Vietnam - A Country Overview

Information on Vietnam; its place geographically, history, government, climate, security, tourism and foreigners living in Vietnam...

Geography

Vietnam is a long “s-shaped” country, which shares a land border with China in the north and Laos and Cambodia in the west. It also faces the Gulf of Thailand, Gulf of Tonkin, and South China Sea.

The country is divided into four geographical areas: the highlands and the flat Red River Delta in the north, the Central Highlands (Tây Nguyên), the coastal lowlands, and the Mekong River Delta in the south. The two main rivers of the country are the Red River (Sông Hồng) and the Mekong River (Sông Cửu Long).

The capital city of Vietnam, Hanoi, is located in the Red River Delta; however, the largest city and economic centre of the country is Ho Chi Minh (formerly Saigon) situated in the north of the Mekong River Delta. Da Nang, located in the central region, is the third largest city and functions as a major port. Vietnam is rich in natural resources such as oil and gas, mineral resources such as coal, bauxite, iron ore and gold, and building materials such as marble, granite, graphite and silica sand.

History

During the early Bronze Age many Viet tribal groups populated the northern and central regions of the land, the most powerful of which was the Van Lang tribe. The leader of the Van Lang tribe, known as Hung King, unified all the Lac Viet tribes and founded the “Van Lang” Nation. This lasted from the beginning of the first millennium BC to the 3rd century BC when the Van Lang nation was invaded by Tan Thuy Hoang, King of Tan (China) in 221 BC. The chief of the Viet tribes, Thuc Phan, led the resistance against the Chinese invasion and forced a withdrawal in 208 BC. Thuc Phan then became King An Duong Vuong and the “Au Lac” Nation was founded.

Chinese colonisation

In 179 BC, Au Lac was invaded and conquered by Trieu Da who was the General under China’s Qin dynasty, and a thousand years of feudal domination by the Chinese followed. During this time, however, the people of Au Lac kept struggling to regain their independence. There were a number of uprisings and in 939 AD the country was re-established by General Ngo Quyen as a result of an ambush in the Bach Dang River which defeated the Chinese army. Ngo Quyen set up the capital in Co Loa. He died in 944 AD and a civil war followed until 967 AD.

Vietnamese independence

In 968 AD, Dinh Bo Linh united the country and named himself King of Dinh Tien Hoang, establishing the capital in Hoa Lu, Ninh Binh and renaming the country “Dai Co Viet”. The dynasty of Dinh Bo Linh lasted until 980 AD when Le Dai Hanh overthrew it and a very short early Le dynasty began.

In 1009, the Le dynasty was overthrown when Ly Cong Uan proclaimed himself the King of Ly Thai To and named the country “Dai Viet”. The Ly dynasty lasted for 216 years and had nine Kings (Ly Thai To, Ly Thai Tong, Ly Thanh Tong, Ly Nhan Tong, Ly Than Tong, Ly Anh Tong, Ly Cao Tong, Ly Hue Tong and Ly Chieu Hoang). The Ly Emperors constructed and repaired dykes and canals to support agriculture development and organised a centrally administered state. Examinations for choosing officials were first organised in 1075 and the nation’s first university was set up in 1076.

In 1226 the Tran dynasty began and lasted for 175 years through 12 Kings (Tran Thai Tong, Tran Thanh Tong, Tran Nhan Tong, Tran Anh Tong, Tran Minh Tong, Tran Hien Tong, Tran Du Tong, Duong Nhat Le, Tran Nghe Tong, Tran Due Tong, Tran Phe De, Tran Thuan Tong, Tran Thieu De). The Tran dynasty’s most famous successes are its three victories against Kublai Khan and the Chinese Mongol army.

After the third victory, the country enjoyed a stable and prosperous development period; however, from Tran Due Tong dynasty, the nation faced an internal recession. In 1400, Ho Quy Ly usurped the throne and the Ho dynasty began. In 1400, the Chinese Ming dynasty invaded the country and set up Chinese administration for 14 years. During this period, there were a number of uprisings. However, it was only in 1427 when Le Loi organised the Lam Son uprising group that the Ming dynasty was defeated. In 1428 Le Loi changed the name of the country back to “Dai Viet” and the Le dynasty began.

