Vietnam: Travel/Tourist Information Guide
Geography of Vietnam
With population estimated at about 90.7 million people (in 2014), making it number 13 on the list of the most populous countries, Vietnam occupies the eastern and southern part of the Indochinese peninsula in Southeast Asia, with the South China Sea along its entire coast. China is to the north and Laos and Cambodia are to the west, while the East Sea and Pacific are to the east and south. The country's total length is 1650 kilometers from the northernmost point to the southernmost. Its width, stretching from the eastern coast to the western border, continental shelf area is not included, is 600 kilometers at the widest point in the north, and 50 kilometers at the narrowest part in the Quang Binh province on the central coast. The capital city is Hanoi, situated in on the right bank of the Red River, with an estimated population of 7.7 million people in the metropolitan area in 2015.
Vietnam is located in the tropical and temperate zone.
It is characterized by a strong moon soon influence, a considerable amount of sunny days, and with a high rate of rainfall and humidity. Some places located near the tropics or in mountainous regions are endowed with a temperate climate.
The climate in Vietnam is divided into two distinguished seasons: the cold season (from November to April) and the hot season (from May to October). The most noticeable seasonal changes in temperature are found in the northern provinces, where a difference of 12 degrees Celsius is possible. The difference in temperature, estimated at 3 degrees Celsius, between the two seasons in southern Vietnam is almost unnoticeable.
Regions of Vietnam
Although there is no definite geographical division of Vietnam due to the large differences in its topography, this might be considered as the most commonly used one:
Northeastern Zone or Viet Bac - a former revolutionary base between 1945 and 1954. It stretches from the Red River valley to the Gulf of Tokin. Apart from having the topical characteristic features of a tropical forest area, the mountainous area of Viet Bac is crowned with nationally famous sights such as Dong Nhat (First-Rate Grotto), Dong Nhi (Second-Rate Grotto) and Tam Thanh in Lang Son province; Pac Bo Grotto and Ba Be Lake in Cao Bang province; Yen Tu mountain, and Tay Con Linh, a mountain peak 2314 meters above sea level, and Ha Long Bay near Hanoi, in Quang Ninh province.
Northwestern mountain range running from the northern area on the Sino-Vietnamese border to the western region in Thanh Hoa, Nghe An and Ha Tinh provinces on the central coast. This magnificent high mountain range is famous nation-wide for its Sapa resort town in Lao Cai province. Sapa is perched on a high mountain slope, 1,500 meters above sea level, and is endowed with a temperate climate all year round and with snow flakes during winter time. The North-western zone is also famous for the historical site of Dien Bien Phu and for its Fanxipang mountain peak, 3,143 meters above sea level, which is considered the roof top to Vietnam.
Central Highlands- contains numerous mystic accounts of flora and fauna as well as the lives of the people of several different ethnic minority groups. The central highlands is proud of its idyllic mountain resort town of Da Lat, the most famous resort in Vietnam. Forests and forest land accounts for 50 per cent of Viet Nam's total land area. These forests are home to many kinds of plants and animals not found elsewhere in Southeast Asia or in many other parts of the world. Besides valuable timber Viet Nam's forests are also home to many other valuable forest products much sought after in overseas outlets. They include stick lac, cinnamon, pine resin, anise and tung oil.ect...
Greater Ha Noi/ Red River Delta- locally known as the northern delta is 15,000 square kilometers in area. It is comprised, from time immemorial, of deposits of alluvium carried in from two major rivers: the Red River and the Thai Binh River. The basin of the two rivers was the location for the settlement of the Viet people.
The Mekong Delta- also known as the Western Region, was likely inhabited long since prehistory by the empires of Funan and Chenla, and later by the Khmer Empire. In the 1970s, the Khmer Rouge regime attacked Vietnam in an attempt to reconquer the Delta region. This campaign precipitated the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia and subsequent downfall of the Khmer Rouge. The Mekong Delta is the region with the smallest forest area in Vietnam.
North Central Coast- consisting of six provinces: Thanh Hóa, Nghệ An, Hà Tĩnh, Quảng Bình, Quảng Trị, Thừa Thiên–Huế. Three out of seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Vietnam are located in this region- Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park, Complex of Huế Monuments and Citadel of the Hồ Dynasty.
