Vietnam History & Ho Chi Minh...
Trip Start Jan 09, 2013
18Trip End Aug 01, 2013
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Where I stayed
Hard to believe I've been in Hanoi about 8 days now and still here! Been kinda like the end of the trip before i came back to UK - difficult! The miserable whether doesn't help, its like the UK but no heaters, radiators etc anywhere, just the chance to catch the on/off hot water from the shower...
Navigating around Hanoi is tricky too, or maybe thats just me, yeah it is but i am happy to blame whoever designed these roads....ive spent the time mainly researching and changing my route and locating a motorbike. I bought one and had a repair done for a loose bearing, new back tyre, drive chain and cog and back break fixed; after i got the bike back the front wheel bearing came loose again and now squeeks a lot and the steering is loose so needs fixing. Unfortunately a Vietnamese guy recommended a good mechanic the first time but took me about 20 mins out of town and the guy spoke zero English so getting it back there and explaining would be tricky; time to find someone English speaking this time
I have changed plan a few times mainly due to the weather and eventually scrapped travel around North Vietnam altogether because the mountainous areas will be even colder and its raining all the time so more dangerous too so i decided i would try do it some other time, in the summer! (def would have paid for me to at least check the seasons and current weather here when planning the trip but really didn't know it was the only part of my whole trip where it has this winter season and i arrived right in the middle of it!)...
So yesterday i just thought right, lets get out of dodge and head south to warmer climates in central Vietnam. Apparently the bike ride down to north central Vietnam is pretty uneventful but maybe the highland route would have been nice but again its bad weather and mountainous roads so i found you can take the train south and take your motorbike on the train too... so yesterday i booked the train for Dong Hoi, a place for Vietnam War sites galore and some cool DMZ (demilitarized zone) and not too touristy but also pretty much the start of interesting places from then on South
So i booked the ticket with Tham at the agency for an 11pm train, some how found the station on my motorbike only to find this really snotty woman telling me i couldn't take the motorbike on, so i called Tham and she said i couldn't too but i should take the train and she would send the motorbike on a following train for me next day...hmmm, sounds risky eh? So i declined and went back to hotel, 12pm, had to walk 20 mins with bike to find overnight car park as you cant leave vehicles in the street here, found one, got new (more expensive room) but had to collect the bike again next morning at 6am! So knackered today but got refund for ticket and found that i cannot take any train with my bike, cargo trains are separate and the cargo train wont set off until full! So after i booked my bike and now they have two slots to fill and they estimate 4-5 days until the train arrives in Da Nang, i say estimate very loosely... so i thought i gotta get out of Hanoi so ill take the train today to the next place below Dong Hoi, Da Nang, Vietnam's third largest City with popular Hoi An 100km away and a few cool inland places too, My Son and Ba Na Hill Station.
The reason to pass Dong Hoi to Da Nang was the variety surrounding the area because i have to wait for the motorbike to arrive, if it arrives!! God when i took it to train station on first night, these locals hanging around station drinking all came over trying on my helmet, having a go on my bike etc,... apparently train stations at night aren't the best place to be so glad i have the bike and wont need to do a late night train again (after tonight!). But yeah, i can fill those days exploring these great places which seems better than waiting longer in Hanoi or the North until the cargo train departs
So far I've seen Hanoi, and its been OK and it probably works out well to get the bike in Da Nang and not have to try find my way out of Hanoi and maybe have some clear road near the train station Da Nang to get used to the motorbike and this neutral gear thing; it's weird, neutral is between 1st and 2nd gear, you push or pull up on the pedal to go up or down in gears but when you come to neutral its like a gentle tap... not so easy to master on busy roads too, plus there's a light which lights when in neutral but it doesn't always come on?! So yeah, Da Nang, i'll sort the light and steering immediately and practice on a quiet stretch of road before starting, finally, my motorbike trip with the infamous Hoi Van Pass! Amazing coastal mountain route for about 100km and truck, bus and hell raiser free as they all take the Hoi Van Tunnel, a more direct supply route through the mountain.... perfect...
