Vietnam Travel Guide
Geography and topography
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 Vietnam natural beauty
Longitude: 8º 02' - 23º 23' north
Vietnam is also a transport junction from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. More than three quarters of Việt Nam's territory comprises mountains and hills. Four distinct mountainous zones may be identified - the Tây Bắc (north west), the Đông Bắc or Việt Bắc (north east), the northern Trường Sơn zone in north-central Việt Nam and the southern Trường Sơn zone in the south-central region. The country has two major river deltas - the Red River Delta (Đồng bằng Châu thổ Sông Hồng) in the north and the Mekong Delta (Đồng bằng Châu thổ Sông Cửu Long) in the south.
Top travel destinations in Vietnam:
Climate in Vietnam
Vietnam is located in both a tropical and a temperate zone. It is characterized by strong monsoon influences, but has a considerable amount of sun, a high rate of rainfall, and high humidity. Regions located near the tropics and in the mountainous regions are endowed with a temperate climate.
In general, in Vietnam there are two seasons, the cold season occurs from November to April and the hot season from May to October. The difference in temperature between the two seasons in southern is almost unnoticeable, averaging 3ºC. The most noticeable variations are found in the northern where differences of 12ºC have been observed. There are essentially four distinct seasons, which are most evident in the northern provinces(from Hai Van Pass toward to the north): Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter.
Recent archaeological finds indicate the presence of early man throughout the wider region from at least the late Paleolithic Era. However, a discernible link between prehistoric settlement and the peoples of modern Việt Nam cannot be established until the emergence of the sophisticated Đông Sơn culture in the north between the 3rd and 1st centuries BCE. It was in the twilight of this period that the Lạc Việt, Austro-Asian ancestors of the Việt or Kinh people, established a prosperous agrarian kingdom known as Văn Lang, governed from a citadel near Việt Trì by the kings of the Hùng dynasty.
In 258 BCE this kingdom of Văn Lang was conquered and annexed by the Tày Âu, ancestors of modern Việt Nam's Tày and Nùng peoples, who built a new capital at Cổ Loa, north of present-day Hà Nội, naming their new united state the kingdom of Âu Lạc. However, notwithstanding this Tày Âu annexation of Văn Lang, it was the culture of the Lạc Việts rather than that of the Tày Âu which subsequently became dominant in the Red River Delta area.dienbienphu victory
Two other significant maritime civilisations also emerged contemporaneously with the Đông Sơn in the region known today as Việt Nam - the Sa Huỳnh culture flourished in the coastal region south of Hội An between the 2nd century BCE and the 2nd century CE and is believed to have been an important precursor to the later Chăm culture, while in the south the Óc Eo civilisation, focused on modern Kiên Giang Province in the Mekong Delta, provided the cultural foundation on which the proto-Khmer kingdom of Funan (1st-6th centuries CE) subsequently developed.
Following the collapse of the Qin dynasty in 208 BCE, Triệu Đà, the Chinese military commander of Guangdong and Guangxi Provinces, seized the northern kingdom of Âu Lạc and incorporated it into an independent kingdom known as Nam Việt. However, following the rise of the Han dynasty in China an expeditionary force was dispatched south in 111 BCE and proceeded to conquer Nam Việt, incorporating it into the newly-constituted Chinese empire. Thus began a millennium of Chinese political and cultural dominance over what is now northern Việt Nam.
During this period of Chinese dominance the Việt kingdom grew steadily in power and prestige, profiting from maritime trade between India and China. Mahayana Buddhism was introduced from China and Therevada (Hinayana) Buddhism from India, whilst the introduction of Confucianism led to the growth of a rigid feudalistic hierarchy dominated by a mandarin class. The first millennium CE also witnessed important technological advances such as the evolution of writing, the manufacture of paper and glass, the development of sericulture and the construction of dykes and irrigation works. However, efforts by the Chinese to assimilate the Việts were always strenuously resisted and the period was marked by frequent rebellions which played an important role in shaping Vietnamese national identity. These included the uprisings of the Trưng sisters (Hai Bà Trưng, 40-43 CE), Lady Triệu (Bà Triệu, 248 CE), Mai Thúc Loan (722 CE) and Phùng Hưng (766-791 CE).
The historic victory of the Bạch Đằng River, secured in 938 under the leadership of Việt king Ngô Quyền, brought to an end almost 1,000 years of Chinese suzerainty over what is now northern Việt Nam and led to the establishment of the first truly independent Vietnamese state. Anarchy followed Ngô Quyền's death in 944, but in 967 the kingdom was reunified under the name Đại Cồ Việt by Đinh Tiên Hoàng (Đinh Bộ Lĩnh), who established a new capital at Hoa Lư (modern Ninh Bình Province) and reached an accommodation with the Chinese. Đinh Tiên Hoàng survived only until 980, when his government was overthrown by the short-lived Early Lê (980-1009), but Đinh Tiên Hoàng's legacy survived and was consolidated by Lý Thái Tổ, founder and first king of the Lý dynasty, who in 1010 established the kingdom of Đại Việt (literally 'great Việt'), moving the royal capital to Thăng Long (now Hà Nội). Henceforward, thanks largely to the success of such illustrious kings as Lý Thường Kiệt (1030-1105), Trần Hưng Đạo (1226-1300) and Lê Thái Tổ (Lê Lợi, 1385-1433) in repulsing successive invasions from China and Mongolia, the north was to enjoy a more or less unbroken period of independence lasting until well into the 19th century.
However, notwithstanding their newfound autonomy, successive rulers of Đại Việt continued to model their courts and system of government on the Chinese pattern. Indeed, under the patronage of successive kings of the Lý dynasty (1010-1225) Thăng Long's Temple of Literature-Royal College (Văn miếu-Quốc tử giám, established in 1070) became the intellectual and spiritual centre of the kingdom's growing mandarin class.
