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The Journey - BanThad - Jul 19, 2008 5:01am
Journal @ World / Refugee Camps / Banthad Refugee Camp - Views (39615) - Ratings(6): ( 2.50 )
- My home town: Xuan Thanh (Nga Ba Ong Don - near Gia Ray), Xuan Loc, Dong Nai.
- My dad took me to Saigon and I stayed with my aunt in Quan 6 (Distric 6 - Cu* Xa' Phu' La^m B, behind the hospital near Phu' La^m market)
- Couple months later I and my aunt's family of four (Aunt, uncle, son & I) left for Hong Ngu town near Cambodia border deep in the Mekong Delta of South Vietnam
- Stayed there for a few days, and we went by boat to cross the border into South Cambodia. We paid moped drivers to take us to Phnom Penh (Nam Vang) - the capital city.
- Stayed in Phnom Penh for a few days with some acquaintance that my aunt knew
- Later, we left to Com-pong-som (Kâmpóng Saôm, Krong Preah Sihanouk - from Google Earth)
- Stayed in Kâmpóng Saôm for couple weeks, and made first trip out to sea
- Got caught right on the beach in the mid of night. Guns were shoved in our backs by the local police as they escorted us to jail.
- Stayed in jail for a few days and got rescued by the 'smugglers' (my aunt paid them by some amount of gold for the job).
- Out of jail, went back to the safe-house somewhere in Kampong Som again.
- Second trip was in plan, another dark night and we were running among the bushes to the shoreline again. Got to the boat in the dark of night. Finally, we were out to sea...through second night, the trip was nice...then we arrived onto land. Everyone was scampering up toward a dim light far ahead, there were dogs barking... and then as we got close, someone yelled "Tau Na???" (it was Cambodian for "Where are you going?").
- Back to jail, this time was longer...probably more than a week. Got interrogated by the "Chuyen Vien" special police officers who were actually Vietnamese police came to work with Vietnamese prisoners.
- Then again, got out of jail after some bribery was made by the transporters.
- Another trip or two, finally got on a tiny boat that went far out to sea. Out there, even though it was the gulf of Thailand sea, but it was just our tiny boat with only water, dark water and sky. Nothing was in sight.
- The boat's little red Honda engine DIED on the second day in the middle of nowhere. Why it died? Simply clumsiness and poor planning of the escaping kinds. We loaded plastic containers of 20-liter size. 3 for water and 3 for gasoline. All 6 containers were identical. The older gentleman who helped the only Cambodian captain re-fueled with the wrong container full of drinking water into the gas tank. That little engine were gone. We floated aimlessly from the afternoon and deep into the night. None had the skills to recover the engine... Finally by luck, after unplugging some fuel lines, and drained out the water... and endless hand-pulling to start the engine gave life back for all of us.

- We continued our trip and made a quick stop on the next noon. The captain amazingly landed on a TINY rocky island that is the size of half a football field. This little island seemed to be the rest stop for many boat people too. During our rest of about 3hours, we saw another 2 small boats full of people arrived to rest. The island was just rock and nothing else. Surrounding it was just endless ocean and sky.

- We boarded back to the tiny boat (full of 22 people). Of course, the boat was about to sink as usual. Water level was about 20cm to the rim...before spilling into the boat. Of course, there was always someone scooping out the water from within the boat as water either spilled in over the rim or the bottom was leaking continually.

-I played with the sea water by simply sticking my hand out and let it dragged along the water. At night, it was really dark - pitch black dark, I dared not to stick my hand in the water... I felt like something may come up and I'd have no visibility to react in time. :(

- A storm came close, dark sky and strong wave rung up. Waves were the size of 5-10 meters high. The boat was slicing the waves diagonally, when it was at the bottom between the waves, I remember seeing the walls of water rippling by my ears. For as far as I can see we were deep under water as both walls are blocking both sides of the tiny boat. However, once the wave came under, it lifted the boat to the top and I could see lines and lines of smooth waves stretched continuously. The bottom of the next wave was frighteningly deep. I felt like our boat could have barrel rolled down from that height.
- Luckily the storm did not hit us, no breaking waves were there for that whole time. Then close to morning...we past the heavy waves and realized that we had closed up on land. We heard breaking waves and knew that it was a beach. It was around 3-4AM local time. Pitch black darkness but I knew the shoreline was NOT of sand...but full of boulders and rock. We came closer to shore, the violent waves slammed in and smashed our boat in little pieces.
- Crying, chaos and scramble ensued... by miracle, no one was lost or killed. Only bloody cuts and bruises. The sharp barnacles on the rocks and boulders did their best. Most of us crawled up further to get away from the breaking waves.
- We walked for a few miles and found locals, who did not speak anything we recognized. It was freedom at last!
- We later realized that it was Koh Kut (Kokut) Island. We got rounded up to stay under the palm trees in front of a big property. The landlord was not the one with kind heart. We were hungry and battered. She came out to count heads and demanded gold, jewelry and any valuables to trade for some kids sweet pop-corn bags. One gold ring is one bag. A brave few souls gave up their life savings for a small bag of pop-corn to eat. Hunger and pain felled us.

