Skip to content
image description
E-bike expedition part 4 Vietnam - Online diary 2016-2017

In the valley of clouds and memories of the Vietnam War

N 22°20'11.0'' E 103°50'32.4''
image description

    27.06.2016 until 02.07.2016

    Day: 366 – 371


    Sa Pa

    Latitude N:

    Longitude E:

    Total kilometers:
    17,382 km

    Maximum height:
    1.550 m

    Total altitude meters:
    43.793 m

    05:22 h to 05:24 h

    6:52 pm

    Temperature day max:

    Temperature day min:


Fascinating cloud formations float along the dark green, steep mountain flank, which stretches over 3,000 meters into the sky. A strong gust tears them apart, only to reunite seconds later. As if countless spirits were taking over, the mists chase over the mountains, billowing, pulsating and constantly changing, plunging into the valleys, swallowing up the lush green rice terraces, releasing them again, swallowing up the small town of Sa Pa, absorbing every house, every hut and making it disappear completely from the world. Then a bright ray of sunlight glistens through a crack in the white-grey wall, separating it with merciless force and opening up a brief view of cultivated fields through which yellow-brown paths meander. Curious, my eyes follow one of the lines that emerge from the greenery and wind their way upwards before losing themselves in the dense tropical jungle. In the deep blue of the sky, the round, mighty, seamlessly overgrown elevations stretch out. Only for a few seconds, then the opaque clouds cover the North Vietnamese mountains again. The spectacle of the angry clouds racing by, which have absolute power up here, is a unique, moving performance that is unparalleled anywhere in the world. I gaze spellbound out of the large windows of our eagle’s nest, as we call our beautiful room, which towers above the town and presents us with an unrestricted view of the valley in front of us and the peaks rising up behind it.

“We’re in Vietnam. We’ve actually made it all the way to South East Asia on our bikes,” it goes through my head. The drifting wall of clouds breaks up again and again to reveal the dark tropical forest. My mind wanders to the past. Back to the terrible wars that foreign powers have brought to this country.

Under the pretext of protecting Christian missions, French gunboats attacked the port of Danang and the Mekong Delta in 1858. Other warships used for colonial service sailed along the Perfume River, which flowed through the then capital Hue. As a result, Vietnam had to cede territory to the French four years later and Vietnam became a French colony. During the Second World War, the whole of Indochina, including Vietnam, came under the influence of Japan in 1941, which then occupied Indochina in March 1945 and put an end to French rule. In the same year, the Vietnamese declared themselves an independent republic, but the power struggle over the Southeast Asian country continued. The Chinese, Japanese, British and French all wanted to assert their influence.

Ultimately, on September 23, 1945, despite a peace treaty with the Viet Minh (League for the Independence of Vietnam), the French forced the re-establishment of their colony, whereupon the Chinese and British withdrew and French troops marched into Saigon less than two weeks later. Thus was born the Indochina War, which raged from 1946 to 1954 and cost the lives of around half a million people. The further consequence of this was that Vietnam was divided into North and South. The north was communist and the south was western-oriented.

The country and its population were unable to recover from the war, as the civil war between North Vietnam and South Vietnam broke out between 1955 and 1964.

South China Sea on the coast of North Vietnam. Patrol of the USS Maddox: Overzealous soldiers sit at the warship’s sonar and mistake a weather glow for an attack by Vietnamese speedboats firing torpedoes at their 115-meter-long, 12-meter-wide floating fortress, heavily armed with anti-submarine guns, machine guns and torpedo tubes. The captain immediately reports this incident to the American headquarters. The US President at the time, Lyndon B. Johnson, reacted immediately and sent bombers from the aircraft carrier Ticonderoga to rush to the destroyer’s aid. Only shortly after the radio message, Captain Herrick reported: “Crazy weather phenomena and overzealous guys on the sonar make enemy contact more than questionable. Suggest detailed investigation.” However, Herrick’s telegrams do nothing to change the American president’s course. America, the world power that is committed to protecting the innocent and saving those in need, found itself in the worst and dirtiest war since the Second World War due to a false report.

