Vietnam has experienced a history that is as evocative and rich as many other countries. While the Vietnam War may have captured the attention in the west, this country has been involved in conflicts with the Mongols, Chams, the Khmers and Chinese in the past. Its mighty neighbour, China once dominated and ruled the country under a thousand-year occupation, until the French had a period of colonialism control which lasted into the later half of the 20th century. Even with its past occupations, the Vietnamese civilisation has been able to flourish and is now enjoying a very prosperous and peaceful period in its history, which is well worth seeing first hand on a Vietnam private tour.
Here is an overview of the Vietnamese history that has experienced plenty of conflicts in its past, as well as the more prosperous and peaceful periods:
Ancient Vietnam dates back to some of the earliest societies and civilisations in the world, and its local people were among the first to create an agricultural society. A natural geographic area was created using the Red River valley which is a low-lying and flat plain in northern Vietnam. This area was encircled to the south by the Red River Delta, to the east by the sea, and to the west and north by jungles and mountains.
In the process of creating a single authority to fight invaders, trade exchange, construct hydraulic systems, and prevent floods in the Red River region, it was possible to develop an initial Vietnamese state in 2879 BC. The unique geography of Vietnam made it a difficult location to attack which gave the emerging state the time to develop in relative peace.
However, in 200 BC the Han Chinese first arrived, which lead to the start of foreign control and dominance that continued to last for over a 1000 years with a series of Chinese dynasties governing the region. Throughout this time-frame, it was possible for a few Indianised civilisations to flourish in the south and central Vietnam, especially with the Cham and Funanese.
The Champa people who are descents of Malayo-Polynesian settlers had established their home in central Vietnam over several centuries; this kingdom achieved its high point in the 7th to the 10th centuries when it gained control of the silk and spice trade between the Indonesian islands, India and China. It was during this period that the Hindu temples were built at the now UNESCO World Heritage Site of My Son, which is relatively close to modern-day Hoi An, and is well worth a visit by travellers exploring the region on the Vietnam holidays.
With Ngo Quyen (939-944) in control in the 10th century, the Vietnamese were able to eject the Chinese rule and took back its sovereignty, which was run by a series of Vietnamese dynasties. Over the next thousand years the power in the country changed shape with power ebbing and flowing. During this time there was repeated episodes of civil war and foreign incursion, but what is now modern Vietnam started to take shape.
It wasn’t until the 15th century that the Champa kingdom was defeated, which took place during the Le Dynasty. This helped with the slow migration of the Vietnamese people to the south. Also, the Khmer Empire started to become less dominant, which further helped to increase the expansion of the Vietnamese state, and by the 1800’s the modern borders of Vietnam were basically in place.
The influence of European people with the arrival of traders and missionaries started to see significant growth in Vietnam for decades before leading to the colonial era. While the French started out by supporting the Ngyuen Dynasty in its attempt to unify the country, the relationship started to deteriorate when subsequent emperors started to employ policies less friendly to the Europeans.
Napoleon III eventually gave the orders to attack Vietnam with a strike on Danang in 1858, while this caused a lot of damage, it did not result in a foothold in the country. A further attack was made by gunships on the city of Gia Dinh (now known as Ho Chi Minh City) which was poorly defended. By 1867, the French troops had taken a great foothold in Vietnam and formed the Cochinchina colony that spanned six provinces on the Mekong Delta. In time, the France had taken full control of the control with French Indochina established in 1887.
WWII and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam
Vietnam remained in French control until the invasion of the Japanese during World War II. Before the invasion of Indochina took place in 1940 there were several attempts to build resistance movements throughout the country. But most were suppressed or small scale – although when the communist movement saw more growth, this had a more noticeable impact.
Later the Viet Minh Front was formed by Nguyen AI Quoc, who was a Western-educated revolutionary, with his party dominated by the communist party and anti-Japanese factions with the support of the US. Once the Japanese was defeated in 1945, Nguyen Ai Quoc (now called Ho Chi Minh) declared independence in the country and founded the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.
The Vietnam War
The peace and national unity did not last long with the French returning to form the southern State of Vietnam with President Bao Dai. This led to a conflict with the communist north and became known as the First Indochina War. With the support for colonialism taking a turn for the worse and the climatic Battle of Dien Bien Phu, the French were forced to withdraw.
But, this didn’t lead to peace in Vietnam with further division created by the Ngo Dinh Diem's rule in the south and the communist government (Ho Chi Minh) controlling the north of the country. The Vietnam War (Second Indochina War) followed and lasted from 1954 to 1975 with the capital of South Vietnam, Saigon falling to the communists after a long and difficult conflict. The country was finally reunified in 1976 with Saigon renamed Ho Chi Minh City to honour their revolutionary leader.
A visit to the National Vietnam War Museum on the Vietnam tour packages is certain to appeal to those travellers interested in learning about the country’s past conflicts.