Sunday 22 June 2008

Vietnam - A Trip to the Indochina Battlefields - October 2005

 The evidence of Vietnam's post 1945 wars pervades the whole country and yet every Vietnamese person I met seems to have a genuine affection for 'the West' and a real desire to assimilate many aspects of Western culture. The country is a stunning mix of different cultures, dispirate landscapes and eveyone is embued with a deep nationalistic pride. The iconic picture of peasant soldiers (below) can be found in Hanoi's excellent War Museum.

The T54 tank pictured in the middle picture below is the very same tank that burst through the gates of the Presidential Palace in Saigon during the final act of the Vietnam war in the early summer of 1975. The tank is now in the Hanoi War Museum. The Palace in Saigon has been left as it was in 1975 with the original campaign maps showing the disposition of South & North Vietnamese forces still in place in the various underground command and control bunkers. The photos 'Huey on Palace Roof' and 'Plane - Saigon' (below) show the aircraft which bombed the Palace in the final stages of the war. The pilots were, I believe, defecting South Vietnamese.

The wreckage of a B52 and other aircraft pictured below can be found in Hanoi, a city heavily bombed by US forces. I visited the infamous 'Hanoi Hilton' prison - or what's left of it. There is an exhibition showing how well the American pilots were 'looked after' (sic). The site is called 'Maison Centrale' and is near the 5* Melia Hotel. The destroyed American tank pictured on the right can be found in the Ben Luc area South West of Saigon (now called by some 'Ho Chi Min City').

I found the Huey (below right) languishing in an old colonial army base in the city of Can Tho. This aircraft really evokes the spirit of the times and I found examples in Saigon & Hanoi as well.

The Cu Chi tunnel complex near Saigon is now a tourist attraction. The tunnels stretch for 150 miles to the Cambodian border in the north down to near Vinh Long in the South. I went down into the blackness and found it an uncomfortable experience. Watching locals demonstrate the horrible traps and seeing the evidence of American bombing I found myself thinking how significantly circumstances have chaged in Indochina. The middle picture below is a man trap concealing huge lethal spikes made out of bomb remnants.

The country is dotted with VietCong war cemeteries and memorials. The one shown on the right below is near Vinh Long in the Mekong Delta and is a concentration plot. Amongst other casualties, it contains 300 Viet Cong killed at Tran Yan Be on the 16th October 1969. These particular graves were moved from their original location to make way for the Dong Phu Secondary School. A picture of the massive memorial at the Ho Tri An on Route 20 in the South Highlands is shown top right - 'Fishing'.

The South Vietnamese and American flags (above middle) can be found tucked away in Saigons grisly War Museum.  Below from the left: Road Bridge destroyed by the Americans at My Tho, 100mm shell used as an air raid warning in central Hanoi (near the Ho Chi Min heritage site) and American pilots helmets in Hanoi.

There is still a stark difference between the 'free-wheeling' South and the austere North. Go and see - it's a fantastic country with the warmest, friendliest people you could expect to meet anywhere.