So right now im in a cafe having my 5th ultra strong Vietnamese coffee and killing time til my 7pm train (its 1:30pm now). Check out was 11am and i had the same thing yesterday, kinda hanging around but this time its all sorted and i am def getting that train, the only hiccup that can arise later is that my motorbike never arrives?!.... I've named her Wilma by the way
In the meantime i am going to do a pretty good google map of my route for you all which will make the route clearer and i'll also give you a brief history of Vietnam and especially of Ho Chi Minh... the Joan of Arc/Ghandi/Nelson Mandela of Vietnam... as it seems i mentioning where i am going and things about Vietnam but i myself have found it makes much more sense when you understand a little more about their history, culture and general unique way of life..
So although i thought i would be struggling for time to write any blogs up so far i have had loads of time but like D:Ream used to say..'things can only get better'....
17th January - part II
Well, here i am again, just waiting for my train so thought i would type up what i promised about Vietnam,...OK, so here is a very rough and brief history of Vietnam for you from what i remember reading about last time i was here...
For centuries there was always a running feud with China, especially North Vietnam which
borders China, Vietnam basically being bullied and attempted to be conquered by the bigger
country, China. The border area constantly seemed to change as one conquered the other and
took back border land area though Vietnam's victories were mainly reclaiming the land they had lost. Its strange because Vietnam learned and took so much from the Chinese you'd think there would be at least some respect but they really do hate the Chinese
France once and probably to some extent still has a large communist interest, many political high ranking sorts traveled and lived in places like France, also China and Russia, other communist countries and gained education and Communist training i suppose. But before this progression came the French interest which i think came about in the 1800's when colonial rule was all the rage & France kinda discovered Vietnam as an Indochina (name for Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia & Thailand as a whole) gateway and supply route and ripe to be colonised. Other countries, like England also saw this but were busy in places like India so the french, wanting to catch up with the English and stamp their world authority and prove their navy was as good as anyone's hastily went for it and tried conquering Vietnam but apparently made a right hash of it so many times and only succeeded through the fact that Vietnam was no way a match for the force France had
Now Vietnam ain't no saint, they too have had their own invasions in Cambodia especially and
something like 1 million southern Vietnamese who live on the Mekong near the now Cambodia
border are officially Cambodian and classed as the lowest of the classes here because of
this but from a land conquer and border line change they are all now classed as Vietnamese!! But you have to credit the Vietnamese for fending off the likes of China and the french and from these battles comes the countries hero's or villains; hero's who stood up to anything thrown at them, whether they succeeded or not, and villains for anyone who didn't stand up to any kind of invasion...So yes, as far as i can understand, North Vietnamese, or the Viet Minh as they were known, i think learned Communism from the Chinese which is then where they turned Communist to try develop and match the likes of the soviet Union and China and so started training future leaders abroad from schooling and made links with the likes of Communist Soviet Union though Chinese links were bound to never take off given the history but later did receive help from the Chinese when it came to defending against the Americans... which reminds me, it only dawned on me recently the name for Vietnam being so close to the Soviet union, the Viet part but from my only questioning on this did i find that even before Vietnam had any Communist history, the country was originally called Dai Viet so need to find out about
OK, the bit we all know some more about, the Vietnamese war with the US... well what i
haven't mentioned is that nearby Cambodia had kinda had enough of beer a poor, going nowhere country back in the 60's and with their own communist influence developed the Khmer Rouge which i talked about in my last blog and basically overthrew their King with ease and turned Cambodia in to an absolute nightmare, running a bizarre, majorly failing kind of communist, crazy system and slaughtering over half the population in what can only be described as a mass self genocide and again, as far as i understand, the South Vietnamese only intervened because of a slight threat from the Cambodians but also saw that the country was on the brink of collapse and probably ripe for the picking but mainly because of the South's running revolutionary war with the north and the fact that since they were fellow commy's, the North were using Cambodia effectively and building up a major threat to the south... and this is why the US stepped in...
