Vietnam, a one-party Communist state, has one of south-east Asia’s fastest-growing economies and has set its sights on becoming a developed nation by 2020.
Official name: Socialist Republic of Vietnam
Form of Government: Socialist republic
Largest city: Ho Chi Minh City
Area: 127,123 square miles (329,247 square kilometers)
Official language: Vietnamese
Monetary unit: 1 dong = 100 xu
Major religion: Buddhism
Main exports: Petroleum, rice, coffee, clothing, fish
GNI per capita: US $1,730 (World Bank, 2013)
Vietnam is a long, narrow nation shaped like the letter S. It is in Southeast Asia on the eastern edge of the peninsula known as Indochina. Its neighbors include China to the north and Laos and Cambodia to the west. The South China Sea lies to the east and south. The mountains of the Annam Cordillera rise over most of the western side of Vietnam, while a thousand-mile (1,600-kilometer) coastline dominates the east.
At its narrowest point, Vietnam is only 30 miles (48 kilometers) wide. Two of Vietnam’s largest rivers, the Mekong in the south and the Red in the north, end at the South China Sea in huge swampy plains called deltas. These regions are home to most of the country’s people and provide fertile ground to grow rice and many other crops.
Vietnam’s mountainous terrain, forests, wetlands, and long coastline contain many different habitats that support a great variety of wildlife. Some 270 types of mammals, 180 reptiles, 80 amphibians, and 800 bird species reside in Vietnam.
Many rare and unusual animals live in Vietnam, including giant catfish, Indochinese tigers, Saola antelopes, and Sumatran rhinos. The government has set up 30 parks and reserves to protect its animals, but their survival is in doubt because much of their habitat has been cleared for lumber or to grow crops.
Tropical forests once covered most of Vietnam, but over the past few hundred years, logging has reduced the forest cover to only about 19 percent. The government has launched a replanting program in an attempt to restore these woodlands.
PEOPLE & CULTURE
Most Vietnamese people live in the countryside, mainly in the river delta regions of the north and south. Recently though, people have begun to move to the main cities of Ho Chi Minh (formerly Saigon) and Hanoi.
The most popular sports in Vietnam include soccer, table tennis, volleyball, and martial arts.
Vietnamese food is a blend of Chinese and Thai styles and features seafood and homegrown fruits and vegetables.
As a communist country, Vietnam has no official religion. But people are free to worship if they want to, and many follow what’s called the “Three Teachings” of Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism.
GOVERNMENT & ECONOMY
Vietnam is a socialist state governed by the Communist Party of Vietnam. A president, chosen by the National Assembly, is head of state and commander of the armed forces. An appointed prime minister runs the government.
Vietnam’s main exports include crude oil, seafood, rice, shoes, wooden products, machinery, electronics, coffee, and clothing. Between 1975 and the late 1980s, Vietnam traded mainly with other communist countries, but since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990, it has expanded trade with other nations.
Vietnam’s first civilizations arose in the Red River Valley some 5,000 years ago. These northern tribes flourished until 207 B.C., when their region was conquered by a Chinese lord, who established a kingdom called Nam Viet.
In 111 B.C., Nam Viet became part of the Chinese empire, which ruled the north until A.D. 939, when a Vietnamese commander named Ngo Quyen organized a revolt that drove the Chinese out. Later dynasties renamed the country Dai Viet and gradually extended their territory south. By the mid-1500s, Dai Viet was divided between rival kingdoms: the Trinh in the north and the Nguyen in the south.
In 1802, a Nguyen lord, with the help of the French, defeated the Trinh and renamed the country Vietnam. By 1890, however, France had taken over Vietnam.
Japan took control briefly during World War II, and when the war ended with Japan’s defeat in 1945, Ho Chi Minh, the leader of the Vietnamese Communist Party, declared Vietnam an independent nation. French attempts to retake Vietnam led to war with the communist Vietnamese, called Viet Minh. Fighting ended in 1954 with the partition of the country into communist North and non-communist South Vietnam.
In 1957, communist rebels in the south, called Viet Cong, rose up. War between the North and South ensued, and other countries, including the United States, Russia, and China, soon became involved. The fighting lasted until 1975, when the communists overran the south and took its capital, Saigon.
In 1978-79 Vietnam invaded Cambodia which resulted in its isolation from the West world. As a corollary, its dependence on the Soviet Union increased. The isolation came to an end with the Cambodian settlement of October 1991, which allowed Vietnam to implement more fully the policy of economic renovation (doi moi) that had been enacted in 1986.
Vietnam is a top travel destination in Southeast Asia. The country receives an average of 6 million tourists each year – visiting the country for its affordable tourist destinations, archaeological sites, historic cities, beautiful beaches, and amazing culture.
Vietnam has a total of 32 national parks, 7 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and 21 national tourists areas. The most popular cities to visit are Hanoi, which is the capital, and Ho Chi Minh City or formerly Saigon – the old capital and famous in the Western world due to the Vietnam War.
Hanoi is the capital today and famous for offering modern comforts as well as cultural and historic sites. The Old Quarter district survived the Vietnam War and it’s famous for being an open-air museum of historic French and Asian architecture. The city is also famous for its cafes and French patisseries.
The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hue is filled with ruins and historic structures that make it a must-visit in Vietnam. Here you can find Citadel – a complex of palaces, walls, gates, and ornate temples. The Thien Mu Pagoda is also found here – an iconic structure, featuring 7 stories and a view that overlooks the Perfume River. It is also the tallest pagoda in Vietnam.
The most famous tourist destination and attraction in Vietnam is Ha Long Bay – consisting of over 2000 small islands which are topped by thick jungles, filled with caves to explore, as well as lakes and other beautiful sites to see.
Nha Trang is Vietnam’s most popular coastal region – famous for its luxurious hotels, scuba diving, and backpacker accommodation.
Vietnam’s literacy rate is at 94% – one of the highest for a developing country. There are 5 categories for general education in the country, which are: kindergarten, elementary, middle school, high school, and university.
There are both public and private universities in Vietnam but most are located in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh city. Getting into a public university in Vietnam is regarded to be the first step to success. An annual examination is held every year for graduating high school students, and out of over a million who take the exam, only about 20% pass.