for worship. We then climbed up into the river watch-tower, with beautiful panoramic views of the surrounding landscape, including the river to Hanoi and other mountains which represent different elements (earth, fire, water, metal and wood). We all thoroughly enjoyed our cultural adventure today, learning many different aspects to Vietnam’s extensive history - Madeline.

Panorama from Marble Mountain
Our travels to Hue today consisted of a tour of the walled palace or citadel that was used during imperial times.
Purple City
The structures were extremely intricate having a subtle influence of ancient Chinese architecture. Within the citadel is what is known as the Forbidden Purple City. This section is where the royal power at the time would live, and no one other than the emperor and his family were permitted to enter. If any person entered without authorisation they would be risking the ultimate punishment of death - Darcy.

Many of the buildings that we looked at were replicas. The citadel is currently being re-built with an aim to be complete by 2025. The resilience of the people and their ability to move on and recover from such adversity as the Vietnam War is unbelievable. Our experiences today have revised some of the general assumptions previously held about the impact of the war and as I’m sure as the tour continues, we will gather a more accurate understanding of the complexities at play - Megan.

Day 8 DMZ
Mr Hung led us to the Dakrong Bridge where we walked up to the white line at the midway point which for so long had divided Vietnam. Stepping over the line - such a simple and basic act - seemed momentous, as I carried the weight of knowing that many who tried to pass this border had died - Olivia.
The moment that truly resonated with me from today was when I read a message from an American veteran: ‘To all the fallen soldiers at Khe Sanh. Sorry I didn’t do my job better identifying NVA weaponry and artillery and troops. It was my job to save you and I guess I failed you all. May you all rest in peace.’ Reading his message moved me to tears, and I really began to understand the true impact of war and the burden that veterans have to carry for decades after the war - Verity.
Today's highlight was the Khe Sanh museum, which showcased a distinct perspective in regard to US involvement in the war. We saw the advanced masks clothing, and weaponry (M16s and AK47s) used by all branches of the military, accompanied by brutal scenes of the war, such as medics nursing soldiers with sniper wounds, and soldiers falling in their trenches due to bombings along the jungle territory - Aryan.

Transfer from Hue to Hanoi - Day 9.

Temple of Literature - Hanoi.

The temple was a beautifully preserved school, and each of its compartments had a specific focus. What I was most impressed by was the amazing improvised singing and dancing rituals in the temple, where the importance of family and balance was stressed through costuming. The various paintings and flags brought together the various values of their religion, namely peace and unity, through colour and animals - Aryan.

Engraving at Hoa Lo Prison
Our exploration of the Hoa Lo Prison in Hanoi provided us with a glimpse of human brutality and hope for future change. The prison was built by the French in 1896, and was used to brutally imprison, torture and kill thousands of Vietnamese prisoners, many of whom were fighting for independence. As we walked through the prison’s hot, stuffy rooms we observed the horrible conditions that the Vietnamese were forced to live in. The prisoners had shackles on their feet, didn’t have enough food or water, and had no proper toilets, only a bucket in the middle of the room - Indigo.
Hoa Lo Prison

To walk through the place where the French powers dominated over the Vietnamese people in such a strong way was disturbing, but made me appreciate the hardships of the Vietnamese nation before the Vietnam War even began. Seeing the prison provided me with some context for the war and the ideologies that could have been formed because of living in this way - Darcy.

Museum display Hoa Lo Prison
3.45am 25 April 2018
The ANZAC day service in Hanoi was intimate and solemn- a nice way to reflect on what we had learnt about the Australian soldiers in Vietnam, as well as remember all those that fought for their countries freedom and peace. Seeing all the different countries represented in the wreath laying: Australia, New Zealand, Turkey, France and Great Britain, to me was a symbol of the importance of remembering times of war and treasuring the world we live in today where countries who were previously enemies could commemorate together - Megan.

As the Last Post played and we partook in a minute’s silence, I thought of all the stories from the Vietnam War of courage, mateship and sacrifice that we had heard from all sides during our tour of the country. People like Colonel Viet displayed the same spirit shown by the original Aussie and Kiwi diggers who landed at Gallipoli. It is truly astounding that we have a day to commemorate and honour the sacrifices of those who have fought for their country and to remember the importance of peace. Anzac Day is a very special day indeed - Indigo.

Dawn Service at the Australian Embassy in Hanoi

The commemorations on the 25th of April are very solemn and reflective for Australians, however in Vietnam, they celebrate the Vietnamese Kings’ Commemoration Day, where festivities are lively and joyful - a stark contrast to our Australian observances. The commemorations are festival-like, with traditional rituals observed at the temples, young children playing soccer and taking photos on a traditionally dressed buffalo, and a boat race on the river. Participants in the traditional rituals were dressed in bright colours, such as red, blue, yellow and green, beating drums and dancing with dragons. My experience of the day provided a stark contrast between our solemn commemorative services and the joyful Vietnamese celebrations. This was very life affirming - Madeline.

After the service, we left the Australian embassy and travelled south to Ninh Binh, the old capital of the North before it was moved to Hanoi which was a more defendable and strategic location in the year 1010. We visited the Hao Lu temples where there was a festival celebrating the 1050th anniversary of King Dinh - Megan.
Concluding the tour in Vietnam felt like the final chapter coming to an end as we said goodbye to Uncle Ho and boarded our plane to Singapore. I definitely didn’t want to leave. I wanted to continue exploring Vietnam and delve more deeply into its rich culture and wartime history - Olivia.
One Pillar Pagoda

Credits:

Vy took that gorgeous photo at Cao Dai Temple.

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