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VIETNAM (Việt Nam)

On 30 April 1975, Ho Chi Minh City - which was then

called Saigon and was the capital of South Vietnam -

was captured by communist troops from the North,

and the war ended. Three million Vietnamese, and

58,000 US soldiers died in this war. It was the first

to be lost by a modern global superpower. I visited

the country in April 2015, starting from Sa Pa, the

northern part, close to the Chinese border, and then

continued to Ha Long Bay and Hanoi, the capital.

The central area followed, with the ancient towns of

Hue and Hoi An, and continued to the south to Ho

Chi Minh City (Saigon) and the Mekong Delta.

Today, 40 years after the American war in Vietnam

ended in ignominious defeat, the traces of that

terrible conflict are disappearing. Traveling through

Vietnam in April 2015, I was struck by the transformation

of what was once an impoverished, wardevastated

peasant society into a modern nation.

Its cities and towns are bustling with life and energy.

Vast numbers of motorbikes surge through their

streets, including 4.2 million in Hanoi and 7 million

in Ho Chi Minh City. A thriving commercial culture

has emerged, based not only on many small shops,

but on an influx of giant Western, Japanese, and

other corporations. Although Vietnam is officially

a Communist nation, about 40% of the economy

is capitalist, and the government is making great

efforts to encourage private foreign investment.

Indeed, over the past decade, Vietnam has enjoyed

one of the highest economic growth rates in the

world. Not only have manufacturing and tourism

expanded dramatically, but Vietnam has become

an agricultural powerhouse. Today it is the world’s

second largest exporter of rice, and one of the

world’s leading exporters of coffee, pepper, rubber,

and other agricultural commodities. Another factor

distancing the country from what the Vietnamese

call “the American War” is the rapid increase in Vietnam’s

population. Only 41 million in 1975, it now

tops 90 million, with most of it under the age of 30

- too young to have any direct experience with the


Vietnam has also made a remarkable recovery in

world affairs. It now has diplomatic relations with

189 countries, and enjoys good relations with all

the major nations.

Nevertheless, the people of Vietnam paid a very

heavy price for their independence from foreign

domination. Some 3 million of them died in the

American war, and another 300,000 are still classified

as MIAs. In addition, many, many Vietnamese

were wounded or crippled in the conflict. Perhaps

the most striking long-term damage resulted from

the U.S. military’s use of Agent Orange (dioxin) as a

defoliant. Vietnamese officials estimate that, today,

some 4 million of their people suffer the terrible

effects of this chemical, which not only destroys

the bodies of those exposed to it, but has led to

horrible birth defects and developmental disabilities

into the second and third generations. Much

of Vietnam’s land remains contaminated by Agent

Orange, as well as by unexploded ordnance. Indeed,

since the end of the American war in 1975, the landmines,

shells, and bombs that continue to litter the

nation’s soil have wounded or killed over 105,000

Vietnamese many of them children.

During the immediate postwar years, Vietnam’s

ruin was exacerbated by additional factors. These

included a U.S. government embargo on trade with

Vietnam, U.S. government efforts to isolate Vietnam

diplomatically, and a 1979 Chinese military invasion

of Vietnam employing 600,000 troops. Although

the Vietnamese managed to expel the Chinese -

just as they had previously routed the French and

the Americans - China continued border skirmishes

with Vietnam until 1988. In addition, during the first

postwar decade, the ruling Vietnamese Communist

Party pursued a hardline, repressive policy that

undermined what was left of the economy and

alienated much of the population. Misery and starvation

were widespread.

Nevertheless, starting in the mid-1980s, the country

made a remarkable comeback. This recovery was

facilitated by Communist Party reformers who loosened

the reins of power, encouraged foreign investment,

and worked at developing a friendlier relationship

with other nations, especially the United

States. In 1995, the U.S. and Vietnamese governments

resumed diplomatic relations. Although

these changes did not provide a panacea for the

nation’s ills -- for example, the U.S. State Department

informed the new U.S. ambassador that he must

never mention Agent Orange - Vietnam’s circumstances,

and particularly its relationship with the

United States, gradually improved. U.S.-Vietnamese

trade expanded substantially, reaching $35 billion

in 2014. Thousands of Vietnamese students participated

in educational exchanges. In recent years, the

U.S. government even began funding programs to

help clean up Agent Orange contamination and

unexploded ordnance.

Although, in part, this U.S.-Vietnamese détente

resulted from the growing flexibility of officials

in both nations, recently it has also reflected the

apprehension of both governments about the

increasingly assertive posture of China in Asian

affairs. Worried about China’s unilateral occupation

of uninhabited islands in the South China Sea

during 2014, both governments began to resist it

- the United States through its “Pacific pivot” and

Vietnam through an ever closer relationship with

the United States to “balance” China. Although both

nations officially support the settlement of the

conflict over the disputed islands through diplomacy

centered on the ten countries that comprise

the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, officials

in Vietnam, increasingly nervous about China’s

ambitions, appear to welcome the growth of a more

powerful U.S. military presence in the region.

This shift from warring enemies to cooperative partners

over the past 40 years should lead to solemn

reflection. In the Vietnam War, the U.S. government

laid waste to a poor peasant nation in an effort to

prevent the triumph of a Communist revolution

that U.S. policymakers insisted would release a Red

tide that would sweep through Asia and imperil the

United States. And yet, when America’s counterrevolutionary

effort collapsed, this dire prediction

was proved false. Instead, an independent nation

emerged that could - and did - work amicably with

the U.S. government. This development highlights

the unnecessary nature -- indeed, the tragedy -- of

America’s vastly destructive war in Vietnam. It also

underscores the deeper folly of relying on war to

cope with international issues.


