It’s hard to imagine living away from the comfort of modern civilization. Simple things like a stove to cook, a washing machine to clean your laundry, maybe Netflix for when you get bored. Not for Ho Van Thanh, a Vietnamese soldier who ran off into the jungle in 1973 during the Vietnam War.
Fleeing Into The Wilderness
Ho Van Thanh fled (reportedly fighting for North Vietnam) into the jungle in the middle of the war with his infant son, Ho Van Lang. His wife and two other children were killed when American bombs hit his home. He left behind another son who was six months old at that time.
The jungle became Thanh and Lang’s home for the next forty years. They lived in a small, seven-square-foot hut with a thatched roof 20 feet up a large tree on A Pon Mountain, completely unaware of the developing world outside and that the war had ended long before. They had arrows, axes, and other makeshift weapons to hunt, chop trees, cultivate and harvest fruits, and cassava roots from the jungle.
Although completely detached from the outside world, the mementos of their previous life were still kept. According to the report written by NPR, “The father kept his soldier’s trousers neatly folded in a corner [of the tree house]. Beside them was the little red coat his son was thought to have been wearing when they fled.”
The son left behind, named Ho Van Tri, was able to track down his father and brother a few decades before they were discovered. He tried to convince them to return to society, but they refused, thinking that it still wasn’t safe to go back. From then on, Tri became the only contact they had from outside the jungle.
Heading Back Into The Civilization
In 2013, two people from a nearby village ventured into the forest to find some firewood and discovered the existence of the father and son. Lang was already 44 at that time, and his father was 82.
In the same year they were discovered, the two were finally coaxed to return to the civilization. According to Alvaro Cerezo, who became Lang’s friend, “The first year was the most difficult for Lang because of health problems from a virus and bacteria new to his system.”
Lang, who had never come into contact with women, nor did he know that they existed, was reportedly asexual. His father didn’t tell him about women’s existence, and he had trouble distinguishing between men and women even after being brought back to society.
Was It Worth It?
In 2017, Thanh died of unreported causes, while Lang just recently passed in 2021 from liver cancer at the age of 52, just eight years after he and his father returned to civilization. As per Cerezo’s statement, “He had spent all his life living in the jungle and then came to live in the ‘civilized world’ where he started eating processed foods and sometimes even drinking alcohol.” He thinks introducing Lang to the outside world did him more harm than good.
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