Having written two books about Australians in the ‘American War’, and having fallen in love with the country along the way, our travel host Jimmy Thomson has a unique insight into Vietnam, its history, its people and the Western creative impulses it inspires.
Every couple of days (at least) during the tour Jimmy will give a talk in a relaxed environment followed by a discussion. They will be more like seminars than lectures, but they will be informative and entertaining.
Here are some topics to which we can add (or subtract) according to the wishes of the group. These are in addition to the expert local knowledge provided by our professional tour guides as we travel around.
The French Connection
How France colonised S.E. Asia and left an indelible mark on the cultures and cuisines of the countries they ruled up to World War II and beyond. We look at their legacy, from buildings to beer, and even a written language like no other.
The Quiet Englishman
Author, journalist, communist and spy – how Graham Greene travelled the world reporting on trouble spots for both newspapers and his MI5 masters, leaving brilliant novels in his wake.
The Original Tunnel Rats
It’s a little-known fact that Australians were the first to explore the now legendary tunnels of Cu Chi. We tell the story of a rag-tag band of Australian sappers (army engineers) and how they came to discover the Vietcong’s underground city.
Graham Greene’s Saigon
Many of the old buildings where Greene and his characters spent their time are gone – but some remain … along with the sense of elegant hedonism that marked the last days of French rule depicted in The Quiet American. We explore the great hotels, cafes and bars of Greene’s Saigon.
The Religion of Many Faiths
The Cao Dai sect is a conflation of many of the world’s great religions: Christianity, Bhuddism, Taoism, Hinduism and Islam. John F Kennedy and Confucius are numbered among its saints. Around our visit to the spectacular Cao Dai cathedral in Tay Ninh, we discuss what it was that attracted conflicted Catholic Graham Greene to this remarkable religion.
Between the Wars
The seeds of the American war were sown immediately after World War II when the defeated Japanese and the occupying British colluded to hand the country back to French rule.
The French were eventually driven out by forces led by a young Ho Chi Minh but, as The Quiet American predicts, a “third force” was getting ready to “save” the country from Communism. We chart the growing influence of the USA that led, inevitably to what we call the Vietnam War.
Movie night 1 – The Quiet American
The first attempt to film Graham Greene’s novel was the 1958 movie starring Audie Murphy which flipped the drama by making the American the hero and the Englishman (played by Michael Redgrave) the sinister villain. Greene was furious.
Australian director Philip Noyce redressed the balance with his 2001 remake starring Michael Caine and Brendan Foster which was much more faithful to the book and earned Caine an Oscar nomination.
We’ll watch the latter movie and discuss the politics behind both versions (the remake was issued a year late in the USA, due to the social and political fall-out from 9/11). And we’ll talk about the locations around us in Saigon and Tay Ninh and how some of them have hardly changed.
Movie night 2 – Indochine
When luminous French actress Catherine Deneuve made this film in 1992 the number of tourists visiting the country was barely over half a million a year. Today, 25 years later, it’s more than 10 million and a lot of that has to do with the stunning images in Indochine that showed the world the wonders in and around Ha Long Bay.
That’s where we plan to be when we watch this movie about a French plantation owner who raises a Vietnamese princess as her own daughter in the dying days of colonial France – and then finds herself competing with the girl for the romantic attentions of a young navy officer.
More than just Pho
There’s a very good reason Vietnamese food is becoming popular all around the world. It’s light, tasty, healthy and combines the best aspects of food from neighbouring countries like Thailand and China.
And then there’s the French influence evident in everything from bread, patisseries and beer to that uniquely Vietnamese lunchtime favourite Banh Mi. We’ll discuss and taste what makes Vietnamese food so appealing.
Ca Phe Society
On his recent trips to Saigon and Hanoi, Jimmy discovered a number of trendy cafés trading on what he calls ‘Communist Chic’. There’s the waitresses in battle fatigues selling baguetttes and condensed milk with coconut ice cream drenched in coffee – for breakfast! – in Ca Phe Cong. Then there’s the hidden Secret Garden on the fourth floor roof of a building with no lift. The Propaganda café (right) has wonderful ‘inspirational’ murals (and great banh mi). The Saigon Oi has a lift to its fifth floor premises … however it will cost you 15 cents to ride it. But wherever you go there’s the addictive Ca Phe Deng Da (iced black coffee) to keep you going. And almost every café has high speed wifi – why wouldn’t you drop in?
Other discussion topics may be added on request from guests who have booked on the tour