Vietnam (Việt Nam), officially the Socialist Republic

of Vietnam is a country in Southeast Asia. Its neighboring

countries are China to the north, Laos and

Cambodia to the west.

Vietnam’s history is one of war, colonization and

rebellion. Astonishingly exotic and utterly compelling,

it is a country of breathtaking natural beauty

with a unique heritage.

Occupied by China no fewer than four times, the

Vietnamese managed to fight off the invaders just

as often. At various points during these thousand

years of imperial dynasties, Vietnam was ravaged

and divided by civil wars and repeatedly attacked

by the Songs, Mongols, Yuans, Chams, Mings,

Dutch, Qings, French and the Americans. The victories

mostly belonged to the Vietnamese but, even

during the periods in history when Vietnam was

independent, it was mostly a tributary state to

China, until the French colonization. Vietnam’s last

emperors were the Nguyễn Dynasty, who ruled from

their capital at Huế from 1802 to 1945, although

France exploited the succession crisis after the fall

of Tự Đức to de facto colonize Vietnam after 1884.

Both the Chinese occupation and French colonization

have left a lasting impact on Vietnamese

culture, with Confucianism forming the basis of

Vietnamese social etiquette, and the French leaving

a lasting imprint on Vietnamese cuisine.

After a brief Japanese occupation in World War II,

the Communist Việt Minh under the leadership of

Hồ Chí Minh continued the insurgency against the

French, with the last Emperor Bảo Đại abdicating in

1945 and a proclamation of independence following

soon after. The majority of French had left by 1945,

but in 1946 they returned to continue the fight until

their decisive defeat at Điện Biên Phủ in 1954. The

Geneva Conference partitioned the country into

two at the 17th parallel of latitude, with a Communist-led

North and Ngô Đình Diệm declaring himself

President of the Republic of Vietnam in the South.

Fighting between South Vietnam and the North

Vietnamese-backed Việt Cộng escalated into what

became known as the Vietnam War - although the

Vietnamese officially refer to it as the American War.

US economic and military aid to South Vietnam

grew through the 1960s in an attempt to bolster

the Southern Vietnam government, escalating into

the dispatch of half a million American troops in

1966. What was supposed to be a quick and decisive

action soon degenerated into a quagmire and

US armed forces were only withdrawn following a

cease-fire agreement in 1973. Two years later, on 30

April 1975, a North Vietnamese tank drove into the

South’s Presidential Palace in Ho Chi Minh City and

the war ended with the conquest of South Vietnam.

An estimated 800,000 to 3 million Vietnamese and

over 55 thousand Americans had been killed.

The Vietnam War was only one of many that the

Vietnamese have fought and won, but it was the

most brutal in its history.

Over two thirds of the current population was born

after 1975.





Halong Bay



Most people in Vietnam are ethnic Vietnamese (Kinh),

though there is a sizeable ethnic Chinese community

in Ho Chi Minh City, most who are descended from

migrants from Guangdong province and are hence

bilingual in Cantonese or other Chinese dialects

and Vietnamese. There are also numerous other

ethnic groups who occupy the mountainous parts

of the country, such as the Hmong, Muong and Yao

people. There is also a minority ethnic group in the

lowlands near the border with Cambodia known as

the Khmer Krom.

Buddhism, mostly of the Mahayana school, is the

single largest religion in Vietnam, with over 85%

of Vietnamese people identifying themselves as

Buddhist. Catholicism is the second largest religion,

followed by the local Cao Dài religion. Other Christian

denominations, Islam, and local religions also

share small followings throughout the southern

and central areas.


Due to its long history as a tributary state of China,

as well as several periods of Chinese occupations,

Vietnamese culture is heavily influenced by that

of Southern China, with Confucianism forming

the basis of Vietnamese society. The Vietnamese

language also contains many loan words from

Chinese, though the two languages are unrelated.

Buddhism remains the single largest religion in

Vietnam, though like in China but unlike in the rest

of northern Southeast Asia, the dominant school of

Buddhism in Vietnam is the Mahayana School.

Nevertheless, Vietnamese culture remains distinct

from Chinese culture, as it has also absorbed cultural

elements from neighboring Hindu civilizations

such as the Champa and the Khmer empires. The

French colonization has also left a lasting impact

on Vietnamese society, with baguettes and coffee

remaining popular among locals.


Lawrence Wittner - Professor of History emeritus at




Lonely Planet

Rough Guides






Hoi An

Ho Chi Minh








Sa Pa District is in Lào Cai Province, northwest

Vietnam, 380km northwest of Hanoi, close to the

border with China. The Hoàng Liên Son range of

mountains dominates the district, which is at the

eastern extremity of the Himalayas. This range

includes Vietnam’s highest mountain, Fan Si Pan, at

a height of 3143m above sea level. The town of Sa

Pa lies at an elevation of about 1500m. Sa Pa is a

quiet mountain town and home to a great diversity

of ethnic minority peoples. The total population of

36,000 consists mostly of minority groups. Besides

the Kinh (Viet) people (15 percent) there are mainly

five ethnic groups in Sa Pa: Hmong 52%, Dao 25%,

Tay five%, Giay 2%, a small number of Xa Pho and

some others. Approximately 7,000 live in Sa Pa, the

other 36,000 being scattered in small communes

throughout the district. Most of the ethnic minority

people work their land on sloping terraces since

the vast majority of the land is mountainous. Their

staple foods are rice and corn. The unique climate

in Sa Pa has a major influence on the ethnic minorities

who live in the area. With sub-tropical summers,

temperate winters and 160 days of mist annually,

the influence on agricultural yields and healthrelated

issues is significant. The geographical location

of the area makes it a truly unique place for

many interesting plants and animals, allowing it to

support many inhabitants. Many very rare or even

endemic species have been recorded in the region.