As soon as it had thrown off the Chinese yoke, Đại Việt began to expand at the expense of its neighbours. As early as 1000 King Lê Đại Hành seized and ransacked the Chăm citadel of Đồng Dương (Indrapura), obliging Chăm King Sri Yangpuku Vijaya to retreat southwards and establish a new capital at Đồ Bàn near Quy Nhơn. Thereafter the combined effects of destructive wars with the Khmers and the Việts and power struggles within the Chăm royal family fatally undermined the Chăm kingdom, leading to the destruction of Đồ Bàn in 1471 by the armies of Việt King Lê Thánh Tông (1460-1497). In the centuries which followed this catastrophy, Champa shrank to a small vassal territory in the vicinity of Nha Trang, finally disappearing altogether during the early 18th century.
Taking advantage of weak central authority during the sixteenth century under the Posterior Lê kings, two powerful aristocratic families, the Trịnh and the Nguyễn, became locked in a bitter power struggle. Following a sporadic civil war Đại Việt was eventually partitioned in 1674, with the Trịnh lords controlling the north from Thăng Long under the titular kingship of the Lê and the Nguyễn lords (who also nominally recognised the Lê kings) controlling the south from their stronghold at Huế. As early as 1623 the Nguyễn had married into the Khmer royal family, enabling them to establish a customs house at Prei Nokor (later Gia Định-Sài Gòn). Thereafter they brought increasing military pressure to bear on the Khmers, leading in 1749 to the cession of the lower Mekong Delta (Kampuchea Krom) to Việt Nam.
After the failure of the Tây Sơn Uprising (1771-1802), a popular revolt against misgovernment by the Nguyễn lords which overthrew the Lê dynasty, Nguyễn Ánh succeeded in restoring central authority with military assistance from the French. Unifying virtually the entire territory now embraced by the modern Vietnamese state, he took the throne as King Gia Long (1802-1819), moved the capital from Thăng Long to Huế and changed his country's name to Việt Nam (literally 'the Việts of the south').
The colonial era began in the 1860s. Eager to control trade in this important gateway to China, the French captured Sài Gòn in 1859 and three years later forced King Tự Đức to cede control of the south, establishing the Protectorate of 'Cochinchina'. By the late 1880s the Protectorates of 'Annam' (central Việt Nam) and 'Tonkin' (north Việt Nam) had also been created. The legacy of the French colonial period is clearly perceptible today in many aspects of Vietnamese society, including its language, its arts, its architecture and even its culinary traditions.
The struggle for independence began in earnest during the 1930s with the establishment of the Indochina Communist Party, turning into armed struggle following the French Vichy government's pact with the Japanese. The Việt Minh were established to fight for liberation from French and Japanese control, and the First Indochina War (1945-1954) which followed led ultimately to the defeat of the French at Điện Biên Phủ and the division of the country along the 17th parallel.
Within a few years armed conflict had escalated between North and South Việt Nam, taking on a new and dangerous dimension with the entry of the United States of America into the war on the side of the South. The Second Indochina War (1954-1975), known in America as the Việt Nam War and in Việt Nam as the American War, cost 57,000 American and nearly two million Vietnamese lives, leading ultimately to victory by the north and the Reunification of the country as the Socialist Republic of Việt Nam.
Population - Vietnam people
Việt Nam is the world's thirteenth most populous country, with in excess of 82 million people, 23.1 per cent of whom reside in urban areas. Population density currently stands at approximately 267 persons per square kilometre. The largest centres of population are the southern capital of Hồ Chí Minh City (5.3 million), Hà Nội (3.1 million), and the cities of Hải Phòng (1.6 million) and Đà Nẵng (0.6 million). The former royal capital of Huế and the southern resort town of Vũng Tàu also support large growing urban communities.
The official language of Việt Nam is Vietnamese. A tonal, monosyllabic language, Vietnamese is written using a Roman script with added diacritical markings which was originally devised by French Jesuit missionary Alexandre de Rhodes (1591-1660). Many of the country's 54 ethnic groups have their own distinct languages, though only a few of the ethnic minority languages have their own script.
The use of English is rapidly becoming widespread throughout the country and is expected to increase because it is the language employed within the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN). French and Chinese are currently enjoying something of a revival, while some Russian and other East European languages are still spoken amongst the older generation.
Religion in Vietnam
Vietnamese are essentially polytheistic in their religious beliefs. Mahayana Buddhism is practised widely throughout the country, and Therevada Buddhism may also be found in isolated pockets. Underlying and co-existing with the Buddhist religion are the deeply ingrained practices of ancestor worship and animism and the moral and philosophical principles of Confucianism, both of which continue to dictate everyday personal conduct.
There is a sizeable Catholic population, concentrated mainly in the south of the country but with isolated communities in other regions such as Ninh Bình, 130 kilometres south of Hà Nội. Both Islam and Hinduism are practised by the Chăm communities of the central coastal plain and the Mekong Delta and by Indian communities in Hồ Chí Minh City. The relatively new indigenous religions of Cao Đài Chiếu Minh and Hòa Hảo are also firmly rooted in southern Việt Nam. Most of the ethnic minority communities practise a combination of animism and ancestor worship, but some of the Central Highland groups (Xtiêng, Ba-na, Ê-đê, Cơ-ho) and one or two H'mông and Dao communities in the north west hold Christian beliefs.
Freedom of religion is guaranteed by Việt Nam's constitution. In 2004 the government introduced a new State Ordinance on Beliefs and Religions which sets out procedures for the registration of religious organisations, activities and festivals.