Vietnam – Experience and Memories

The remnants of ‘The American War’ celebrated in a museum to war

Although not evident immediately when we met ‘Vietnam’ for the first time, you know the ‘War’ has deep seethed memories and you’re unsure how to find out more. You delicately tip toe around the subject until she’s ready to reveal some of the memories. As we probed further, we realized that the ‘Vietnam War’ was preceded by successful battles against the Chinese, the French and finally by the ‘Free world forces’. The Vietnamese are extremely proud of their country and how they managed to win it back.


Vietnam has suffered under the control of dynasties, China and colonial occupiers. Similar to China, the rise in communism coincided with the repulsion against the extravagant lives of the monarchy. In Hue, the original capital in the centre of Vietnam, the remnants of opulent tombs, palaces and a  ‘Forbidden City’ remain and remind to this day.

Posing in front of the remains of the Vietnamese fallen dynasty, it now belongs to the people

In Dalat, we walked though the last King’s summer palace set on the hillside amongst beautiful gardens and pine forests. I experienced the same energy here from the Vietnamese people, as I did walking through the Forbidden City of China. Both dynasties had fallen and the grounds had been returned to the people with the understanding that ‘this is yours, now enjoy it!’ My previous experience of visiting this type of cultural relic is that there are attendants asking you not to touch and keep back. There is usually a sense a reverence or respect, like as if you were a guest in someone’s home. But not in this situation, people posed in front of the mantelpiece, beyond the security lines, sat on the chairs and beds, as if they were imagining it as their own. I even saw a young man walk past the attendants with a lit cigarette is his hands, wander through the rooms, then stub the butt out on the floor, reminding me that Vietnam has a complicated history of governance and occupation.

 The Imperial City (a walled fortress for the Emperor) in Hue, the Former capital of Vietnam

The War

To really understand the war is beyond my scope at the moment without additional reading and analysis of the issues and the ideological conflicts. I have drawn together a bundle of fragments that give some snippets of the story. The

‘Vietnam War’ was the first to be televised with the reporting influencing the understanding of the issues and the mass protests that followed around the world. With the long duration of the war, I wonder was it fought over pride and identity, losing face is of tremendous importance in the Asian culture, but after the success of World War II, the Americans could not be seen as a lesser force either. The terrain of Vietnam was also extremely difficult for the American’s to strategize in – mountainous, swamps, monsoon and stifling heat. The Vietnamese were able to apply their traditional hunting skills and knowledge to an application of gorilla warfare. I also wondered was this a training ground for future wars undertaken by the US.

One of the main battlegrounds is 70km north of Saigon, in a jungle environment. The Viet Cong retreated underground and built secret tunnels with living quarters, kitchens and even schools. Ventilation stacks were disguised as termite mounds and the smell of stolen US army soap was spread around them to confuse the sniffer dogs. Today, it is possible to visit these tunnels and a type of war tourism has replaced an ideological battlefield. One can crawl through the stifling hot and claustrophobic spaces, view the booby traps used and be amazed at the inventive use of materials for weapons. I even considered if there was a relationship between the inventive food creations and how they dismantled and recycled unexploded bombs to use against their enemies.

To stretch out the tourist experience, given that you had travelled two hours to get there, for fifteen US dollars, it was possible to fire some AK47’s or whatever gun you’ve fantasized about. During the tour, there were continual gunshots in the distant; I suppose adding to the atmosphere of the battleground. The jungle has been completely replanted as the orange agent used to expose the battlefield destroyed all plant life.

The benign battleground of Britain and America (1777) in Saratoga, upstate New York

On my journey around the world, I have seen other battlefields, some now benign, hiding a repository of violence, noise and desperation. One of these was close to Saratoga in upstate New York, where a significant battle was fought against the British; one can drive through these tranquil battlefields and stop of at numbered locations, hearing re-enactments of the significant stages of the battle. In Hiroshima- Japan, where the first atomic bomb was dropped, I had the expectation of experiencing a desolate scared landscape, but instead is a vibrant, young city, whose mission has become to champion the diplomatic resolutions to conflicts. The De-militarized zone between North and South Korea has become another tourist curiosity, where visitors can take the proverbial ‘photos’ behind the tinted windows of the bus, protected by US soldiers for the added feeling of risk and adventure.

The demilitarized zone (DMZ) of North and South Korea where tourists can get a peak into the ‘unknown North’ and cross the border under military supervision

I wondered as I passed through these significant places of history, where will the future tourists sites be, that are now ravaged with destruction and hatred? The war veterans in Vietnam hold significant honour in society helping to create a free nation for their people. This is in stark contrast to the somewhat tainted view of US veterans hold. Looking at the abandoned war bunkers along China Beach in Danang on the east coast, there are now billboards advertising the developer’s visions of the luxurious life with a view, with the majority of investors being non-Vietnamese. One wonders if the war against capitalism was worth fighting? Although every town has built a memorial, least they forget the victory.

 War tourism, tourists get to experience the terror of the Cu Chi tunnels

About Gemma Ginty

Service Designer // Architect // Strategist // Interested in cities, interactions and the ephemeral
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