"Continuous warfare over the last three decades has kept Vietnam off-limits for tourists," the press release explains. But no longer. Imagine seven days/six nights ($1,179) on the "Vietnam Mini Pax," or nine days/eight nights ($1,779) touring "Vietnam in Depth."
And who received a personal offer for this adventure? Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), for 5 1/2 years a prisoner of war in Vietnam.
"It's a rare opportunity," McCain said, tongue planted firmly in cheek. "I think it would be really stimulating."
Orient Flex-Pax Tours of New York, apparently trying to put Vietnam on the 1987 tourism map, wrote McCain: "We are aware of your military service in Vietnam and know that you embrace everyone who served to be part of your constituency. We hope that the opening of Vietnam to tourism from the United States will be beneficial to that vast constituency . . . . "
When told yesterday that McCain had been a POW, Orient's Joe Leveriza said, "That's terrible."
He explained that The New York Times had recently printed the names of members of Congress who served in Vietnam. "We mailed our introductory material to them. We thought it would be useful and of interest to them," Leveriza said.
McCain, as a lieutenant commander, flew missions over Vietnam for six months until he was shot down in October 1967. He was held at "The Hanoi Hilton" POW camp until March 1973.
Asked for his reaction to the travel offer, McCain joked, "I started packing my bags, I applied for a leave of absence, and called my wife and said, 'Get the kids ready for a change of diet.' "
Several stops on the tour's "Mini Pax" itinerary caught McCain's eye:Day 2/Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon): The after-lunch visit to an orphanage, "where children depict the tragic history of their country in song and dance." ("I look forward to seeing that . . . the American war crimes," McCain said.) Day 6/Hanoi: After dinner, "You're off to the Circus Theatre for an entertaining 'Hanoi Revue.' " Day 7/Hanoi-Bangkok: An after-breakfast stop at the "Souvenir du Vietnam" shop -- before flying to Thailand.
On the "In Depth" list, McCain found three days noteworthy: Day 1/Hanoi: Visit to the Temple of Literature and a department store, "where you gain insight into the daily life of the Vietnamese." Day 2/Hanoi: Stop "at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. Then trace the country's recent tragic history at the Museum of the Revolution." ("One of the highlights," McCain said. "But only one.") Day 8/Ho Chi Minh: "After breakfast, travel 45 miles south to My Tho, a prosperous city of farmers and fishermen on the Mekong Delta. Cross the river to Coconut Palm Island to visit a monastery of the Cao Dai religious sect. Enjoy lunch at a local restaurant and stop at a fruit plantation before returning to Ho Chi Minh. Tonight's dinner features Vietnamese specialities at La Bibliotheque, Madame Dai's popular restaurant." (McCain found this day irresistible.)
But one site appeared to be left out, McCain said. After he was shot down -- near a lake in Hanoi -- the North Vietnamese placed a statue there, he said. It was of a pilot, on his knees with his hands up. On it -- with McCain's name spelled wrong and his rank wrong -- were the words "Famous American Air Pirate."
"I'm deeply offended," McCain quipped, "that it's not part of the package."