South Central Coast- In contrast to most other coastal regions in Vietnam, the South Central Coast's terrain is not mainly flat. The region includes several islands. Some of the larger ones are the Lý Sơn Islands, the Cham Islands, and Phú Quý island. The Paracel Islands and the Spratly Islands are officially administered by Da Nang and Khánh Hòa Province. This region is also home of the historic territory of Champa, the ancient kingdom now annexed and assimilated by the Vietnamese.
Southeast- This region includes one municipality, Ho Chi Minh City; and five provinces: Đồng Nai, Bình Dương, Bà Rịa–Vũng Tàu Province, Bình Phước and Tây Ninh. It is economically the most developed region of the country.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Vietnam
There are a total of 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Vietnam, 5 enlisted as Cultural, 2 as natural and 1 as mixed category sites.
Central Sector of the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long (Hanoi)- The Thang Long Imperial Citadel was built in the 11th century by the Ly Viet Dynasty, marking the independence of the Dai Viet. It was constructed on the remains of a Chinese fortress dating from the 7th century, on drained land reclaimed from the Red River Delta in Hanoi. It was the centre of regional political power for almost 13 centuries without interruption.
Citadel of the Ho Dynasty- The 14th -century Ho Dynasty citadel, built according to the feng shui principles, testifies to the flowering of neo-Confucianism in late 14th century Viet Nam and its spread to other parts of east Asia.
Complex of Hué Monuments- Established as the capital of unified Viet Nam in 1802, Hué was not only the political but also the cultural and religious centre under the Nguyen dynasty until 1945. The Perfume River winds its way through the Capital City, the Imperial City, the Forbidden Purple City and the Inner City, giving this unique feudal capital a setting of great natural beauty.
Hoi An Ancient Town -an exceptionally well-preserved example of a South-East Asian trading port dating from the 15th to the 19th century. Its buildings and its street plan reflect the influences, both indigenous and foreign, that have combined to produce this unique heritage site.
My Son Sanctuary- My Son Sanctuary dates from the 4th to the 13th centuries CE. The property is located in the mountainous border Duy Xuyen District of Quang Nam Province, in central Viet Nam. It is situated within an elevated geological basin surrounded by a ring of mountains, which provides the watershed for the sacred Thu Bon river.
Ha Long Bay- located in the Gulf of Tonkin, within Quang Ninh Province, in the northeast of Vietnam, is 165 km from the capital of Hanoi. Covering an area of 43,400 ha and including over 1600 islands and islets, most of which are uninhabited and unaffected by humans, it forms a spectacular seascape of limestone pillars and is an ideal model of a mature Karst landscape developed during a warm and wet tropical climate.
Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park- located in the middle of the Annamite Mountain Range in Quang Binh province. The property contains and protects over 104 km of caves and underground rivers making it one of the most outstanding limestone karst ecosystems in the world. The karst formation has evolved since the Palaeozoic period (some 400 million years ago) and as such is the oldest major karst area in Asia.
Trang An Landscape Complex- Situated near the southern margin of the Red River Delta, the Trang An Landscape Complex is a spectacular landscape of limestone karst peaks permeated with valleys, many of them partly submerged and surrounded by steep, almost vertical cliffs. Exploration of caves at different altitudes has revealed archaeological traces of human activity over a continuous period of more than 30,000 years.
History of Vietnam
Vietnam can be proud of its rich and versatile history, filled with battles with conquering rulers, mostly Chinese. More recent history is highlighted by the Vietnam War, fought against USA and the French War, of course, against the French.
The Vietnamese are descendants of nomadic Mongols from China and migrants from Indonesia. According to mythology, the first ruler of Vietnam was Hung Vuong, who founded the nation in 2879 B.C. China ruled the nation then known as Nam Viet as a vassal state from 111 B.C. until the 15th century.