The scenery of the Sa Pa region in large part reflects

the relationship between the minority people and

nature. This is seen especially in the paddy fields

carpeting the rolling lower slopes of the mountains.

The impressive physical landscape has resulted from

the work of the elements over thousands of years,

wearing away the underlying rock. On a clear day,

the imposing peak of Fan Si Pan comes into view.

The last major peak in the Himalayan chain, Fan

Si Pan offers a real challenge to even the keenest

walker, the opportunity of staggering views and a

rare glimpse of some of the last remaining primary

rain forest in Vietnam. Geology, climate and human

activity have combined to produce a range of very

distinct habitats around Sa Pa. Especially important

is Sa Pa’s geographic position, at the convergence of

the world’s 14 distinct biographic areas, producing

an assemblage of plant and animal species unique

in the world.

Established as a hill station by the French in 1922,

Sa Pa today is the tourism center of the northwest.

It was only when the French debarked in highland

Tonkin in the late 1880s that Sa Pa began to appear

on the national map. In the following decade, the

future site of Sa Pa town started to see military

parties, as well as missionaries from the Société

des Missions Etrangères de Paris visit. In 1894-96

the border between China and Tonkin was formally

agreed upon and the Sa Pa area was placed under

French authority. The first permanent French civilian

resident arrived in Sa Pa in 1909. With its attractive

continental climate, health authorities believed the

site had potential. By 1912 a military sanatorium for

ailing officers had been erected along with a fullyfledged

military garrison.

At the end of the Second World War a long period

of hostilities began in Tonkin that was to last until

1954. In the process, nearly all of the 200 colonial

buildings around Sa Pa were destroyed, either by

Việt Minh sympathizers in the late 1940s, or, in the

early 1950s by French air raids. The vast majority

of the Viet population fled for their lives, and the

former township entered a prolonged sleep. In the

early 1960s, thanks to the New Economic Zones

migration scheme set up by the new Socialist

regime, new inhabitants from the lowlands started

to migrate to the region. The short 1979 occupation

of the northern border region by Chinese troops,

had little impact on Sa Pa town, but did force the

lowland Vietnamese population out for a month.


Almost every day of the week, somewhere in the area

around Sa Pa, the local hill tribes will be gathering

for their weekly market. As well as providing the

opportunity to buy and sell anything from vegetables

to buffalo, these are also important social occasions.

Those who live in the region’s more isolated

villages have the chance to meet friends and family,

exchange news, eat and even indulge in some of the

locally brewed spirits. There are 24 ethnic groups

that live in Sa Pa and surrounding areas, each with

its own language, culture and traditions. Some of

the minority groups live in remote villages which

can only be accessible by days of walking, but can

be encountered at one of the local weekly markets

Bac Ha Sunday market. Bac Ha is a highland town

which is about more than 100km away from Sa

Pa. The town hosts two famous weekend markets

-Bac Ha market on Sunday and Can Cau market on

Saturday. The hill tribes scattered around a large

chunk of mountains walk dozen miles to attend to

the largest markets. Bac Ha market is the biggest,

most commercialized market, where spices, cattle,

vegetables, farm tools, food and especially wines.

The northern hill tribes are “notorious” for their large

consumption of home-made wines. The wines are

usually brew from corn, cassava and cat apple.

Can Cau Market Sunday Market. One of Vietnam’s

most interesting markets, the small but unique

gathering at Can Cau takes place every Saturday.

The market setting is located among scenic mountains.

Groups such as the Flower H’mong, Black Zao,

Tay and Phu La come from near and far to trade and

socialize with each other and with their neighbors

from across the Chinese border. The Flower H’mong

in particular are known for their elaborate costumes,

which ensure the market is always a riot of color.








Hạ Long Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and

popular travel destination located in the Gulf of

Tonkin, within Quang Ninh Province, in the northeast

of Vietnam, 165 km from the capital of Hanoi.

The bay features thousands of limestone karsts

and isles in various shapes and sizes. Hạ Long

Bay has an area of around 1,553 km2, including

1,960–2,000 islets, most of which are limestone.

The limestone in this bay has gone through 500

million years of formation in different conditions

and environments.

The evolution of the karst in this bay has taken

20 million years under the impact of the tropical

wet climate. The outstanding value of the place

is centered in the drowned limestone karst landforms,

displaying spectacular pillars with a variety

of coastal erosional features such as arches and

caves which form a majestic natural scenery.

The repeated regression and transgression of the

sea on the limestone karst over geological time

has produced a mature landscape of clusters of

conical peaks and isolated towers which were

modified by sea invasion, adding an extra element

to the process of lateral undercutting of the limestone

towers and islands.

The name Hạ Long is derived from the Sino-Vietnamese

meaning “descending dragon”. According

to local legend, when Vietnam had just started to

develop into a country, they had to fight against

invaders. To assist the Vietnamese in defending

their country, the gods sent a family of dragons

as protectors, who began spitting out jewels and

jade. These jewels turned into the islands and

islets dotting the bay, linking together to form a

great wall against the invaders.

