Vietnam cruises , sunbathing delight
Since the 1960s, the name ‘Vietnam’ has come to signify to many Westerners a horrible war, a failure of American power, a socialist dictatorship and boatloads of refugees. When people thought about ‘Vietnam’, they thought of suffering - few considered it a place they’d want to visit.
Not that visiting was easy. Between 1975 and 1990, the few Western tourists who did visit encountered Draconian bureaucratic barriers at every turn. In the minds of Vietnamese officials, it seemed that the war had not ended.
All this has changed — Vietnam has flung open the doors to foreign tourists. This now popular travel destination offers a rich and unique culture and outstanding scenic beauty.
Facts about the country Viet NamHISTORY
About 1000 years of Chinese rule over the Red River Delta (all of Vietnam at the time), marked by tenacious Vietnamese resistance and repeated rebellions, ended in 938 AD when Ngo Quyen vanquished the Chinese armies at the Bach Dang River.
During the next few centuries, Vietnam repulsed repeated invasions by China and expanded in a southward direction along the coast at the expense of the kingdom of Champa, which was wiped out in 1471.
The first contact between Vietnam and the West took place in Roman times. Recent European contact with Vietnam began in the 16th century, when European merchants and missionaries arrived. Despite restrictions and periods of persecution, the Catholic Church eventually had a greater impact on Vietnam than on any country in Asia except the Philippines.
In 1858, a joint military force from France and the Spanish colony of the Philippines stormed Danang after the killing of several missionaries. Early the next year, they seized Saigon. A few years later, Vietnamese Emperor Tu Due signed a treaty that gave the French part of the Mekong Delta region and promised missionaries the freedom to pros¬elytise everywhere in the country. In 1883, the French imposed a Treaty of Protectorate on Vietnam.
French rule often proved cruel and arbi¬trary. Ultimately, the most successful resistance came from the Communists. The first Marxist group in Indochina, the Vietnam Revolutionary Youth League, was founded by Ho Chi Minh in 1925.
During WW II, the only group that did anything significant to resist the Japanese occupation was the Communist-dominated Viet Minh. When WW II ended, Ho Chi Minh - whose Viet Minh forces already con¬trolled large parts of the country - declared Vietnam independent. Efforts by the French to reassert control soon led to violent con¬frontations and full-scale war. In May 1954, Viet Minh forces overran the French garrison at Dien Bien Phu. This stunning and cata¬strophic defeat shattered public support in France for the war.
The Geneva Accords of mid-1954 pro¬dded for a temporary division of the country nto two zones at the Ben Hai River. When tie leader of the southern zone, an anti-Com munist Catholic named Ngo Dinh Diem, refused to hold elections scheduled for 1956 (he was convinced that the Communists would win, as was the USA), the Ben Hai line became the de facto border between the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam) and the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam).
In about 1960, the Hanoi government changed its policy of opposition to the Diem regime from one of ‘political struggle’ to one of ‘armed struggle’. The National Liberation Front (NLF), a Communist guerrilla group better known as the Viet Cong (VC), was founded to fight against Diem
Diem was a brutal ruler and was assassin sarn nated in 1963 by his own troops. After Hanoi ordered regular North Vietnamese Army yea units to infiltrate the South in 1964, the situ ation for the Saigon regime became desperate. In 1965, the USA committed its first combat troops. They were soon joined of by soldiers from South Korea, Australia, Thailand and New Zealand. By the spring of 1969 there were 543,000 US military per sonnel in Vietnam.
The Tet Offensive of early 1968 marked a crucial turning point in the war. As the We country celebrated Tet, the Vietnamese New Year, the VC launched a deadly offensive in over 100 cities and towns. As the TV cameras rolled, a VC commando team temporarily took over the courtyard of the US Embassy building in the centre of Saigon. Many Americans, who had been hearing for years that the USA was winning, stopped believing their government and started demanding a ma negotiated end to the war.
The Paris Agreements, signed in 1973, provided for a cease-fire, the total with-drawal of US combat forces and the release by Hanoi of American prisoners of war. The agreement made no mention of approxi- mately 200,000 North Vietnamese troops then in South Vietnam.
North Vietnam launched a massive con-ventional ground attack across the 17th Parallel in January 1975 -a blatant violation of the Paris Agreements. The South can Vietnamese military leadership decided to make a ‘tactical withdrawal’ to more defen- sible positions. The withdrawal deteriorated into a chaotic rout as soldiers deserted in order to try to save their families. Whole brigades disintegrated and fled southward so fast the Communist troops could hardly keep up with them. Saigon surrendered to the North Vietnamese Army on 30 April 1975.
The takeover by the Communists was soon followed by large-scale repression, Despite repeated promises to the contrary, hundreds of thousands of people were rounded up and imprisoned without trial in forced-labour camps euphemistically known as ‘re-education camps’. Hundreds of thousands of southerners fled their homeland, creating a flood of refugees for the next 15 my years.
A campaign of repression against me Vietnam’s ethnic-Chinese community - plus Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia at the end of 1978 - prompted the Chinese to attack. Vietnam in 1979. The war lasted only 17 days, but Chinese -Vietnamese mistrust has lasted well over a decade.
The end of the Cold War and the collapse of the USSR in 1991 caused Vietnam and Western nations to seek rapprochement. The USA remains the only major power not to have established diplomatic relations with Vietnam, though this may change soon.
GEOGRAPHYVietnam stretches over 1600 km along the eastern coast of the Indochinese Peninsula. The country’s land area is 329,566 sq km, making it slightly larger than Italy and a bit smaller than Japan.
The country’s two main cultivated areas are the Red River Delta (15,000 sq km) in the north and the Mekong Delta (60,000 sq km) in the south. Three-quarters of Vietnam is hilly or mountainous.
CLIMATEVietnam has a remarkably diverse climate because of its wide range of latitudes and altitudes. The south is tropical but the north can experience chilly winters - in Hanoi, an overcoat can be necessary in January.
From April or May to October, the southwestern monsoon blows, bringing warm, damp weather to the whole country - except those areas sheltered by mountains, namely the central part of the coastal strip and the Red River Delta.
GOVERNMENTThe Socialist Republic of Vietnam (SRV) came into existence in July 1976 as a unitary state comprising the Democratic Republic of 1
Vietnam (North Vietnam) and the territory of the defeated Republic of Vietnam (South l Vietnam). Despite the rapid pace of economic reform in the 1990s, the government shows no sign of moving towards democracy and political control remains firmly in the hands of the Communist Party.
ECONOMYVietnam is poor, with an estimated per capita income of US$200 per year. The economy was devastated by war but even the government has admitted that the present economic fiasco is mainly the result of the collectivisa¬tion policies followed after reunification and bloated military budgets. Limited private enterprise was reintroduced in 1986. Since 1991, the loss of trade and aid from the former Eastern bloc has caused Vietnam to greatly accelerate the pace of free market economic reform.
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