Created: 13 June 2012
From 1969 to 1970, Mike Close served a year-long tour of duty in Vietnam. Five months ago, he revisited the country for the first time since the war, in a trip that turned out to be as much about change as it was about memories.
When Mike and his wife Chris decided to make the trip together with a friend from Mike's unit, John Berend, and his wife Marjorie, they turned to Myths and Mountains, with whom the Closes had previously traveled to Peru. "If I'm going to do a trip to an out-of-the-way place, I'm not even going to talk to anyone besides Myths and Mountains," Mike says. "They really do this out-of-the-way stuff well."
Mike and John had both served as pilots in Vietnam's Central Highlands and wanted to revisit the places they had flown in and out of every day. For logistical reasons they decided to do the trip by car, so Myths and Mountains President Toni Neubauer - whom Mike calls "basically a walking encyclopedia of Vietnam" - laid out a clockwise itinerary starting in Saigon. She also booked one of Vietnam's best guides, Le Van Cuong, to accompany the group.
Unfortunately John and Marjorie had to cancel at the last minute, so Mike and Chris ended up making the trip alone. Early on, it became clear that Vietnam in 2012 was very different from 40 years ago. Dalat, part of the no-fire zone during the war, was "one of the prettiest cities I've ever seen," Mike says. Further north, Buon Ma Thuot saw some of the heaviest American bombing in the country. Now, "it's a thriving little city. There's not a sign of the war left."
The town of Pleiku, site of an American base during the war, had grown beyond recognition. "I lived in Pleiku for seven months and couldn't even find within a half a mile where I lived, it's changed so much," Mike says.