National Geographic : 1950 Oct
501 Indochina, Key to Southeast Asia, Is a Vital War Front. Like Korea, It Borders Red China When President Truman last June 27 intervened in Korea, he similarly directed the acceleration of mili tary assistance to French forces fighting a four-year war in Indochina. Burma, Thailand, and the Malay States, with their tin, rubber, and oil, appeared to be the stake. France, the protecting power, held Indo china's cities and valleys. Rebels led by Moscow-trained Ho Chi Minh controlled mountains and jungles from China to Gulf of Siam. Fighting centered in Viet Nam (meaning "People of the South"), home of 22 of Indochina's 27 millions. Cambodia and Laos, other partners in the union, were relatively peaceful. French street cafes, and the early curfew had been lifted on traffic between Saigon and the adjacent Chinese town of Cholon (page 508). Cholon's night clubs and casinos again were busy. Along roads and at railway bridges high watchtowers had been built to guard against marauders. Prize targets for the guerrillas were the military convoys moving between towns. "What part of the country is Viet Nam and what Viet Minh?" I asked in Saigon, Dalat, and Hanoi. "It all depends upon the time; much of the country is Viet Nam by day, but Viet Minh by night," was the gist of many answers. French troops have cleared out many pockets of resistance, so that Viet Nam police have been able to take control. Rebel forces have been driven from much of the rich rice areas of south Viet Nam (formerly Cochin China) and the broad Red (Rouge) River delta in the north. Crops now can be planted and harvested to feed Viet Nam's 22,000,000 people. From Saigon I flew to Dalat, resort hill town 150 air miles to the northeast. Homes sprawl in the midst of pine woods beside a lake at nearly 5,000 feet elevation. Bao Dai spends much of his time here, rather than in steamy Saigon, provisional capital of Viet Nam. Big Game in the Hills In the hills roundabout Banmethuot, 80 jeep miles away, Bao Dai and his guests often go tiger hunting. Tigers have been unusually plentiful in the region of late. In the hills, uninhabited save for a few villages of primi tive Moi tribesmen, hunters find wild cattle, elephants, and other big game. Today it is not possible to drive an auto mobile the length of the old Mandarin Road (Route Coloniale No. 1) from Saigon to the China border as I did 20 years ago.* Con sequently, I missed revisiting the coast towns and spectacular land- and sea-scapes where the mountains crowd down to the coast. Nor is it easy to get to Hue, old capital of Annam. Here, until war swept them away, survived the ancient court customs and cos tumes patterned after those that once existed in Imperial China. * See "Along the Old Mandarin Road of Indo China." by W. Robert Moore, NATIONAL GEOGRAPIIIC MAGAZINE, August, 1931.