France established its influence early in the 19th century, and within 80 years it conquered the three regions into which the country was then divided—Cochin-China in the south, Annam in the central region, and Tonkin in the north. Japan took over military bases in Vietnam in 1940, and a pro-Vichy French administration remained until 1945. Veteran Communist leader Ho Chi Minh organized an independence movement known as the Vietminh to exploit the confusion surrounding France's weakened influence in the region. At the end of the war, Ho's followers seized Hanoi and declared a short-lived republic, which ended with the arrival of French forces in 1946. Bao Dai was proclaimed emperor of all Vietnam in 1949. Ho and the Vietminh withheld support, and the revolution in China gave them the outside help needed for a war of resistance against French and Vietnamese troops armed largely by a United States worried about cold war Communist expansion.
Vietnam War, (1954–75), a protracted conflict that pitted the communist government of North Vietnam and its allies in South Vietnam, known as the Viet Cong, against the government of South Vietnam and its principal ally, the United States. Called the “American War” in Vietnam, or the Second Indochina War (the First being against the French), this war was also part of a larger regional conflict and a manifestation of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union and their respective allies. At the end of the war, North and South unified constituting what is a modern day Vietnam, with communist government ruling to present day.
Many of the landmarks in Vietnam originate from the American War era, but some are even older, going back for centuries, even millenniums. Every part of Vietnam has its significant, well- and less-known, landmarks, making this country worth visiting even more than once.
Apart from the Vietnam’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites listed above, some of the most significant landmarks in Vietnam include:
Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum in Hanoi- Ho Chi Minh is probably the most popular leader of Vietnam and known to his people as ‘Uncle Ho’. His body is preserved here in a glass case at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in central Hanoi. Started in 1973, the construction of the mausoleum was modeled on Lenin's mausoleum in Russia. Today it represents a very important unification symbol to the Vietnamese, and one of the most famous sites in Vietnam.
Chu Chi Tunnels- a part of a massive war museum that offers a sneak-peek at the underground life of Vietnamese soldiers back in 1948. Located 70km northwest of Ho Chi Minh City, the historical site comprises more than 120km of underground tunnels with several trapdoors, living areas, kitchens, storage facilities, armory, hospitals, and command centers. After the end of the war against French invaders, Chu Chi Tunnels were also utilized and expanded during the American War by incorporating effective air filtration systems.
War Remnants Museum- once known as the ‘Museum of American War Crimes’ first opened to the public in 1975. Exhibitions here include open-air pieces of equipment used by the Americans against the Vietnamese during the Second Indochina War. This museum is one of the biggest in Ho Chi Minh City.
The Sand Dunes of Mui Ne – very beautiful tourist attraction, together with the beaches of Mui Ne and Phan Thiet. Some 65 km northeast of Phan Thiet, the massive dunes range in color from gold to white. There are also red dunes to be found further south, close to Mui Ne.
Cat Ba national park- this island-based park is a tropical primary rainforest with a large collection of animals, birds and reptiles. Many of the plants are unique to Vietnam and very well protected. There are a number of trails, such as those that lead to Ngu Lam Mount, to Trung Trung Cave, and Frod Lake, each offering a distinctive experience.
Cat Tien National Park- About 150km to the North of this largest city in Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City, Cat Tien is one of the best preserved parks in Vietnam, being a symbol of bio-diversity. Cat Tien is home to 40 species listed in World Red list of threatened species. There are plenty activities to do here, from paddling along the river, hiking, cycling to camping.
Cuc Phuong National Park- located in Ninh Binh province, close to the Hoa Lu ancient capital. There are many tours on offer from Hanoi that involve biking along the scenic view of lime stone mountains and rice paddy field. It is considered one of the best places for bird watching in Vietnam. It is a pretty remote location, which makes a bit exotic and mysterious, perfect for curious travelers.
Van Phuc Silk Village- Situated on the bank of Nhue River, about 10km southwest of Hanoi Old Quarter, Van Phuc Silk Village is renowned for its traditional weaving and premium quality silk products. This is a very popular tourist attraction, with a number of agencies even offering a chance to learn silk making skills from the locals.
It is very ungrateful to emphasize some of the landmarks and historic attractions in Vietnam, since there are so many of them, and it seems that each one is unique and equally beautiful. Every city and even every village in Vietnam offers something original, for instance the Hanoi Old Quarter in Hanoi, so one trip to this country, which is basically a must-do, might not be enough. It would simple be doing injustice to this versatile and bottom-line beautiful country.