The Socialist Republic of Vietnam
Area: 331,211.6 sq. km
Population: 92,715.8 thousand inhabitants (in 2016)
National Capital: Hanoi
Lying on the eastern part of the Indochinese peninsula, Vietnam is a strip of land shaped like the letter “S”. China borders it to the north, Laos and Cambodia to the west, the East Sea to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the east and south.
The country’s total length from north to south is 1,650km. Its width, stretching from east to west, is 600km at the widest point in the north, 400km in the south, and 50km at the narrowest part, in the centre, in Quang Binh Province. The coastline is 3,260km long and the inland border is 4,510km.
Latitude: 102º 08′ – 109º 28′ east
Longitude: 8º 02′ – 23º 23′ north
Vietnam is also a transport junction from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific Ocean.
Vietnam Geography and climate
Weather-wise and geographically, Vietnam is unusual. With rolling hills, plains and great beaches it is a country of contrasts and its weather reflects this dual personality.
Unlike most other countries of a similar size, Vietnam extends across two climatic zones, with a moderate climate in the North, and a tropical climate in the South.
The country measures more than 1,650km from North to South with a coastline about 2,000km long, covering an area of 329,560 square kilometres.
Laos and Cambodia share its western borders, with China to the North, and the South China Sea to the East and South. There are five distinct geographic regions: the mountainous north with peaks above 3,000 metres; the Red River delta of Hanoi; the Annamite Mountain Range, which divides North and South; the narrow coastal strip between the Annamite Mountain Range and the South China Sea, and the Mekong delta in the South.
Vietnam is often depicted as a place with steamy jungles and hot beaches, but country’s climate is quite diverse, with freezing temperatures and even snow in its northern highlands.
Vietnam has two distinct monsoon seasons. The southwest monsoon brings in wet and humid weather while the northeast monsoon delivers drizzly, colder temperatures to the north and dry weather to the south.
Northern Vietnam has four seasons: during its winter months December-February, it may dip down to 5-6°C occasionally, even below zero in mountainous areas. The summer months of June and July are hot, with daytime temperatures reaching 35°C. Drizzling rains and more pleasant temperatures come in autumn, August-November, and the spring, March-April.
Central Vietnam has warm temperatures year round, with the hottest months in middle of the year, and cooler, drier days from November to April. Southern Vietnam has a dry season from November to April and a wet season from May to October.
Overall, Vietnam enjoys a mild tropical or subtropical climate and aside from a few months a year in the high northern region you’ll never need to worry about packing cold-weather gear. But do bring an umbrella, especially if visiting from July to November, Vietnam’s stormiest months.
Conquered by the armies of China’s Han dynasty in 111 BC, it was not until 939 AD that the Vietnamese were able to expel the Chinese and begin a southward domination that, by the mid-18th century, had reached the Gulf of Siam. The 17th and 18th centuries were marked by the power struggles between feuding families in the north and south, as they attempted to control the largely ineffectual kings of the Le dynasty.
Vietnam finally fell to French colonial rule in 1884, after fierce resistance. Integral to Vietnam’s eventual independence was Ho Chi Minh, who was one of many who established the Viet Minh – a broad coalition of anti-French groups. When Japan ousted France from power in March 1945, the Viet Minh began to infiltrate the countryside from their mountain bases in the north.
Following Japan’s surrender, Viet Minh leaders announced the formation of a Democratic Republic of Vietnam, (DRV) and on September 2, 1945, proclaimed Vietnam’s independence. The arrival of Allied forces, however, pushed Vietnam back into the hands of the French. After negotiations between the DRV and the French collapsed in December 1946, the Viet Minh attacked French forces in Hanoi and ignited an eight year war that culminated in the historic French military defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954.
Vietnam was split in two by the 1954 Geneva Accords: the Communist north, and the anti-Communist, US-supported, south. Political and ideological opposition fermented, and again turned into armed struggle, obliging the US and other countries to commit combat troops in 1965. This led to a prolonged and costly war, which at its 1969 peak, saw over half a million US combat troops stationed in South Vietnam.
