Official Name: Socialist Republic of Vietnam
Established: 2 September 1945 (Independence from France), 2 July 1976 (Reunification)
Population: 96,208,984 (2019 census)
Religion: 73.7% No religion, 14.9% Buddhism, 8.5% Christianity
Order of Visit: Fifty Fourth
First Visit: 16 July 2016
Last Visit: 21 July 2016
Duration: 6 Days
Visit Highlights: Cu Chi tunnels, Hang Sung Sot Caves, the beauty of Halong Bay
Places Visited: Ho Chi Ming City, Hanoi, Halong Bay
Vietnam Journal Entries
History and Geography
Covering 331,212 square kilometres Vietnam is a country in Southeast Asia and the easternmost country on the Indochinese Peninsula with land borders with China to the north, and Laos and Cambodia to the west and maritime borders with Thailand (through the Gulf of Thailand), and the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia (through the South China Sea).
Archaeological excavations indicate that Vietnam was inhabited as early as the Palaeolithic age. The ancient Vietnamese nation, which was centred on the Red River valley and nearby coastal areas, was annexed by the Han dynasty in the 2nd century BC, which subsequently made Vietnam a division of Imperial China for over a millennium. The first independent monarchy emerged in the 10th century AD under the Lý and Trần dynasties. During the rule of the Trần Dynasty they repelled three Mongol invasions.
From the 16th century onward, civil strife and frequent political infighting engulfed much of Vietnam for decades. Between 1615 and 1753, French traders engaged in trade in Vietnam. The first French missionaries arrived in Vietnam in 1658, under the Portuguese Padroado. From its foundation, the Paris Foreign Missions Society under Propaganda Fide actively sent missionaries to Vietnam. Sovereignty was gradually eroded by France in a series of military conquests between 1859 and 1885.
Between 1862 and 1867, the southern third of the country became the French colony of Cochinchina. By 1884, the entire country had come under French rule, with the central and northern parts of Vietnam separated into the two protectorates of Annam and Tonkin. The three Vietnamese entities were formally integrated into the union of French Indochina in 1887.
Guerrillas of the royalist movement massacred around a third of Vietnam’s Christian population during the colonial period as part of their rebellion against French rule.
The French maintained full control over their colonies until World War II, when the war in the Pacific led to the Japanese invasion of French Indochina in 1940. Afterwards, the Japanese Empire was allowed to station its troops in Vietnam while permitting the pro-Vichy French colonial administration to continue. Japan exploited Vietnam’s natural resources to support its military campaigns, culminating in a full-scale takeover of the country in March 1945. This led to the Vietnamese Famine of 1945, which resulted in up to two million deaths.
In July 1945, the Allies had decided to divide Indochina at the 16th parallel to allow Chiang Kai-shek of the Republic of China to receive the Japanese surrender in the north while Britain’s Lord Louis Mountbatten received their surrender in the south. The Allies agreed that Indochina still belonged to France.
The Viet Minh launching a guerrilla campaign against the French in late 1946. The resulting First Indochina War lasted until July 1954 with the defeat of French colonialists. The colonial administration was thereby ended and French Indochina was dissolved under the Geneva Accords of 1954 into three countries—Vietnam, and the kingdoms of Cambodia and Laos. Vietnam was further divided into North and South administrative regions at the Demilitarised Zone, roughly along the 17th parallel north, pending elections scheduled for July 1956.
A 300-day period of free movement was permitted, during which almost a million northerners, mainly Catholics, moved south, fearing persecution by the communists. This migration was in large part aided by the United States military through Operation Passage to Freedom. The partition of Vietnam by the Geneva Accords was not intended to be permanent, and stipulated that Vietnam would be reunited after the elections but this did not happen.
In 1995 the internationally recognised State of Vietnam effectively ceased to exist and was replaced by the Republic of Vietnam in the south—supported by the United States, France, Laos, Republic of China and Thailand—and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in the north, supported by the Soviet Union, Sweden, Khmer Rouge, and the People’s Republic of China.
The pro-Hanoi Viet Cong began a guerrilla campaign in South Vietnam in the late 1950s to overthrow the Republic of Vietnam government in the south. From 1960, the Soviet Union and North Vietnam signed treaties providing for further Soviet military support.
To support South Vietnam’s struggle against the communist insurgency, the United States began increasing its contribution of military advisers, using the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident as a pretext for such intervention. US forces became involved in ground combat operations by 1965, and at their peak several years later, numbered more than 500,000. The US also engaged in a sustained aerial bombing campaign. Meanwhile, China and the Soviet Union provided North Vietnam with significant material aid and 15,000 combat advisers. Communist forces supplying the Viet Cong carried supplies along the Ho Chí Minh trail, which passed through Laos.
The communists attacked South Vietnamese targets during the 1968 Tết Offensive. The campaign failed militarily, but shocked the American establishment and turned US public opinion against the war. Facing an increasing casualty count, rising domestic opposition to the war, and growing international condemnation, the US began withdrawing from ground combat roles in the early 1970s with all American combat troops were withdrawn by 29 March 1973.
In December 1974, North Vietnam captured the province of Phuoc Long and started a full-scale offensive, culminating in the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975. On 2 July 1976, North and South Vietnam were merged to form the Socialist Republic of Việt Nam. The war left Vietnam devastated, with the total death toll between 966,000 and 3.8 million.
What I experienced
Vietnam is a country best known for the Vietnam War (1954 to 1975) between the Russia back North Vietnamese and the USA backed South Vietnamese with North Vietnamese eventually winning and unifying the country. This war followed the Indochina War 1946 to 1954 between the former French Colonial rulers and the North Vietnamese. Obviously this is a war torn country and one of the few to withstand the direct military might of the USA and other Western countries making it somewhat unique.
Following the fall of the country’s major supporter the Soviet Union in 1991 the country slowly started opening itself up to the rest of the world. While Vietnam is still a one party Communist state it is quickly modernising. Part of this is due to significant Chinese investment but surprisingly also the USA’s financial involvement. In fact the USA and Vietnam Governments strategic interests are more aligned than at any time since the war.
Visiting the country there are many mentions of the War of Aggression (aka Vietnam War) and the victory over the imperials (the USA). Visiting the Hanoi Hilton (officially the Hao Lo Prison) where USA prisoners of war were held, including US Senator John McCain the ruling Communist Party displays their proud victory achievement. You will get to see a lot of abandoned USA military hardware as well.
But Vietnam isn’t just about the historic war, for example Halong Bay is one of the new natural seven wonders of the world and the hundreds of tiny islands make for a breathtaking sight. Experiencing the city roads also keeps the heart pumping as they are full of motorcycles going every which way with apparently little rules but the locals seem to avoid accidents, it’s the Westerners like me who are at risk.
The locals I meet and interacted with we polite and enthusiastic. I also got a couple of fantastic suits made for me so capitalism is alive in this beautiful and hot and humid country.
It is well worth visiting this country which shaped so much of the Cold War.