Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Mention these countries to Americans, and most immediately think of unending war, and communist rebels. Forbidding jungles, and mysterious mountains.
|Ancient Cham ruins in Vietnam. This former Viet Cong hideout was heavily damaged from war's destruction.|
When I first told friends that I was going to live in Southeast Asia and travel extensively through these countries, their first reaction was between shock and surprise. Then came the inevitable questions.
“Isn’t it dangerous?”
“Don’t the people there still hate us?”
The questions were understandable, since these were the lands from America’s longest 20th century war, the first war America didn’t win. The cold war quagmire spread across Vietnam’s borders to include Laos and Cambodia. Faraway places that Americans had never heard of before the conflict, became infamous: Saigon and Khe Sanh. Hanoi, and the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Phnom Penh, and the Mekong River.
As news reports on the conflict flooded the media, military acronyms became part of the American public lingo. The NVA, and the ARVN. The USMC, and the VC. The M-16, and the AK-47. The B-52 became so famous, it’s now also known as an alcoholic shot, even at bars within Vietnam today.
Then there were the people on opposing sides that made history: Ho Chi Minh versus Lyndon B. Johnson. General Giap versus General Westmoreland. The Khmer Rouge versus everybody.