Here's where Ko Kut Island is on the map:

View Larger Map

- We survived for a few weeks eating whatever we could chew...mainly coconuts and bare rice porridges that the landlord gave us. The UNHCR finally came, they provided more food and supplies. We got none. The landlord kept feeding us the same way...
- The UNHCR finally brought a bigger boat, took us all to Korang (Korang Yai Island?)
- About 800 people were collected on Korang Yai Island...this island was really remote. No sign of life.
- The camp was all hand-built by the refugees, the UNHCR provided simple tools to cut trees and build better shelters. They provided blue plastic tarps and army-grade tents. Each tent house 10 people...barely enough space to sleep at night. But it helped a bug bites in the jungle.
- Then finally, after a few months, it was announced that we get to go to the main land...BANTHAD Refugee Camp.
- Stayed in Banthad camp for many months... transfered to Panat Nikkom refugee camp (Phanat Nikhom, Chon Buri Thailand).

Here's the map of the town "Phanat Nikhom" where the Refugee Camp used to be. I can't locate the site anymore as things would have changed drastically. If anyone knows PLEASE click on my profile and use the "Contact BanThad" form to let me know (thanks ahead).

View Larger Map

- About 9-10 months later, we were accepted by the INS and headed for the Philippines.
- Got to Bataan Refugee Camp... stayed there for about 7 months and we left for California to re-unite with my uncle's family in Northern California.

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Comments and Ratings:( Post Your Comments )

( Thuy Nhanh ) - Jan 31, 2021 3:36pm - Rating: None

Hi everyone,

I was born there in 1989. Does anyone have pictures from that year? I would love to see if I can find my mum and my biological father.

Thank you in advance!

( Guest User ) - Aug 31, 2014 11:28pm - Rating: None

Hello, I am traveling to Manila soon. I also lived in the very same Refugee Camp but I was very young around six years old. I am a Cambodian Refugee. I have always wanted to travel back to the same area even though I know this area has changed dramatically. This is a way for me to reconnect with the past that I so long for.

I have snap shot memory of my time such as the landscape beautiful craved hills, temples, nice NGO workers who bought me my first Coca Cola. I've been a fan ever since.

I'd like to ask this community if anyone has pictures of NGO workers or know anyone who lives in the Philippines or has contact with an ex-NGO worker in this area.

Thank you.

( Hung ) - Oct 05, 2013 9:08am - Rating: None

I am building up the photos of Ban Thad refugee camp in the 80s-90s...I post your photos here at this blog Please allow us. Thanks

( Guest User ) - Sep 06, 2013 3:26pm - Rating: None

Thanks for sharing great memories! Check here for more pictures in Banthad:

( Guest User ) - Aug 15, 2013 10:07pm - Rating: None

Toi da o trai Banthad trong nam 1989, toi co mot so hinh anh ve trai Banthad toi muon post len de moi nguoi cung xem co duoc khong?

( Hung ) - May 28, 2013 10:44am - Rating: None

I stumble on to your posting...the photo of the mass, do you remember the name of those father? could you post a larger format?
If you can send the larger photo so that I can see the face, much appreciated

( Lien Kim ) - Nov 24, 2012 9:36pm - Rated: 5

Hi I've been doing researches about all these camps. After reading your story I felt that I was reading the story of my childhood. I was born in Saigon then fled to Phnompenh with my mom when I was 3. We lived there for a couple years cause my mom can speak khmer.Then in 1980 we fled from Phnompenh by foot to cross the border of Thailand I believe the year was around from 1981-84. We cross the Dang Rek mountain sometimes step over dead bodies that could not make it. It took us a week or more until we were rescued by UNHCR and transport us to camp after camp. I was really young then but I do remember Nong Chan, Nong Samet, and Phanat Nikhom. We stayed there for a long time then was on the list to go to America. Like you we also went Bataan, Phillipines processing center. Got sponsored 7 months later then got sponsored by a Baptist church. I am trying to research and learning everything I can about this so it was very interesting to know that someone went through like I did.

( Anna Bui ) - Feb 22, 2012 8:47am - Rating: None

Thank you for sharing. I need more info bout these camps.I am working to create a comprehensive web site which consolidates information about Refugee Camps in SE Asia. The site will be created by and for refugees. We have many stories, and much information, as well as those who want news of family and friends, etc... scattered all over the web and the world. Therefore I want to have 1 web site for all VN refugee info. To do that, I need help from many people. Please email me

( Steven ) - Apr 04, 2011 6:22pm - Rating: None

Thank you very much for posting your journey, my dear friend. Your route to freedom is very much similar to mine although it took me only one shot at Kam-pong-som port in Cambodia to board the boat. I also left VN via Hong Ngu. I arrived in Thailand in late November 1987 long before the cut-off date. Therefore, I was transferred directly to Phanat Nikhom camp. If you like, please join "Phanat Nikhom Facebook page" where former refugees like us share stories and pictures and catch up with old friends. Best regards.

( Guest User ) - Feb 18, 2011 1:08pm - Rating: None



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