Vietnam reflections: Part One

I thought I’d write a post about my recent travels through Vietnam. My partner Joe and I were only there for nine days, but we managed to pack a lot of history, culture and food into this short time. I’d like to share some of my thoughts on why Vietnam is an interesting place to travel to and what I’d recommend if you’re thinking of heading there.

I’m going to divide this into several themes and begin with why I wanted to go to Vietnam in the first place.

Vietnam’s history was the main reason for wanting to travel to the country. I studied Vietnamese history during high school and I found it very compelling.

As a country, Vietnam has suffered from its fair share of colonisation. It became independent from China in the 900s and flourished over the next couple of centuries. But its modern history is one of fighting foreign occupation: the French in the 19th century, the Japanese in the 1940s and then Americans in the 1960s and 1970s. As a result of this, the Vietnamese developed a strong sense of national identity and fighting spirit. Some people have argued that it was resentment of foreign occupation and willingness to defend this (and even die for it) that played a crucial role in why the USA was never able to claim a victory in the Vietnam War. The USA became stuck in a quagmire, fighting against an enemy that was completely willing to fight for as long as possible to achieve its aim.

Understanding this history gave me a real sense of what motivated many Vietnamese to put their lives on the line to support the goal of removing foreign occupation. But it also made me interested in going to the place where all this history happened – being able to visit specific sites where key historical events occurred and get a sense of key moments that played a part in Vietnam’s formation as a nation. This was especially the case when I visited the Củ Chi tunnels which I will elaborate more on in a later post.

The Vietnam War was also a major theatre of where the Cold War played out between the USA and the USSR. One of the reasons why the USA became involved in Vietnam was a belief that if Vietnam fell into communist hands, it would create a domino effect in which other countries in South East Asia would fall to communism. As a former political studies student, it was particularly fascinating to be in a country that dominated so much of the USA’s foreign policy in the 60s and 70s and still continues to have an impact on US foreign policy today.

The Vietnam War also has a place in my own country’s history and its development as a nation. The Vietnam War was the first place that New Zealand did not fight alongside the United Kingdom (which was traditionally what we had done). Our involvement was highly controversial and sparked many protests, similar to the protest in the USA. These protests were significant as they marked the first time where the foreign policy between our two major political parties (Labour and National) began to significantly change with Labour wanting a more independent foreign policy. This all came to a head later on when New Zealand became nuclear free and refused to allow US ships to visit, sparking a cooling of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

This episode, interestingly enough, is now considered a major part of New Zealand’s national identity and various cultural myths have developed from this – particularly the David versus Goliath idea of New Zealand standing up to a superpower and refusing to back down when it came to nuclear power.

So, in a (very big nutshell) this is why Vietnam appealed to me as country to visit.

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Củ Chi tunnels, War Remnants Museum and dinner at Ru Pho Bar