Already involved in the cold war with Russia and heavily focused on anti-communism they felt they couldn't avoid what was potentially happening there and with the Soviets funding the Vietnamese they felt that Russia's aim of global communism was only going to strengthen
and further threaten the US and so they felt they had to step in and they were so confident
of an early end to the war it was untrue, well probably expected when you see the stats and
comparison of numbers and arsenal the US had, it really is unbelievable that Vietnam
defeated the US but they did....
Step forward Uncle Ho!! Ho Chi Minh, the countries major hero and superstar, basically the
guy who lead Vietnam against the US and never gave in and through cunning genius and pure
patriotism he was followed to the death. What a guy! His name and face is everywhere in
Vietnam along with a few other leaders and commanders and people throughout their history
of invasion who pulled out all the stops to protect Vietnam and against all the odds...
The Ho Chi Minh trail, which i am half following on the motorbike route, was probably what
won the war for the Vietnamese, a complex, interchangeable supply route from north to
South Vietnam crossing Laos and Cambodia which the US could just never fully stop though
they focused everything on it. We've all seen the films where you can see that the other
thing that helped was the climate and dense jungle in Vietnam and the Vietnamese
practically encouraged them in to land combat as their only hope of winning, well, even
then it was slim, their actual main tactic for winning was to actually demoralise the US
troops simply by never giving up and it was widely reported how much their never say die
attitude won many mind games not only with the US army, but with top dogs and the US people too who turned on the government once they saw it turned in to a long blood bath and not the quick, get in, kick ass and get out war they had promised...after a while a huge
percentage of the US troops had become drug addicts too, part fueled by the Vietnamese to
make access so easy to these drugs too, but heroin and opium were readily available and used to numb the effects of the war which only weakened their chances and strengthened the Vietnamese resolve... and just when the Vietnamese thought themselves that they were on the brink of being financially, infrastructurally if that's a word) and agriculturally crippled did this
resolve they had shown start to show these cracks in the US offensive and it only made them
carry on and see it through. The US had used a terrible weapon called Orange gas i think,
and either nuked or used this gas on most of Vietnam to poison all wildlife and food
sources and poison the water and even to this day the countries land is still effected in
parts and children are born with abnormalities because of it...nice eh. I believe as part of the Geneva convention, or some other world rights group the US have had to compensate the Vietnamese millions if not billions and i believe they still do so to put right the devastation they caused to innocent people and still do from the after effects.
But despite the heavy firepower and bombing of the US and the fact they starved so many Vietnamese to death they battled on - imagine your country, and relatives going through that and winning! You can imagine the pride and patriotism found in the Vietnamese and like i say you kind of see it too, they are a busy, efficient race, very friendly but also shrewd, mainly in the developed areas... they still bear the scars of that war but also signs of the french
colonial period; loads of cool old dudes in berets, hip length 70's style leather jackets
all smoking cigarettes and just looking cool..! and by the way, i intend to spot one of these guys and offer to buy one of these jackets for my motorbiking jacket!!
So after that although the country was a mess they still had conflicts with their neighbors for years, China, Laos and even as recently as the late 80's i think with Cambodia and although prior to that the North Communists had conquered south Vietnam, Vietnam did revert to a socialist republic after, which only came about from a global demise in Communism, specifically from the Soviet Unions crumble and subsequent withdrawal of funding though the Vietnamese actually hated the Russians as everyone they dealt with was fat, lazy and pretty useless apparently?! This led to those ensuing conflicts with their communist neighbors, countries which even still today are unofficially communist led and so today, although war free and border areas are set in stone they are still disputed and tensions run high between all SE Asian counties due to historical invasions and killings... The Vietnamese hate the Chinese, the Thai's hate the Cambodians and i mean hate, you mention the country name and they could become a gurning champion in that instant.... so whereas all these countries have successes and things to be proud of, the Vietnamese seem to stand above the rest from the history they have had and i know about and can you sense that despite their hate for the Chinese (though i think they secretly admire them!) they love that knowledge that they have outdone them on that one score, kicking ass against all the odds and not doing it simply by being a superpower... and so like the famous Vietnamese Bond film Character double-Ho-7 says...Nobody does it better!!