The Indochina Wars were a series of conflicts in Southeast Asia from 1946 to 1989.
The major conflicts with global impact were the First Indochina War from 1946 to 1954 in which an independence movement supported by China defeated French colonial forces, and the Vietnam War in 1955-1975, in which North Vietnam (supported by the Soviet Union and China) defeated and finally annexed South Vietnam, which was supported by the United States and some of their allies.
There were other smaller parallel and later conflicts, within the region.
The Indochina Wars began as wars for independence from colonial powers, especially France. They became part of the Cold War, which pitted the Western allies of the United States against the Soviet Union and China (often called "Communist China" in the West in those days to distinguish it from the Nationalist government in Taiwan). They were also ideological conflicts between socialism and capitalism.
What is today Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia became French Indochina in the late 19th century. At the time, some realms in the region were tributaries of the Chinese Empire, and there were a series of Sino-French conflicts over this issue. As usual in the 19th century, the European power easily won most of the battles, and won all the wars. In 1884 the French sank much of China's newly-built navy at its main base in Mawei. In addition to grabbing Indochina, the French took the Chinese city of Zhanjiang.
Early in World War II, France was invaded and defeated, with most of the country directly occupied by Germany and the rest under a government based at Vichy, essentially a puppet regime. The Vichy government told its officials in Indochina to co-operate with Japan, and most did; Indochina was the main base for the Japanese invasions of Burma, Thailand and Malaya.
After the Japanese were defeated, the Việt Minh took power. As non-Vichy France restored authority, they faced some guerrilla attacks. From 1949, the Chinese Army started supporting Vietnamese guerrilla forces, and pushed the French out of northern Indochina. After the French lost the bloody Battle of Dien Bien Phu, the 1954 Geneva Accords divided Vietnam in two parts, North and South.
Thailand, known as Siam until 1949, was independent throughout the Colonial Age. This was partly because it had a strong monarchy and a substantial army, but also because it bordered both French and British colonies and neither power wanted the other to take Thailand. It collaborated with Japan during World War II by allowing the Japanese military the run of the empire in exchange for maintaining the trappings of independence, avoiding having its subjects forced or tricked into slave labor, and having its territory enlarged on paper by the addition of several former Thai vassal states in northern Malaya that were functionally under Japanese occupation. Following the war, Thailand was an ally of the Western powers and an important forward base for US operations in the Vietnam War. From the 1960s to the 1980s, there was an unsuccessful Communist insurgency in Thailand. The Philippines also had important bases for the US war effort.
- Hanoi. Capital of North Vietnam, and since the victory of the Ho Chi Minh and unification of Vietnam, capital of Vietnam.
- Saigon (also known as Ho Chi Minh City). Capital of South Vietnam, and base of operations during the Vietnam War
- Cu Chi and Vin Monh Tunnels. Large underground systems in which entire village populations found refuge for more than two years to escape aerial bombing during the Vietnam War.
- Phnom Penh. capital of Cambodia.
- Choeung Ek. The infamous killing fields, where those found to be unfit for the back-to-the-earth style communism perception of the Khmer Rouge (for "crimes" such as wearing eyeglasses or being able to speak a foreign language) were massacred en masse.
- Dien Bien Phu. The French were defeated here in 1954.