In a magical way, numerous rock mountains

abruptly appeared on the sea, ahead of invaders’

ships; the forward ships struck the rocks and each

other. After winning the battle, the dragons were

interested in peaceful sightseeing of the Earth, and

then decided to live in this bay Historical research

surveys have shown the presence of prehistorical

human beings in this area tens of thousands years


The successive ancient cultures are the Soi Nhụ

culture around 18,000–7000 BC, the Cái Bèo

culture 7000–5000 BC and the Hạ Long culture

5,000–3,500 years ago. Hạ Long Bay also marked

important events in the history of Vietnam with

many artifacts found in Bài Thơ Mount, Đầu Gỗ

Cave and Bãi Cháy. 500 years ago, Nguven Trai

praised the beauty of Hạ Long Bay in his verses in

which he called it “rock wonder in the sky”.

Prior to the 19th century this name Ha Long Bay

was not recorded in any document or archive, old

histories often referred it by the names of An Bang,

Luc Thuy or Van Don.

Not until the late-19th century did the name of Ha

Long Bay appear on a French maritime chart. The

Hai Phong News, a French newspaper of the time,

had an article, Dragon appears on Ha Long Bay,

reporting the following story: In 1898 a sub-lieutenant

named Lagredin, skipper of the Avalanse,

reported seeing a huge sea snake in Ha Long Bay.

This was also witnessed by many of the crew. Thus

emerged the European image of the Asian dragon.

The bay consists of a dense cluster of some 1,600

limestone monolithic islands each topped with

thick jungle vegetation, rising spectacularly from

the ocean. Several of the islands are hollow, with

enormous caves. Hang Dầu Gỗ (Wooden stakes

cave) is the largest grotto in the Hạ Long area.

French tourists visited in the late 19th century, and

named the cave Grotte des Merveilles. Its three

large chambers contain large numerous stalactites

and stalagmites.

There are two bigger islands, Tuần Châu and Cát

Bà, which have permanent inhabitants, as well

a number of beautiful beaches. A community of

around 1,600 people live on Hạ Long Bay in four

fishing villages. They live on floating houses and

are sustained through fishing and marine aquaculture

(cultivating marine biota), plying the shallow

waters for 200 species of fish and 450 different

kinds of mollusks. Over the ages, Vietnamese fishermen

with too much time on their hands began

to see shapes in the stone massifs atop many of the

islands, and named the islands accordingly - Turtle

Island, Human Head Island, Chicken Island and

so on.

History shows that Hạ Long Bay was the setting for

local naval battles against Vietnam’s coastal neighbors.

On three occasions, in the labyrinth of channels

in Bạch Đằng River near the islands, the Vietnamese

army stopped the Chinese from landing.

In 1288, General Trần Hưng Đạo stopped Mongol

ships from sailing up the nearby Bạch Đằng River

by placing steel-tipped wooden stakes at high

tide, sinking the Mongol Kublai Khan’s fleet.

During the Vietnam War, many of the channels

between the islands were heavily mined by the

United States Navy, some of which pose a threat

to shipping to this day.

Cruising on Ha Long Bay, passing thousands of

evocatively shaped islets, is a magical experience.





Ha noi (Vietnamese: Hà Nội), the capital of Vietnam,

and also its second largest city. It is a fascinating

blend of East and West, combining traditional Sino

Vietnamese motifs with French flair. It is largely

unscathed from the decades of war, and is now

going through a building boom, making it a rapidly

developing city in Southeast Asia. Consistently

ranked among the world’s top 10 destinations, the

city and its surrounding region get more tourists

every day.

Invading forces from every direction agree: Hanoi

makes a fine capital. It has held that title for more

than a thousand years, through several invasions,

occupations, restorations, and name changes. The

Chinese conquered the imperial city of Thang-Long

in 1408 and renamed it Tống Bình. Le Loi repelled

the invaders in 1428 and ascended the throne,

becoming known as Lê Thái Tổ; for his efforts, a slew

of legends about his heroic exploits, many centered

on the Hoan Kiem Lake in the Old Quarter.

The Nguyen Dynasty gave the city its modern name

of Ha Noi in 1831, but they had transferred power

to Hue by then; it remained there until 1887, when

the French made Saigon and then Hanoi the capital

of all French Indochina. It changed hands again in

1954, when it was ceded to Ho Chi Minh and the

Viet Minh after almost a decade of fighting, and it

became the capital of North Vietnam; Saigon was

the rival in South Vietnam. Upon reunification in

1976, it assumed that title for the entire country.

The first institution of learning in Vietnam, Quoc Tu

Giam, was founded here in the 11th century. Nine

hundred years later, the first western-style universities

in Vietnam were also founded in Hanoi. The city

is one of the leading centers of scientific study and

research in the country. Hanoi retains much of its

older charm of bygone eras, despite the battles that

have raged over it; conflict had the side effect of

making it largely oblivious to modern architecture

and as a result, few buildings in the city center are

higher than five stories. The Old Quarter is second

only to Hoi An for uninterrupted stretches of colonial

and pre-colonial architecture, well-preserved on

dense warrens of narrow, wonderfully atmospheric

streets. Though considerably quieter than big sister

Saigon, Hanoi still retains a vibrant atmosphere.

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Complex: is an important

place of pilgrimage for many Vietnamese. A trafficfree

area of botanical gardens, monuments, memorials

and pagodas, it’s usually crowded with groups

of Vietnamese who come from far and wide to pay

their respects to ‘Uncle Ho’. Within the complex are

Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum, Ho Chi Minh’s Stilt House

and the Presidential Palace, Ho Chi Minh Museum

and the One Pillar Pagoda. The city down south may

have his name, but only Hanoi has the man himself,

entombed in distinctly Lenin-esque fashion against

his wishes, but that’s how it goes in the grand Ba

Dinh Square. In the tradition of Lenin, Stalin and Mao,

Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum is a monumental marble

edifice. Contrary to his desire for a simple cremation,

the mausoleum was constructed from materials

gathered from all over Vietnam between 1973

and 1975. Set deep in the bowels of the building in

a glass sarcophagus is the frail, pale body of Ho Chi


Museum of Ethnology - Bao Tang Dan Toc Hoc. It

covers mainly the culture and ritual practices of the

various ethnic groups in the whole of Vietnam - one

of the key attractions of the museum is the open-air

exhibition, which has houses of some ethnic groups,

which even comes with inhabitants in costumes.