The Paris peace talks, begun in May 1968, eventually led to the US withdrawing troops from June 1969. However, the US continued to provide air and sea support to the South Vietnamese until a peace agreement was signed on January 27, 1973. Tens of thousands of North Vietnamese troops infiltrated the south to join the 160,000 already there at the time of the cease-fire and, at the beginning of 1975, they began a major offensive that led to the fall of Saigon on 30th April 1975. On 25th April 1976, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam was renamed the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. In 1977, Vietnam became a member of the United Nations.
War with Cambodia, isolation, trade embargoes, and devastating natural disasters, all added to Vietnam’s difficulties in forging ahead. However, despite the collapse of the former Soviet Union, its major trading partner, economic growth rates still managed to average over 8% per year in the early nineties.
Vietnam has now established diplomatic relations with 164 countries, trade relations with over 100 countries, and has attracted foreign investment from more than 50 countries and territories. The tremendous capacity of its people to meet the most desperate challenges, is likely to lead Vietnam to a bright future.
Vietnam People & Culture
Vietnam’s people are a special mix of cultures, languages and historical backgrounds. The one common denominator amongst them is that, as in most Southeast Asia countries, they love to smile and are genuinly interested in foreign visitors.
The new generation of Vietnamese are largely unfamiliar with the devastation the country suffered years ago and should be approached thus. Enjoy your visit to this charming land.
The origins of the Vietnamese people are a combination of the Mongol races of north and east Asia, with Chinese and Indian influences.
The population is surpassed only by Indonesia as Southeast Asia’s most heavily populated country. However, Vietnam is the region’s most ethnically homogenous country with the Vietnamese making up about 90% of the population.
85% of Vietnam’s ethnic-minority population belongs to indigenous groups – the largest of which are Thai and Hmong – who have been settled in the mountainous regions of the country for many centuries.
About 3% of the population is ethnic Chinese living in the urban centres of the South.
Vietnamese language reflects the country’s unique mix of racial and cultural origins, with its fusion of monotonic Mon-Khmer, and Tai tonality and grammar. Having been a Chinese province for over a millenium (111 BC-939 AD), most of the country’s governmental, literary, and technical vocabulary comes from the Chinese language.
Though a writing system called Chunom, using partly modified Chinese characters, was developed in the 8th century. It was a French missionary in the mid-17th century who developed a system of spelling using the Roman alphabet that employed additional signs and several accents to indicate the tones. The use of this script spread and it was made the official written language by the French in 1910. Called Quoc-ngu or national language, it is now universally learned and written by all Vietnamese.
With ten million followers and 20,000 pagodas, Buddhism is undoubtedly the largest established religion, however Vietnam has a rich and wide variety of religions based on imported faiths and popular beliefs, with several indigenous groups embracing animism, theism and ancestor worship. Catholicism, introduced by European missionaries, is the second largest religion, with about six million followers, and more than 6,000 churches.
Vietnam’s indigenous religions, including the Cao Dai and Hoa Hao sects, have their holy lands in the city of Tay Ninh and the provinces of Chau Doc and An Giang in the Mekong Delta. They peacefully coexist with one another and have contributed to the struggle against foreign aggression through the Vietnam Fatherland Front.
Visitors entering Buddhist pagodas are expected to remove their shoes and it is considered impolite to point feet, especially the soles, at people or statues of the Buddha.
Donations to the upkeep of temples are not expected, but are received gratefully. Permission should be asked before taking photographs of people or in places of worship.
The most appropriate manner of greeting is a gentle handshake and a smile. Though occasionally rigid, Vietnamese officials – such as the police – appreciate being treated in a firm, yet diplomatic manner.
It is best to deal with misunderstandings with patience and good humour. Local people who offer assistance appreciate small gifts such as cigarette lighters, pens, foreign cigarettes, liquor, perfume and even shampoo.
However, giving money to street beggars can lead to mob scenes as other beggars also attempt to impose upon such generosity.
Vietnam’s number of visitors for tourism and vacation has increased steadily over the past ten years. About 3.56 million international guests visited Vietnam in 2006, an increase of 3.7% from 2005. The country is investing capital into the coastal regions that are already popular for their beaches and boat tours. Hotel staff and tourism guides in these regions speak a good amount of English.