Geography and topography
Lying on the eastern part of the Indochinese peninsula, Vietnam is a strip of land shaped like the letter “S”. China border
s 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' eastVietnam 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 Viet Nam's territory comprises mountains and hills. Four distinct mountainous zones may be identified - the Tây Bắc (north west), the Đông Bắc or Việtt Bắc (north east), the northern Trường Sơn zone in north-central Viet Nam and the southern Truong Son 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.
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 diff
erence 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 Viet 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 Việtt, 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 Viet 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 lat
er Chàm 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 Chin
ese 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 asLý 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 Quố 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 Đ Hành seized and ransacked the Cham citadel of Indrapura, obliging Cham King Sri Yangpuku Vijaya to retreat southwards and establish a new capital at 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 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.
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, 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 I
ndochina 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 Vi?t 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 Vi?t 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.
In 1986 the 6th Party Congress of the ruling Communist Party of Việt Nam launched an ambitious economic reform programme known as Việt Minh ('renovation', the equivalent to the former USSR's perestroika), opening the doors to foreign investment and tourism and setting Việt Nam firmly on the path of free-market reform. In 1995 diplomatic ties with the United States of America were normalised and Việt Nam became a full member of ASEAN. Việt Nam was accepted into membership of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in 2006.
Viêt Nam is the world's thirteenth most populous country, with in excess of 90 million people, 23.1 per cent of whom reside in urban areas. Populati
on density currently stands at approximately 267 persons per square kilometre. The largest centres of population are the southern capital of Hồ Chí Minh City (7.3 million), Hà Nôi (7.1 million), and the cities of Hải Phòng (1.6 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.
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 a
nd 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 Cham 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 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, ÊĐê, 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.
The majority Kinh (or Việt) people account for some 69.6 million or 89 per cent of the total population of Việt Nam. The remaining 8.4 million is made up of 53 culturally distinct ethnic minorities.vietnamese lady
Both the majority Kinh people and the country's 53 ethnic minority groups derive from three great language families - the Austro-Asiatic, the Austronesian and the Sino-Tibetan.
The majority Việt language (tiếng Việt) is one of approximately 150 languages belonging to the Austro-Asian language family. However, the classification of tiếng Việt and its upland counterpart Mường within that language family is still the subject of academic debate - some scholars argue that it should be classified as part of the Mon-Khmer language group, while others (including most Vietnamese linguists) maintain that it should be categorised as a separate language group within the Austro-Asian language family, on the same level as Mon-Khmer, Asli, Munda and Nicobar.
The Việt Mường language group/branch is dominated by the Việt (or Kinh), who constitute Việt Nam's ethnic majority, and their upland cousins the Mường, Việt Nam's fourth largest ethnicity, who reside mainly in Hòa Bình and Hà Tây provinces to the north and west of Hà Nôi.
Branches of the Mon-Khmer language group represented in Việt Nam include Eastern Mon-Khmer (Khơ-me), Bahnar (Ba-na, Brâu, Gié-Triêng, Cho-ro, Co-ho, Hrê, Sre-M'nông, and Xtiêng), Katu (Bru-Vân Kiều, Ca-tu, Ta-ôi), Khmu (Kháng, Khoe-mú, Xinh-mun) and Mang). The Khơ-me (equivalent to the Khmer of Cambodia) constitute the sixth largest ethnic people in the country and are widely settled throughout the Mekong Delta provinces of the south. The great majority of the other Môn-Khmer ethnicities are settled in the central and southern-central highlands region bordering Cambodia and southern Laos; notable exceptions to this rule are the Khơ-mú, Kháng, and Xinh-mun, all of whom reside in the mountainous north west.kinh people
Three branches of the Austro-Thai linguistic family are represented in Việt Nam - Austronesian (Malay-Polynesian), Hmong-Mien and Tai-Kadai.