After America deliberately provoked the war, it was certainly not expected that it would drag on for eleven years and change America and the world. There is no doubt that the then President Johnson would have prevented this nightmare and the subsequent traumatization of a world power and solved the problem peacefully and diplomatically.

The cruelty, senselessness and insanity of war is revealed in the consequences of such human failure. As I came across extensive, seemingly endless facts and data during my research, here is just a small excerpt:

It claimed over three million lives, including two million civilians, 58,220 US soldiers, 5,264 soldiers of their allies and around 1.3 million soldiers of the communist north. 3 million people were wounded and many were maimed forever. 12 million people lost their homes, 3.3 million hectares of forest and 3,000 Vietnamese villages were sprayed from the air with the highly toxic defoliant Agent Orange. An estimated 24,000 square kilometers are permanently poisoned. Because dioxin causes genetic damage, future generations will die and fall ill from it.

Scientists estimate that up to seven million tons of bombs were dropped on Vietnam between 1965 and 1971. This corresponds to two to three times the amount of the entire Second World War. An estimated 21 million bomb craters were torn into the earth, which during this time was comparable to the landscape on the moon. A total of 3.5 million landmines were laid, of which 300,000 tons of high-explosive material are still lying dormant in Vietnam’s soil, repeatedly tearing off or killing the legs or arms of farmers and their children.

Every time the then president ordered further military operations, he referred to the incident of the erroneous radio message from the USS Maddox. Since the destroyer was in the Gulf of Tonkin, the Tonkin Resolution was passed by a vote of 416 to 0 in the House of Representatives and 88 to two in the Senate. War was thus declared without a declaration of war. One of the aims of this war was to counteract the danger of communism spreading into a conflagration.

When the war was lost, the US Army recorded 8,612 aircraft destroyed and 4,868 helicopters destroyed, worth around 12 billion dollars at the time. The munitions consumed amounted to up to 42 billion dollars. The army consumed one million barrels of oil and gas in a single day, which ultimately triggered the oil crisis of 1973. At the beginning of the war in 1966, the US government spent twice as much on the Vietnam War as it did on social reform programs. By 1968, the cost of the war had risen to 80.5 billion dollars (today’s value USD 548 billion) and caused inflation to rise from 2.7% to 4%. In March 1968, there was a crisis on the gold market.

Total cost of the war with consequential costs approx. 500 billion US dollars. Today’s value approx. 2.3 trillion US dollars. Germany’s gross domestic product is around 3.8 trillion US dollars a year.

In his book “Vietnam – The Trauma of a World Power”, Robert Strange McNamara, who was Secretary of Defense of the United States of America from 1961 to 1968, admits the following:
“The Vietnam War was a terrible mistake. We were terribly wrong. At no time did American spraying lead to any real and lasting security for South Vietnam. The perceived North Vietnamese threat at the time was completely overstated during the Cold War.”

The inconceivable thing is that the USA still refuses to pay any reparations or compensation to the Vietnamese people. In 2007, the USA granted a paltry 400,000 dollars for the first time to clean up dioxin residues in the city of Danang. US President Barack Obama doubled the aid from three to six million dollars. However, US courts rejected claims for compensation by Vietnamese people suffering from cancer. This is undoubtedly because America would probably go bankrupt if it had to pay its debts.

I thought long and hard about whether I should write anything at all about this sad part of the country’s history in my notes. However, my generation is directly connected to the Vietnam War and whenever I heard about this Southeast Asian country, I thought of this terrible war. When I look out of the window of our eagle’s nest now, I see a peaceful, beautiful mountain world that is visited by tourists from all over the world. On the surface, nothing reminds us of the atrocities and many of the visitors were born after the war. And yet I think it’s important to remember what we humans are capable of. Even if it only contributes a minimal fraction to reminding us how important it is to nip emerging conflicts in the bud. There are currently 22 wars and 424 political conflicts on our planet. We must never forget that everything starts small and can end in a major war if we are not careful. At least that’s what the history of mankind has shown us…


If you would like to find out more about our adventures, you can find our books under this link.

The live coverage is supported by the companies Gesat GmbH: and roda computer GmbH The satellite telephone Explorer 300 from Gesat and the rugged notebook Pegasus RP9 from Roda are the pillars of the transmission.

This site is registered on as a development site.