Population: 84 million
Government: Communist State
Major Airports:Tan Son Nhat – Ho Chi Minh City, Noi Bai – Hanoi
Currency: Vietnamese dong (VND)
International Dialling Code: +84
Vietnam has become a favourite destination of more and more tourists. There is Hanoi, elegant with its friendly people; Sapa with colourfully-dressed ethnic minority groups, the UNESCO World Heritage listed Halong Bay, with amazing caves and islets. There is romantic Hue, tranquil Hoi An where the best tailors in Vietnam reside. Danang the third largest city in Vietnam nestles on the Han river, and Nha Trang sits beside some of the best bays of the world. The largest city in the country is the busy and westernised Ho Chi Minh City. There is also the Mekong-delta with the fascinating floating markets. Vietnam is truly a Cultural paradise, a country that has a little something for everyone, a country that will leave an indelible trace in your memory for years to come.
Up to 75% of Vietnam is mountainous, especially the north and the north-west. The country's highest peak Fan Si Pan (3,143 m) is situated in the north-west. Plains stretch up to the Red River delta and the coast. Central Vietnam is divided into a narrow coastal strip, a broad plateau and the Annamite Mountain Chain, which separate the plateau from the coastal lowlands. The Mekong River delta is right in the south of Vietnam.
Southern Vietnam has a tropical climate which becomes a subtropical towards the north. Both regions have monsoon seasons. Northern Vietnam has a hot and humid wet season from mid-May to mid-September and a hot and dry season from mid-October to mid-March. The seasons come later in the south and rainfall is heaviest in central Vietnam from September to January when the coast is subject to tropical storms.
The range of Vietnam's wildlife is decreasing rapidly because of illegal hunting and the destruction of habitats. Less than 20% of the country is forested now, and what remains is at risk because of slash-and-burn agriculture and intensive agriculture. Fauna includes elephants, rhinoceros, tigers, leopards, Asiatic black bears, snub-nosed monkeys, crocodiles and turtles. Vietnam currently has five national parks. The government plans to create other national parks and nature reserves.
The Vietnamese are descendants of nomadic Mongols from China and Indonesian immigrants. Apart from a few myths, little is known about the history of Vietnam up until the 11th century BC. China ruled the nation, then known as Nam Viet, as a vassal state from 111 BC until the 15th century AD. A century later, the Portuguese were the first Europeans to reach the region. Commercial ports were established soon afterwards. The Vietnamese, however, adopted a policy of isolation towards the Europeans over the centuries that followed.
France established its influence in Vietnam in the 19th century and conquered the country's three regions (Cochin-China, Annam, and Tonkin) within eighty years. French colonization dominated the lives of the local people, which led to the rise of a nationalist movement. The movement, which aimed to gain independence, was led by the Communist leader Ho Chi Minh.
The Japanese occupation of Vietnam in 1940 was used as an opportunity to form a liberation front. Two weeks after the Japanese had surrendered in 1945, Ho Chi Minh declared Vietnam's independence. France refused to recognize the country's independence and attempted to re-establish itself as a colonial power in the region. Soon afterwards, there was a bloody war which caused great civilian losses. It lasted until 1954, when Vietnamese troops defeated France in the Battle of Dien Bien Phu.
A peace conference called for the withdrawal of French troops, a plebiscite in 1956 and the temporary division of the country into Communist North Vietnam, led by Ho Chi Minh and pro-Western South Vietnam led by Ngo Dinh Diem, which was anti-Communist. Diem, who was supported by the Americans, refused to call elections, which meant that the anti-Communists remained in power.
In response, various political groups that opposed Diem formed (and were collectively named Vietcong) in North Vietnam in 1960. Diem was forced out of power by generals in his army in 1963. He fled to South Vietnam in a state of chaos, which meant that the Vietcong were on the verge of gaining victory. This was what led the Americans to send more than half a million soldiers to Saigon.
In 1965, a war began which destroyed the country and cost the lives of more than 15% of Vietnamese and more than 50,000 American soldiers. The United States brought an end to the war in 1973. Saigon surrendered to the Vietcong in April 1975 and the country was reunified under a Communist government in July 1976. The decades that followed were characterized by conflicts with Cambodia and Vietnamese attempts to attain political and economic stability. In April 2001, the reformer Nong Duc Manh was elected General Secretary of the Communist Party. That same year, the Vietnamese government signed a trade agreement with the American government which normalized relations between the two countries.
The Mekong and Red river deltas are among the world's largest rice-growing regions. Peanuts, corn, sweet potatoes and beans are important food crops, and cotton, jute, coffee, tea, sugarcane and rubber are among the cash crops that are grown. Vietnam's primary export-oriented industry is mining; most of the country's mineral resources are found in the north. Coal, phosphates, manganese, bauxite and chromium are some of the minerals that are found. Oil and gas deposits have been discovered in the southern waters off the coast of Vietnam. Other important industries include the processing of agricultural products and the manufacturing of machinery, cars, textiles, clothes, cement and chemical fertilizers.
Around 67% of the country's active population is employed in the agricultural sector, with 33% in manufacturing and services.
Various philosophies and faiths (such as Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism), Chinese traditional faiths and traditional indigenous religions have shaped the spiritual life of the Vietnamese people. Over the centuries, they have melded to form what is known as Tam Giao (or "Triple Religion"). Popular artistic forms include traditional silk painting, theatre, music and dance, as well as sculpture and making lacquerware.