Vietnam is located on the eastern seaboard of the Indochina peninsula, sharing common border with China to the north, and Laos and Cambodia to the west. To the east and south lies the East Sea. Mountains and hills cover four – fifths of Vietnam’s territory with Truong Son Range stretching over 1.400km. Mount Fansipan (3.143m) is the highest peak on the mainland Southeast Asia.
The most populate areas in Vietnam are the Red River Delta and the Mekong Delta, which feature fertile soil fed by a dense river network. The country has a long coastline of 3.260km running from Mong Cai in the North to Ha Tien in the Southwest. Vietnam’s territorial waters in the Eastern Sea extend to the East and Southeast, including the continental self, island and archipelagoes. There is a group of around 3.000 islets belonging to Vietnam of the Tonkin Gulf, including Ha Long Bay, Bai Tu Long Bay, Cat Hai, Cat Ba and Bach Long Vi Island. Farther in the Eastern Sea are Hoang Sa Archipelago (Paracel Island) and Truong Sa Archipelago (Spratly Island). To the West and Southeast, there are groups of islands including Con Dao, Phu Quoc and Tho Chu.
Minerals: coal, iron, aluminum, tin and oil. Agricultural and forestry products: rice, maize, sweet potatoes, peanuts, soy beans, rubber, lacquer, coffee, tea, tobacco, cotton, coconut, sugar cane, jute and tropical fruits.
Vietnam’s climate varies a great deal from north to south. Northern Vietnam has four distinct season: spring, summer, autumn and winter. In the North, summer are warms, while winter is colds and misty. Southern Vietnam is warm all year-round, with temperatures typically varying by just three degrees Celsius. Tropical monsoons occur from May to October in the north and south, and from September to January in the Central Region.
Vietnam has 63 provinces, including five municipalities (Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh city, Hai Phong, Can Tho, Danang).
Vietnam’s history can roughly be divided into the following periods:
Pre-history: From circa 400,000 years (Paleolithic) to 4,000 years (Neolithic) ago, cultures in the area included Son Vi, Hoa Binh, Bac Son, Ha Long and Hoa Loc.
Proto-history: According to the legends, Vietnam originated in the seventh century BC when the Hung Kings founded Van Lang. In the third century BC, King An Duong Vuong named founded Au Lac and ruled until 179 B.C. Chinese Occupation Vietnam was occupied by China from the first to the tenth century A.D.
Independence: The Democratic Republic of Vietnam was founded after the 1945 August Revolution, when President Ho Chi Minh declared independence. The Socialist Republic of Vietnam has been the official name since 1976.
There are 54 ethnic groups living in Vietnam. The Viet (or Kinh) people account for 88% of Vietnam’s population and are mostly concentrated in the lowlands. Most of the country’s 5.5 million ethnic minority peoples live in mountainous areas. Major groups include the Tay; the Nung; the Thai; the Muong; the H’mong; the Dao; the Hoa; the Khmer; the Bana; the Giarai and the Ede.
Major spiritual influences in Vietnam include Buddhism, Taism, Confucianism, and native riligions (Ancestor, Mother Goddess Worship). Christianity arrived in the late 18th century and now has the second largest following, after Buddhism. Other religions practiced include Islam and Cao Dai, with higher concentrations in the South.
VIETNAMESE LANGUEGE AND SCRIPTS
More than 80% of the population speak Vietnamese (or Kinh), the national language. Ethnic minorities have native language. Tree scripts have influenced Vietnam’s history: Han ( classical Chinese) ideograms were used until the beginning of the 20th century. The Nom script, created between the 11th and the 14th centuries, is based on the Han script. European missionaries in the 17th century used the Roman Alphabet to the record the Vietnamese language and created Quoc Ngu script. After independence in 1945, Quoc Ngu was developed and used as the official national language.
Government offices and museums open early, around 8a.m, and close between 4p.m and 5p.m.
The currency in Vietnam is the dong (VND), which currently trades at about VND 21.500 to the US dollar. Credit card acceptance, especially for Visa is spreading in higher-end hotels, restaurants, and shops in the big cities.
HOTELS AND REGISTRATION
There is a wide range of accommodation available in Vietnam’s major cities. Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City feature a choice of five-star hotels, while guest houses and mini-hotels offer no-frills rooms for around VND 600,000. As hotels and private hosts must register your presence with the police, you’ll be expected to hand over your passport.
While Vietnam is one of the safest countries in Asia, you should take care with your possessions. Secure your valuables, documents, and credit card in your hotel’s safe. Beware of pickpockets, pure-snatchers, and mobile phone thieves, especially in Ho Chi Minh City. If you choose to drive a motorbike or ride a bicycle, by law you must wear a helmet.
Many hotels, especially up-market ones and extra fees. Check the rates before dialing. One long-distance service offers a flat fee of around VND 5,000 per minute to 50 countries; dial 171 followed by the number. Public phone require phone cards, which are available at post offices. Internet cafes can be found abound Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.
Tourist visas are generally valid for 30 days. Should you wish to extend your visa, go to the immigration office at 40A Hang Bai St, Hanoi; 54 Nguyen Trai, D.1, Ho Chi Minh City; 9 Tran Quy Cap, Da Nang City. Many tour operators can also extend your visa for a fee .