I’m sure many more of you will have heard about the Vietnam war that occurred from the 1st November 1955 to 30th April 1975. Like the last post I wrote about Phnom Penh, I thought I would start by briefly explaining Vietnam’s history (which gets extremely confusing – I am still trying to get my head around it).
Vietnam was conquered by the Chinese in the 2nd century. During the 1000 years that the Chinese occupied Vietnam, the Vietnamese adopted Taoism and Buddhism. In 938 AD, Vietnam finally gained independence from the Chinese. In 1858, French and Spanish military stormed Da Nang. By the next year the French had seized Ho Chi Minh City then known as Saigon. In 1941, Ho Chi Minh leader of the communist party, gathered troops to fight for Vietnam’s independence from the French – later known as the Viet Minh. In 1946, France tried to regain control of Vietnam starting an 8 year long battle between the French and Viet Minh. The Viet Minh defeated the French in 1954 and the country was divided into the communist-ruled North and a republic in the South. Ho Chi Minh became President of the North and remained so until his death in 1969. In 1959, communists supported by North Vietnam began causing conflict in the South. The United States sent 60,000 combat troops to Vietnam in 1965 to try and stop the spread of Communism into the South. Vietnam was invaded by the US because of geo-politics. If the US could secure a position in Vietnam then it could have a strategic position against its Communist neighbors: China, Korea and Russia. However, in response to protests at home in the US, American troops were withdrawn from Vietnam in 1973 and the US signed a peace accord with North Vietnam.
During this time, soldiers from the north established a huge network of tunnels to aid the transport of troops and supplies. One of the most famous of these networks are the Cu Chi tunnels in Ho Chi Minh City. The village of Cu Chi ended up living underground for 20 years throughout the war, only returning to the ground during the night. Americans realised the how valuable these tunnels were to the communists so launched operations to bomb the tunnels which were unsuccessful. The complex network of tunnels and rooms were so cleverly designed that the completely outsmarted the American soldiers who tried to find them. The underground village had kitchens, bathrooms and bedrooms. Staircases were designed so that rooms could not be flooded and the rooms were ventilated so gas sent down by Americans did not have an effect on those living inside. Bamboo was used to make chimneys leading from fires in the kitchen and terminating in termite mounds that wouldn’t be searched for obvious reasons by Americans. The Vietnamese guerilla fighters would collect the uniforms of dead American soldiers during the night and rub them near entrances so sniffer dogs recognised the scent as friendly. All Vietnamese wore shoes with reversed soles so that it appeared they were walking in the opposite direction. Life in the tunnels was extremely difficult though. The tunnels were so narrow that you had to army crawl through them. The tunnels opened up for tourists are now more than double the size of the original tunnels and are still a tight squeeze for most.
South Vietnam surrendered to the North in 1975 and in 1976 the two states were reunified under Communist leadership. Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City in honour of Ho Chi Minh.
During the war somewhere between 800,000 and 3.1 million Vietnamese soldiers and civilians were killed alongside 58,000 US soldiers.
I am somewhat confused by the history despite a lot of research. I have missed out huge chunks simply because there is so much to learn about I could be here for years.
I went on a tour around the city in the morning which involved a stop off at the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Post Office and the War Remnants Museum. The War Remnants Museum was extremely biased towards the Vietnamese and although I didn’t have enough time to fully explore it I was happy to leave after feeling extremely uncomfortable reading what was basically communist propaganda.
During my time in Ho Chi Minh City I ended up acting in a film produced by the British Consulate about keeping safe in Vietnam. The film hasn’t been signed off yet but I have seen a preview (very embarrassed to hear my own voice) and I will update you when it is ready. It ended up being a really fun afternoon and I got a beautiful conical hat as part of the deal.
I really enjoyed my time in the hustle and bustle of Ho Chi Minh city but I’m really looking forward to my next stop, Mui Ne, which is a relaxed beach town.
Good bye for now!