The Austronesian or Malay-Polynesian language family is represented by five of Việt Nam's ethnic minority groups – the Cham, the Chu-ru, the Ê-đê, the Gia-rai and the Ra-glai – all of whom hail from an Achinese-Chamic sub-sub-branch of Sundic and are to be found in south-central Việt Nam. Perhaps best-known of these are the Chăm (or Chàm), now settled in the southern coastal provinces of Bình Thuận, Ninh Thuận, Khánh Hòa, Phú Yên and Bình Định, whose ancestors founded the ancient kingdom of Champa. However, more numerous today are their neighbours the Ra-glai and the Chu-ru, and their central highland cousins the Ê-đê province and the Gia-rai of Gia Lai and Kon Tum provinces.
The Hmong-Mien group is believed to have migrated from southern China into Việt Nam, Laos and northern Thailand only over the last 300 years, and all representatives in Việt Nam of its two constituent branches, the Hmong and the Mien, are settled exclusively in the north of the country. Of the four Hmong language branches found throughout the wider region, three are represented in Việt Nam. The White H'mông (H'mông trắng), the Flower or Variegated H'mông (H'mông hoa) and the Blue or Green H’mông (H’mông xanh) hail from the Chuanqiandian language group, the Black H'mông (H'mông đen) from the Qiandong language group and the Red H'mông (H'mông đỏ) from the Xiangxi language group. The Mien group is represented in Viet Nam by the Dao (Yao), all of whom are classified (like their cousins in neighbouring Thailand and Laos) as part of the Iu Mien language group. However, significant dialectical differences exist between major Dao sub-groups such as the Black Dao (Dao đen), the Coin Dao (Dao tiền), the Red Dao (Dao đỏ), the Tight-trousered Dao and the White-trousered Dao (Dao quần trắng).
The H'mông and the Dao are Việt Nam's eighth and ninth largest ethnic group respectively. The H'mông are settled widely across the north of the country but particularly in Sơn La, Điện Biên, Lai Châu, Lào Cai, Tuyên Quang, Yên Bái, Hà Giang and Cao Bằng Provinces. The Dao are also found widely throughout the mountainous north of Viet Nam, with major pockets of settlement in Hòa Bình, Sơn La, Điện Biên, Lai Châu, Lào Cai, Tuyên Quang, Thái Nguyên, Yên Bái, Hà Giang, Bắc Cạn, Cao Bằng and Lạng Sơn Provinces.
The Tai-Kadai group comprises two branches – Kadai or Kam-Tai (La Chí, La Ha and Pu Péo) and Tày-Thái (Giáy, Lào, Lả, Nùng, Sán Chay, Tày and Black/White Thai). Common ancestors of both branches are known to have migrated from southern China in large numbers during the first millennium CE. Some travelled as far as modern-day Laos and Thailand where they went on to lay the foundations for the powerful kingdoms of Lan Xang (Tày-Thái) and Sukhothai (Kadai), while others chose to settle en route in the northern mountains of Việt Nam. Today the Tày (north east Việt Nam), the Black and White Thái (north-west Vi?t Nam) and the Nùng (north east Việt Nam) constitute respectively the second, third and seventh largest ethnic groups in the country after the Kinh.
The Sino-Tibetan linguistic family is represented in Việt Nam by two groups. The Hán (Sinitic) language group incorporates the Yunnanese or south west Mandarin-speaking Hoa, Ngái and Sán Dìu ethnicities; and the Lolo-Burmish language group incorporates the Lolo-speaking Hà Nhì, Lô Lô, Phù Lá and Si La ethnicities. The Hoa or ethnic Chinese constitute Việt Nam's fifth largest ethnic group, who are nowadays found mainly in Hồ Chí Minh City and the surrounding Mekong Delta provinces, though scattered rural Hoa settlements may also be found in many other parts of the country. All other Sino-Tibetan ethnicities are settled exclusively in the north of Việt Nam.
Other ethnic groups in Việt Nam include a tiny Indian community in Hồ Chí Minh City and a small but growing western expatriate population, particularly in Hồ Chí Minh City