Temple of Literature - Văn Miếu. Founded in 1070

by Emperor Ly Thanh Tong, the Temple of Literature

is dedicated to Confucius (Khong Tu). Inside there

a pond known as the ‘Well of Heavenly Clarity’, a

low-slung pagoda and statues of Confucius and his

disciples. A rare example of well-preserved traditional

Vietnamese architecture, the complex honors

Vietnam’s finest scholars and men of literary accomplishment.

It is the site of Vietnam’s first university,

established here in 1076, when entrance was

only granted to those of noble birth. After 1442, a

more egalitarian approach was adopted and gifted

students from all over the nation headed to Hanoi

to study the principles of Confucianism, literature

and poetry. In 1484 Emperor Ly Thanh Tong ordered

that stelae be erected to record the names, places

of birth and achievements of exceptional scholars:

82 of 116 stelae remain standing. Paths lead from

the imposing tiered gateway on P Quoc Tu Giam

through formal gardens to the Khue Van pavilion,

constructed in 1802.

Hoan Kiem Lake. A pleasant park in the center of the

town, within easy walking distance from anywhere

in the Old Quarter. It’s the locals’ favorite leisure

spot, and a great place to watch people practicing

tai chi in the morning or to sit and read in the afternoon.

Hoan Kiem means “returned sword”, and the

name comes from a legend in which King Le Loi

was given a magical sword by the gods, which he

used to drive out the invading Chinese. Later, while

boating on the lake, he encountered a giant turtle,

which grabbed the sword and carried it down to its

depths, returning it to the gods from whom it had

come. Rumor has it the giant turtles still inhabit the

lake. A mummified specimen is on display at the

Ngoc Son Temple. The ramshackle Thap Rua on an

islet near the southern end, is topped with a red star

and is often used as an emblem of Hanoi.

Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre. Live musicians

accompany folk legends from Vietnamese history,

told with wooden men, women and dragons,

dancing and splashing on the face of the water.





Located on the bank of Song Huong or Perfume

River; Hue, the capital of Thua Thien Hue province

in Central Vietnam, is 700 km southern of Hanoi,

1100km northern of Ho Chi Minh City and only a

few miles from the sea. Not until 1945 was Hue the

national capital, the political, cultural and religious

center of Vietnam under the control of Nguyen

Dynasty. Most well-known for its historic values;

Hue had been recognized as one of the World

Heritage Sites by UNESCO. The city represents the

outstanding demonstration of the power of the

vanished Vietnamese feudal empire, including a

complex of monuments, tombs and pagodas.

Hue is intimately connected to the imperial

Nguyễn Dynasty, based in Hue, who ruled from

1802 to 1945, when the Emperor Bao Dai abdicated

in favor of Ho Chi Minh’s revolutionary government.

The Perfume River winds its way through

the Capital City, the Imperial City, the Forbidden

Purple City and the Inner City, giving this unique

feudal capital a setting of great natural beauty. The

citadel was badly knocked about during fighting

between the French and the Viet Minh in 1947,

and again in 1968 during the Tet Offensive, when

it was shelled by the Viet Cong and then bombed

by the Americans. As a result, some areas are now

only empty fields, bits of walls and an explanatory

plaque. Other buildings are intact, though, and a

few are in sparkling condition.

The other great attractions in Hue are the Tombs

of the Emperors, which are located along the

Perfume River south of the city. They mostly date

from the late 19th or early 20th centuries, when

the Emperors had been reduced to figureheads

under French colonial rule and had little else to do

than build themselves elaborate tombs.

The plan of the new capital was in accordance with

ancient oriental philosophy and respected the

physical conditions of the site. The Ngu Binh Mountain

(known as the Royal Screen) and the Perfume

River, which runs through the city, give this unique

feudal capital an entire setting of great natural

beauty, as well defining its symbolic importance.

The site was chosen for a combination of natural

features – hills representing a protective screen in

front of the monuments or taking the role of “a blue

dragon” to the left and “a white tiger” to the right

– which shield the main entrance and prevent the

entry of malevolent spirits. Within this landscape,

the main features of the city are laid out. The structures

of the Complex of Hue Monuments are carefully

placed within the natural setting of the site

and aligned cosmologically with the Five Cardinal

Points (center, west, east, north, south), the Five

Elements (earth, metal, wood, water, fire), and the

Five Colors (yellow, white, blue, black, red).

The land on which Hué now stands belonged to

the Kingdom of Champa until 1306, when the

territory north of Da Nang was exchanged for the

hand of a Vietnamese princess under the terms

of a peace treaty. The first Vietnamese to settle in

the region established their administrative center

near present-day Hué at a place called Hoa Chan,

and then in 1558 Lord Nguyen Hoang arrived from

Hanoi as governor of the district, at the same time

establishing the rule of the Nguyen lords over

southern Vietnam which was to last for the next

two hundred years.

In the late seventeenth century the lords moved

the citadel to its present location where it developed

into a major town and cultural center. – Phu

Xuan, which briefly became the capital under the

Tay Son emperor Quang Trung (1788–1801).

