Touring the DMZ: Understanding the Vietnam War

Caitlin Adventure, Asia, Exploration, Featured, Places, Vietnam Leave a Comment

What I knew about the Vietnam War essentially came from a favourite book series of mine called The Bronze Horseman, which, to be honest, is more about World War Two than Vietnam… But that’s where I’d gotten my info from anyway…

Essentially, it meant I knew very little (although apparently more than a lot of others), but I lacked significantly in understanding what it was all about or even some of the basic details of the war.

With so much time already spent in the country, I figured a short stop near the former DMZ to get a history lesson would be an excellent idea. I ended up spending two days in Dong Ha (the most convenient base for a couple of tours), with individual days concentrating on South Vietnam and then North Vietnam.

View from Tien Son Cave, where many bombs were dropped during the war.

View from Tien Son Cave, where many bombs were dropped during the war.

Before I delve into what I saw though (which I’ll share with you in the next couple of posts), I think a little history lesson is in order! Going in with my limited knowledge ultimately meant I came away with more questions.

So if you’re planning a tour yourself, an understanding of the history of this country will definitely come in handy.

Vietnam War: An Extremely Summarised (and potentially inaccurate) Version

If you know anything about Vietnam, you’ve probably heard of Ho Chi Minh. If you’re in the country and don’t know about this man, you’re clearly doing Vietnam wrong. He’s basically like God here. Here’s a mausoleum made just for him…


Surely you’ve also heard of the city named after him too?

Anyway, this little guy was instrumental in reviving what is known as the Việt Minh back in the day. It was this party that eventually became the communist party of Vietnam, and this party (I’d guess) that ultimately led to the most famous war in this country.

Now while there’s plenty of stuff that happened before this, I’m going to start my short little history from the end of World War Two. Apologies in advance if my understanding of things is wrong – but this is what I’ve gotten out of my research and the people I’ve spoken to.

Relics of the war on Cat Ba Island.

Relics of the war on Cat Ba Island.

After the end of that war, and after some other stuff I won’t go into, the Việt Minh fought against the French colonisation of the country, trying to gain independence as a country. The French were in Vietnam for many (many!) years which also makes for some pretty interesting and horrific history. After ten years of this first Indochina War however, the French retreated and eventually left Vietnam.

With their departure, peace accords were established at the Geneva Conference which ultimately split Vietnam into two – the North and the South. The country was split at the 17th parallel, which is roughly at about the point the Ben Hai River runs across the country. This eventually became known as the DMZ – the Demilitarised Zone – which stretched across the length of the country and was 10km wide (5km on either side of the river).

The Vietnamese people were then given some time to move between either the North or the South, with the North being a socialist state, while the South remained non-communist.

The whole idea of the split was that at a later date (about a year after the Conference), an election would be held that would determine a national government for a united Vietnam.

As we all know however, this didn’t happen.

A damaged Phong Nha Cave where North Vietnam stored a water bridge each day.

A damaged Phong Nha Cave where North Vietnam stored a water bridge each day.

Instead, the second Indochina War began with the North against the South (with the US playing a big role in supporting the south). The US withdrew troops in the early years of the 70’s, and ultimately the South fell in 1975, reunifying Vietnam.

So that’s it!

That’s what I’ve learnt about the war – the summarised version. There’s obviously a whole lot more that could be said about what led up to it, what caused it, and what happened during it, but I think what I’ve covered gives you a little understanding of things.

Now for what I saw on the tour – coming soon!

Read More at: Vietnam Travel

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