Vietnam is a long thin country sharing borders to the north with the People’s Republic of China, Laos in the West and Cambodia to the South with the South China Sea lying to the east and south. The two main agricultural areas are based round the Red River Delta in the North and Mekong Delta in the South with the remaining three quarters of the country being mountainous. The Central Highlands run down the spine of country much of which is also tropical rain forest.
Vietnam has a diverse climate due to length of the country which spans several latitudes. In the South the wet season is from May to November with short heavy downpours in the afternoon and the dry season is hot and humid. The Central Highlands are significantly cooler with the coast, which is generally hot with a sea breeze having rains from December to February. The North is typically cool from November to April with the rest of the year being hot.
Such a range of climates means it is always possible to find the sun somewhere in Vietnam!
Facts and Figures
329, 247 sq km (127,123 sq miles).
90,549,390 (2011 estimate)
Hanoi – population 6,500,000 (2009)
Vietnamese is the official language. English, French, Chinese and occasionally Russian and German are spoken.
Buddhist majority. There are also Taoist, Confucian, Hao Hao, Caodaist and Christian (predominantly Roman Catholic) minorities.
GMT + 7
In the capital Hanoi, pay a visit to Hoan Kiem (Lake of the Restored Sword) with the beautiful Ngoc Son (Jade Mountain) Temple sitting on an island in the middle of the lake. A popular attraction is the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, which lies in the Old Quarter, west of the Citadel.
Make sure you spend a couple of days in Hue, the old colonial capital and centre for Vietnamese arts. Danang‘s main attractions include the Cham Museum, with exquisite collection of Chinese sculptures. The Danang Cathedral was built for the French residents in 1923 and is home to some one hundred nuns.
China Beach is where the American soldiers came for rest and relaxation during the war. Take a trip up the Marble Mountains, with one of many enthusiastic children as your guide. The five mountains symbolise water, wood, fire, metal and earth. Walk over the Japanese Covered Bridge in Hoi-An, and visit the Tan Ky House. The Assembly Hall of the Fujian Chinese is a temple for the worship of the Goddess of Fishermen and Sailor, and the Chuc Thanh Pagoda is one of the oldest in Hoi An and is the home of some elderly monks.
Sample the sea food and the sandy beaches at Nah Trang, before visiting the ancient Po Nagar Cham Towers, the Long Son Pagoda a short bike ride from the beach, with a fantastic view from the top. Touristy Ha-long Bay, with its 2000 limestone karsts, remains one of the world’s most impressive sites and should not be missed off an itinerary. Finally, take a trip to the fascinating river markets in the sleepy villages along the Meekong Delta.
Vietnam is country of contrasts. Take hot, frenetic cities where sights and smells constantly launch an assault on the senses, overflowing with made-to-order clothes, teeming markets and the ever-present buzz of a motorbike By the time you have reached the sleepy rural landscapes of bright green rice paddies where water buffalo wallow languidly amidst a sea of conical shaped reed hats, you will hardly believe you are in the same country. Make a third trip to the largely undeveloped coastline, with its white sand beaches and gently lapping turquoise waters, and again you are in a whole new Vietnam. Wherever you find yourself, the Vietnamese are sure to welcome you with a broad smile and a steaming bowl ofPho.
From the mid 19th century was part of French Indo-China. They carried out extensive public works, including the construction of the Saigon-Hanoi railway. Throughout this period the Vietnamese retained a strong nationalist spirit, which eventually led to the rise of a Communist Party whose ideals appealed to the repressed peasants. During the Second World War Japanese troops occupied Vietnam, though they were resisted by the Viet Minh Communists.
By 1945 Communist leader Ho Chi Minh led his party in an assault against the French, causing chaos which culminated in the Franco-Viet Minh War (1946-54). The conclusion of the war came with the Geneva Accord which split the country into North and South.
The Vietnam War began in 1959 with the Communists of the North attacking the South which had been declared a Republic and had repressive anti-communist policies. In 1960 the Communists in Hanoi formed the National Liberation Front (NLF) otherwise known as the Viet Cong (Vietnam Communists), with the aim of re-unification and withdrawal of foreign troops. With the NLF campaign underway, Diem’s government began to collapse and a fierce war ensued until in 1963 the Americans under President Kennedy intervened to back the anti-Communists. Under President Johnston the American involvement escalated with more troops and the use of heavy duty bombs, artillery and napalm to destroy the bands of VC form the villages of the South. The Tet Offensive in 1968 was a crucial turning point of the war with the Americans launched an impressive attack on the North pushing the VC into the jungle. Eventually the Americans formally began to withdraw in 1973 largely due to anti-war feeling at home and huge losses of men.
In 1975 the North Vietnamese launched their final attack with the last of the Americans being evacuated by helicopter from the roof of the embassy hours before the South surrendered. The Communist forces were victorious and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam was formed.
As the country tried to re-unify, the Khmer Rouge of Cambodia began to attack border villages resulting in the Vietnamese army launching a full-scale invasion of Cambodia to drive out the brutal Khmer Rouge regime.
In 1989 Vietnam withdrew from Cambodia began to concentrate on its own economy, which had naturally suffered enormously as a result of years of war and the resulting infrastructure damage. Economic reforms allowed people to own their own businesses, though the US trade boycott and withdrawal of aid from Russia and Eastern Europe delayed recovery.
However, in recent years it has begun to emerge from its traumatic past with the rapid growth of industry and even the occasional gesture towards capitalism. Investment has grown quickly since 1989, as Japanese and other foreign firms move to take advantage of cheap labour in south-east Asia’s most populous country. The Communist Party shows little sign of relinquishing hold of Vietnam, and lack of freedom of expression, along with human rights abuses continue to attract international disquiet.
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