However, before we can start our journey we had to take care of the inevitable formalities. First of all we applied for a visa for the “Socialist Republic of Vietnam”. In addition everybody of us needed a “Harmonized Amateur Radio Examination Certificate” (HAREC)“, an english written formular with stamp and signature of the German Federal Network Agency.
After taking this small barrier the big ones were closer. We planned to take the aircraft from Berlin via Doha in the Emirates of Oatar to Saigon, there we wanted to change to a small aircraft to Phu Quoc. To Doha we planned to travel by “Qatar Airways” but they were really strict with their baggage allowance, exactly 20kg per person and the carry on luggage should not exceed 7kg. In a small expedition group of 5 people, this means 100kg and a small carry on luggage. There was no way to talk to the really nice service personal of Oatar airways, every additional kg is pricy with 31 EUR per kg. Meaning our cash-budget is going to swell, we still don´t know how the “Vietnamese Airline” would react concerning this problem. Now we had to optimize our luggage: “Everything for the technic, but nothing for the operator!” was our new device. After all we need everything for 160m to 10m, to cover all bands and modes, and we have to have three complete stations und amplifiers available. Our final weight was some kilogramm heavier. Included was an 18m and a 15m tower for low band verticals, a Spiderbeam for 20 to 10m, lots of wire and a Butternut HF-9-V as an allround antenna. We had our inevitable K2-transceivers from Elecraft, and an IC-7000 from ICOM for the digimodes. Some netbooks with WinTest, filters and a bunch of coaxcables completed our equipment.
The 2nd of November arrived and we started from Berlin-Tegel. Our luggage was checked through to Phu-Quoc, according the information we got.
We had an relaxed night flight via Doha to Saigon, lasting 16hours. After 16hours, we were really surprised looking to the baggage claim. Our luggage was not on his way to Phu Quoc. However, we had to take care of it and abandoned it for one night at the airport. Hopefully there won´t occur any problems the next morning. Frank and Sigi took care of organizing the licenses and the rest of the team went by taxi to the hotel in the city. My travel guide spent a lot of pages explaining how to cross streets – now I know why. In Saigon the streets are crowded with motor bikes, nobody takes are of any cross light or traffic rules. There are some rules for surviving: walk slowly, never ever turn back and do what the loals do.
2 hours later, Frank and Sigi were back, showing the certificate of our license: XV4D. Next morning our journey continued and again nobody paid attention to our luggage weight restriction. We arrived at the small island airport, outside temperature 34°C and almost 100% humidity. The guy from the “Sea Star Resort” Mr. Wunderbar expected us already. We named him after the only German word he knew and used often for the next two weeks “Wunderbar” (wonderful) – meaning awesome.
Within two days we were QRV on all bands. We focused on the low bands. The demand on 160m and 180m was exceptionally high, therefore we optimized more and more the antennas. Afterwards we got usable signals acknowledged. For the higher bands we got only the Spiderbeam to operate. Whenever another band was open, we used a wire beam adjusted for Europe for 17m and the HF9V as universal antenna. The conditions were as expected on all bands bad. Higher than 20m we had only short openings. The signals were really weak, so we were limited to CW. For SSB the signals didn´t suffice. Therefore we couldn´t fulfill the expectations unfortunately. However, even here the “cluster mentality” appeared. We called for minutes on a most likely dead band, until suddenly we reached the pile up after a cluster spot. Fortunately our shack had a more or less stable internet- and therefore a stable DX_cluster connection via wireless LAN. We even could actualise our online log on our homepage.
We consequently tried to use every short opening to North America. But we couldn´t satisfy everybodies wish for a QSO.
For most of the days the bands opened the earliest in the afternoon, so that we arranged some trips in the closer surrounding area.
Phu Quoc is the biggest Island of Vietnam and is situated in the gulf of Thailand, 40km in front of the southwest coast. In only 12km distance you can find the mainland of Cambodia and even only 4km away the Island Kaoh Ses belonging to Cambodia. The highest with rainforest covered elevations north and south of the island reach 600m. The island with 70.000 inhabitants is 48km long and between 3 and 28km wide. Most of the residents live in capital of the island Duon Duong. There is a small airport, some asphalted streets and some more dusty pists, some banks, an hospital, a post-office, a police station and a small lovely market.
The inner island of Phu Quoc harbored palmtrees covered beaches, crystal clear water and an almost deserted jungle. The west-coast was the perfect place to spot the sunset over the sea, a real rarity within Vietnam.
During our expedition we had always a tropical climate with day and night long high temperatures around 30°C. Even in the night we found our glasses foggy, due to the high humidity on Phu Quoc. What else can we do than use some brewed water to balance our fluid loss. The cheap, native, icecold, “Saigon” beer fitted perfectly.
The native people were friendly and open-minded. We always felt save and enjoyed our trips in the closer surrounding area. The best way to move around was to rent a motorbike at the hotel for only 100.000 Dong (3,75 EURO) for the whole day. We spent a mornings at the south and the north tip of the island, visited a pepper plantage, a bead-farm and some waterfalls in the middle of the rainforest. Always followed by different smells: brackwater in the small sleepy harbors, fishy on places where billions of small fishes were dried in the sun, palmoil-aromatic and chicken when you pass by cookshops. Most interesting was the market in Duong Duong. Here we experienced how lively a small village like this can be. Everybody who is able to walk, is visiting this place once a day for shopping. Vegetables, chicken, spices, meat and fish, everything is in rich amounts. For West Europeans the mat and fish market was a real adventure. Some of the selled components of the vietnamese cuisine were let´s say- unusually. Here I would count for example frogs and toads alive or nicely gutted and skinned. Luckily we never had to deal with this in our hotel cuisine.
After two weeks of amateur Radio our expedition ended. JN3TRK was the last in our log. Disassembly and the flight back to Berlin on November 17th didn´t make any problems. Our QSL cards are already printed and on their way to their recipients, when this article is in press. You can find some more details and photos to our expedition on our homepage dl7df.com.
After this DXpedition to Asia, I still have a dream: Attend a amateur radio team to Oceania. Hopefully this will happen one day.