However, it was the next ruler of Vietnam who

literally put Hué on the map – Emperor Gia Long,

founder of the Nguyen Dynasty. From 1802, he

sought to unify the country by moving the capital,

lock, stock and dynastic altars, from Thang Long

(Hanoi) to the renamed city of Hué. Gia Long owed

his throne to French military support, but his Imperial

City was very much a Chinese concept, centered

on a Forbidden City reserved for the sovereign,

with separate administrative and civilian quarters.

The Nguyen emperors were Confucian, conservative

rulers, generally suspicious of all Westerners

yet unable to withstand the power of France. In

1884 the French were granted land northwest of

Hué citadel, and they then seized the city entirely

in 1885, leaving the emperors as nominal rulers.

Under the Nguyen, Hué became a famous center

of the arts, scholarship and Buddhist learning, but

their extravagant building projects and luxurious

lifestyle demanded crippling taxes.

Hué ceased to be the capital of Vietnam when

Emperor Bao Dai abdicated in 1945; two years later

a huge fire destroyed many of the city’s wooden

temples and palaces. From the early twentieth

century the city had been engulfed in social and

political unrest led by an anti-colonial educated

elite, which simmered away until the 1960s.

Tensions finally boiled over in May 1963 when

troops fired on thousands of Buddhist nationalists

demonstrating against the strongly Catholic

regime of President Ngo Dinh Diem. The protests

escalated into a wave of self-immolations by monks

and nuns until government forces moved against

the pagodas at the end of the year, rounding up

the Buddhist clergy and supposed activists in the

face of massive public demonstrations.





Hoi An is a beautiful city in Vietnam, just south of

Da Nang. The Old Town is listed as a UNESCO World

Heritage Site. Located in Viet Nam’s central Quang

Nam Province, on the north bank near the mouth of

the Thu Bon River, is an exceptionally well-preserved

example of a small-scale trading port active the 15th

to 19th centuries which traded widely, both with the

countries of Southeast and East Asia and with the

rest of the world. Its decline in the later 19th century

ensured that it has retained its traditional urban

tissue to a remarkable degree. The town reflects a

fusion of indigenous and foreign cultures - principally

Chinese and Japanese with later European

influences - that combined to produce this unique


Once known as Faifo, with more than 2,000 years

history, was the principal port of the Cham Kingdom,

which controlled the strategic spice trade with Indonesia

from the 7th to the 10th century and was a

major international port in the 16th and 17th centuries

- and the foreign influences are discernible to

this day. The culture & heritage is mostly from the

Cham people whose kingdom originally stretched

from Hue South to Phan Thiet - the Champa’s

most likely originally from Java. The original Cham

political capital was Tra Kieu, the commercial capital

was Hoi An and the spiritual capital was My Son. The

Cham people were Hindu, and by the 10th century

the influence of Arab traders to Hoi An resulted in

some converting to become Muslims. The second

major influence was from the Chinese, firstly from

traders but especially the escaping Ming Dynasty

armies who, after settling in Hoi An for some years,

moved further south and created Saigon as a major

trading port. The third and last major influence of

culture & heritage was from the Vietnamese and

is fairly recent and only came after the Cham lost

control of this area.

While the serious shipping business has long since

moved to Da Nang, the heart of the city is still the

Old Town, full of winding lanes and Chinese-styled

shop houses, which is particularly atmospheric in

the evening as the sun goes down. The architecture

has been largely preserved, which is unusual in

Vietnam, and renovation has proceeded slowly and

carefully - it’s mercifully absent of towering concrete

blocks and karaoke parlors. The Riverside is the main

landmark of Hoi An. It is where both traditional and

modern boats drop their anchors and where local

housewives go every morning to shop at the wet

market. The whole town is reintroducing the use of

gorgeous and colorful hand-crafted lanterns and

on special nights of the month, hundreds of them

hang on verandas and windows as they did over

300 years ago.

Japanese covered bridge: This beautiful little

bridge is emblematic of Hoi An. A bridge was first

constructed here in the 1590s by the Japanese

community to link them with the Chinese quarters.

Over the centuries the ornamentation has remained

relatively faithful to the original Japanese design.

The French flattened out the roadway for cars, but

the original arched shape was restored in 1986. The

structure is very solidly constructed because of the

threat of earthquakes. The entrances to the bridge

are guarded by weathered statues: a pair of monkeys

on one side, a pair of dogs on the other. According

to one story, many of Japan’s emperors were born in

the years of the dog and monkey. Another tale says

that construction of the bridge started in the year of

the monkey and was finished in the year of the dog.

Assembly Hall of the Fujian Chinese Congregation:

Originally a traditional assembly hall, this structure

was later transformed into a temple for the worship

of Thien Hau, a deity from Fujian province. The greentiled

triple gateway dates from 1975. The mural on

the right-hand wall depicts Thien Hau, her way lit by

lantern light as she crosses a stormy sea to rescue a

foundering ship. Opposite is a mural of the heads

of the six Fujian families who fled from China to Hoi

An in the 17th century. The penultimate chamber

contains a statue of Thien Hau. To either side of the

entrance stand red-skinned Thuan Phong Nhi and

green-skinned Thien Ly Nhan, deities who alert

Thien Hau when sailors are in distress. In the last

chamber, the central altar contains seated figures of

the heads of the six Fujian families.

Chinese fishing nets, are fixed land installations.

Huge mechanical contrivances hold out horizontal

nets of 20 meters or more across. Each structure is

at least 10 meters high and comprises a cantilever

with an outstretched net suspended over the sea

and large stones suspended from ropes as counterweights

at the other end. Each installation is operated

by a team of up to six fishermen. The system

is sufficiently balanced that the weight of a man

walking along the main beam is sufficient to cause

the net to descend into the sea. The net is left for a

short time, possibly just a few minutes, before it is

raised by pulling on ropes.

Rocks, each 30cm or so in diameter, are suspended

from ropes of different lengths. As the net is raised,

some of the rocks one-by-one come to rest on a

platform thereby keeping everything in balance.

Each installation has a limited operating depth.

Consequently, an individual net cannot be continually

operated in tidal waters. Different installations

will be operated depending on the state of the tide.

It is believed that the nets may have been introduced

by the Chinese explorer Zheng He, a mariner,

diplomat, fleet admiral and court eunuch during

China’s early Ming dynasty (13th c).







Ho Chi Minh City, formerly named and still also referred

to as Saigon, is the largest city in Vietnam. It was once

known as Prey Nokor, an important Khmer seaport prior to

annexation by the Vietnamese in the 17th century. Under

the name Saigon, it was the capital of the French colony

of Cochinchina and later of the independent republic of

South Vietnam 1955–75. On 2 July 1976, Saigon was officially

renamed Ho Chi Minh City, after revolutionary leader

Hồ Chí Minh. The metropolitan area, is populated by more

than 10 million people, making it the most populous metropolitan

area in Vietnam. The city’s population is expected

to grow to 13.9 million by 2025.

Ho Chi Minh City began as a small fishing village likely

known as Prey Nokor, “Forest City”. The area that the city

now occupies was originally swampland and was inhabited

by Khmer people for centuries before the arrival of the

Vietnamese. In Khmer folklore, southern Vietnam was given

to the Vietnamese government as a dowry for the marriage

of a Vietnamese princess to a Khmer prince in order to stop

constant invasions and pillaging of Khmer villages. Beginning

in the early 17th century, colonization of the area by

Vietnamese settlers gradually isolated the Khmer of the

Mekong Delta from their brethren in Cambodia proper and

resulted in their becoming a minority in the delta. In 1623,

King Chey Chettha II of Cambodia allowed Vietnamese

refugees fleeing the civil war in Vietnam, to settle in the

area of Prey Nokor and in time it became known as Saigon.

In 1698, Nguyễn Hữu Cảnh, a Vietnamese noble, was sent

by the Nguyễn rulers of Huế by sea to establish Vietnamese

administrative structures in the area, thus detaching the

area from Cambodia, which was not strong enough to intervene.

Conquered by France and Spain in 1859, the city was

influenced by the French during their colonial occupation

of Vietnam, and a number of classical Western-style buildings

and French villas in the city reflect this. Saigon had, in

1929, a population of 123,890, including 12,100 French.

The Viet Minh proclaimed the independence of Vietnam

in 1945, after a combined occupation by Vichy France and

Japan, and before the Communist revolution in China. They

were led by Ho Chi Minh. The Viet Minh-held sections of

Vietnam were more concentrated in rural areas. During this

time, the U.S. supported France in regaining its control over

the country, with effective control spanning mostly in the

Southern half and parts of the Red River Delta region like

Hanoi, Haiphong and Thái Bình.]Former Emperor Bảo Đại

made Saigon the capital of the State of Vietnam in 1949,

with himself as head of state. In 1954, the Geneva Agreement

partitioned Vietnam along the 17th parallel (Bến Hải

River), with the communist Việt Minh, under Ho Chi Minh,

gaining control of the northern half of the country, while

the Saigon government continued to govern the State

of Vietnam, which continued in the southern half of the

country and the southern half gaining independence

from France. South Vietnam was a capitalist and anticommunist

state, which fought against the communist

North Vietnamese and their allies during the Vietnam War,

with the assistance of the United States and other countries.

The partition in 1954 caused mass migration from

the north into Saigon and American influence meant the

city experienced another bump in urban development.

As the conflict deepened, Saigon swelled with troops and


Some of the most iconic images of the war came from the

streets of Saigon during this tumultuous time, appearing

in newspapers, magazines and television, sets around the

world: a monk’s self-immolation to protest the persecution

of Buddhists by South Vietnam president Ngo Dinh Diem,

a nonchalant general the moment before he executes a

Viet Cong soldier, Americans scaling a ladder to reach a

helicopter for a rooftop evacuation at 22 Gia Long Street,

and a tank breaching the gates of Independence Palace

on 30 April 1975, signaling the fall of Saigon and South

Vietnam, the end of the Vietnam War.

At the conclusion of the Vietnam War on 30 April 1975,

the city came under the control of the Vietnamese

People’s Army. In 1976, upon the establishment of the

unified communist Socialist Republic of Vietnam, the city

of Saigon was renamed to Ho Chi Minh City in honor of

the late Communist leader Hồ Chí Minh. The former name

Saigon is still widely used by many Vietnamese, especially

in informal contexts. After the “Fall of Saigon,” which the

victors called the “Liberation of Saigon,” many Saigon

residents fled to the U.S. and elsewhere, creating a Vietnamese

diaspora. Today, Ho Chi Minh City is the largest

city in Vietnam, having eight million inhabitants, and is

the nation’s economic hub, accounting for 20% of national


Notre Dame Cathedral: Built in the late 1880s by French

colonists, is one of the few remaining strongholds of

Catholicism in the largely Buddhist Vietnam. Measuring

almost 60m in height, the cathedral’s distinctive neo-

Romanesque features include the all-red brick façade

(which were imported from Marseille), stained glass

windows and two bell towers containing six bronze bells

that still ring to this day.

The Central Post Office is a beautifully preserved remnant

of French colonial times and perhaps the grandest post

office in all of Southeast Asia. The building was designed

by Gustave Eiffel – the renowned engineer who also

designed the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower and

features arched windows and wooden shutters.

The War Remnants Museum paints a vivid and often

disturbing picture of the country’s 20th-century struggles.

It offers a shocking reminder of the long and brutal

Vietnam War, with many graphic photographs and American

military equipment on display. One of the most

talked-about exhibits are the ‘tiger cages’ in which the

South Vietnamese government kept their political prisoners.

These small cages are only 2.7m x 1.5m x 3m each

and were sometimes used to keep up to 14 prisoners in.

There is also a guillotine used by the French and the South

Vietnamese to execute prisoners from opposing political

groups. Brought to Vietnam by the French; the guillotine

was last used in 1960.





Southern Vietnam covers the Mekong Delta, the

extreme southern end of the Mekong River, and the

area around Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam.

A comma-shaped flatland stretching from Ho Chi

Minh’s city limits southwest to the Gulf of Thailand,

the delta is Vietnam’s rice bowl, an agricultural

miracle that pumps out more than a third of the

country’s annual food crop from just ten percent

of its total land mass. Rice may be the delta’s staple

crop, but coconut palms, fruit orchards and sugarcane

groves also thrive in its nutrient-rich soil, and

the sight of conical-hatted farmers tending their

land is one of Vietnam’s most enduring images. To

the Vietnamese, the region is known as Cuu Long,

“Nine Dragons”, a reference to the nine tributaries of

the Mekong River, which dovetail across plains.

As all deltas, it receives the bounty of the siltation

from the upper Mekong, and as such is a very rich

and lush area, covered with rice fields. It produces

about half of the total of Vietnam’s agricultural

output (in fact the delta produces more rice than

Korea and Japan altogether), and is the place for

timeless sceneries of farmers planting or harvesting

rice. The Mekong splits in Cambodia into two main

rivers, then in Vietnam into a more complex system,

creating a maze of small canals, rivers and arroyos

interspersed with villages and floating markets.

Life in the Mekong Delta revolves much around the

river, and all the villages are often accessible by river

as well as by road. The region encompasses a large

portion of southwestern Vietnam of 39,000 square

kilometers. The size of the area covered by water

depends on the season and it has been dubbed

as a “biological treasure trove”. Over 1,000 animal

species were recorded between 1997 and 2007 and

new species of plants, fish, lizards, and mammals has

been discovered in previously unexplored areas.

The Mekong Delta was likely inhabited long since

prehistory; the empires of Funan and Chenla maintained

a presence there for centuries. Archaeological

discoveries show that the area was an important

part of the Funan kingdom, bustling with trading

ports and canals as early as in the first century AD

and extensive human settlement in the region may

have gone back as far as the 4th century BC.

The region was known as Khmer Krom (lower

Khmer, or lower Cambodia) to the Khmer Empire,

which likely maintained settlements there centuries

before its rise in the 11th and 12th centuries. The

kingdom of Champa, though mainly based along

the coast of modern Central Vietnam, is known to

have expanded west into the Mekong Delta, seizing

control of Prey Nokor (the precursor to modern-day

Ho Chi Minh City) by the end of the 13th century.

Beginning in the 1620s, Khmer king Chey Chettha II

allowed the Vietnamese to settle in the area, and to

set up a custom houses at Prey Nokor, which they

colloquially referred to as Sài Gòn. The increasing

waves of Vietnamese settlers which followed overwhelmed

the Khmer kingdom—weakened as it was

due to war with Thailand—and slowly Vietnamized

the area.

During the late 17th century, a Chinese anti-Qing

general, began to expand Vietnamese and Chinese

settlements deeper into Khmer lands, and in 1691,

Prey Nokor was occupied by the Vietnamese. In

1698, Nguyễn Hữu Cảnh, a Vietnamese noble, was

sent by the rulers of Southern Vietnam of Huế by

sea to establish Vietnamese administrative structures

in the area. This act formally detached the

Mekong Delta from Cambodia, placing the region

firmly under Vietnamese administrative control.

Cambodia was cut off from access to the South

China Sea, and trade through the area was possible

only with Vietnamese permission. In 1802 Nguyễn

Ánh crowned himself emperor Gia Long and unified

all the territories comprising modern Vietnam,

including the Mekong Delta.

Upon the conclusion of the Cochinchina Campaign

in the 1860s, the area became Cochinchina, France’s

first colony in Vietnam, and later, part of French Indochina.

Beginning during the French colonial period,

the French patrolled and fought on the waterways

of the Mekong Delta region with their Divisions

navales d’assaut (Dinassaut), a tactic which lasted

throughout the First Indochina War, and was later

employed by the US Navy Mobile Riverine Force.

During the Vietnam War—also referred to as the

Second Indochina War—the Delta region saw

savage fighting between Viet Cong (NLF) guerrillas

and units of the United States Navy’s swift boats

and hovercrafts (PACVs). Throughout these wars

the Mekong Delta saw its share of bloodshed with

fighting taking place on the banks and in the water.

Following independence from France, the Mekong

Delta was part of the Republic of Vietnam and eventually

the country of Vietnam. In the 1970s, the Khmer

Rouge regime attacked Vietnam in an attempt to

reconquer the Delta region. This campaign precipitated

the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia and

subsequent downfall of the Khmer Rouge.

Floating markets. All the evergreen islands among

the Mekong Delta bring about large networks

of meandering river, crisscrossed with countless

arroyos and remaining unknown to many people.

Here one can observe the typical Mekong Delta

rural life.

The Cai Rang floating market, in the back canals of

the Mekong Delta, is filled with small boats darting

through the water, as vendors buy and sell their



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