During the 17th century, Vietnam was divided into two clans: Trinh in the north and Nguyen in the south. Both the ruling families were unpopular with the people; they imposed high taxes, took land from farmers for the sake of the wealthy and imposed high levels of bureaucracy. During that time the Tay Son rebellion (which was composed of three brothers, Nguyen Nhac, Nguyen Hue and Nguyen Lu) rose up with the support of the people and defeated the Trinh ruling family. The Tay Son dynasty reunited the country under King Quang Trung in 1789. Quang Trung died in 1792 and in 1802 Nguyen Anh took control of the country with the help of the French, proclaimed himself Emperor Gia Long and named the country “Viet Nam”. The Nguyen dynasty lasted until 1945 under the kings Gia Long, Minh Mang, Thieu Tri and Tu Duc.

French colonisation

In 1858, the French invaded the country and “French Indochina” which included Vietnam, Lao and Cambodia was later established. The last Nguyen dynasty had no rights to decide national policy. On 19 August 1945, under the leadership of the Communist Party of Vietnam led by President Ho Chi Minh, the French colony and the Nguyen feudal monarchy were overthrown. The “Democratic Republic of Vietnam” was established on 2 September 1945, with the capital city in Hanoi.

Vietnam from 1945-1975

After the declaration of independence, France attempted to recapture control of Vietnam and, in 1946, an ultimatum was sent to the government in Hanoi to disband the army and hand over weapons. Ho Chi Minh called for national resistance, he appointed part of the military to defend against French troops and the rest he withdrew to the mountains in the north to set up resistance bases.

When the ultimatum was not responded, French troops invaded Hanoi and expanded to the northern plains. However, France only had enough troops to hold the urban areas while the Vietnamese people organised guerrilla outfits in rural and mountainous areas. By 1950 the Vietnamese army began to regain the initiative and in 1953 the French army fell into a passive situation.

In 1954, with the help of the US, France built defensive bases in the north. Dien Bien Phu was the most powerful military base in Indochina. However, on 7 May 1954 after a 57-day siege, the French troops at Dien Bien Phu surrendered to the Viet Minh. The defeat led to the signing of the Geneva Peace Accords which terminated the French invasion in Vietnam. The agreement temporarily divided Vietnam into two zones, with Ho Chi Minh and his Communist Party in control of the north (with the support of the USSR and, initially, China) and the south ruled by the Government of the Republic of Vietnam led by Ngo Dinh Diem (with the support of the US). Civil war between North and South Vietnam began.

Opposition to Ngo Dinh Diem’s unpopular regime in the south grew and in December 1960 the National Liberation Front (NLF), a resistance organisation, was formed. In 1961 the US sent a team of advisors to South Vietnam to report on conditions and, as a result it greatly increased military and economic aid to the country.

In November 1963 Ngo Dinh Diem was assassinated by a military coup led by his own generals. A period of political instability followed as well as an increase in military aggression between North and South Vietnam. In March 1965 the first US combat troops were sent to Vietnam.

A turning point in the war came in 1968 with a campaign of surprise attacks by North Vietnam against South Vietnam, the US and their allies, which was to become known as the Tet Offensive. Although this campaign was a military defeat for the communist forces it was a psychological victory and helped turn the tide of public opinion in the US against American involvement in the war. Protest marches and anti-war demonstrations were held throughout America and President Johnson conceded that he would seek negotiations with the communists to end the war.

In 1973 the Paris Peace Accord was signed. This brought an end to open hostilities between the US and North Vietnam, although it had little impact on the conflict between North and South Vietnam. South Vietnam no longer received military or financial aid from the US, however and, after a final offensive by North Vietnam, the country was finally unified on 30 April 1975.

On 2 July 1976 the country was officially renamed The Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

Vietnam since 1975

From the middle of the 1980s, Vietnam has introduced a policy of renovation (Doi Moi) and has made efforts to overcome the ravages of its war history, establish a market economy, and open diplomatic and trade relations with other countries.

Politics and Government

The Socialist Republic of Vietnam is run by one party; the Communist Party of Vietnam. The latest amendment of the 1992 Constitution (PDF) was made by the National Assembly on December 25, 2001.

In Vietnam, the President is the head of State and the Prime Minister is the head of the Government. The Government Cabinet is appointed by the President based on the proposals of the Prime Minister and ratification of National Assembly
elections. The President is elected by the National Assembly for a five-year term. The National Assembly (Quoc-Hoi) is made up of 500 seats and members are elected by popular vote to serve five-year terms.

Vietnam is divided into 59 provinces and 5 municipalities (Can Tho, Da Nang, Hai Phong, Hanoi, and Ho Chi Minh).

Economy

Agriculture is the backbone of Vietnam’s economy and rice is the leading crop. The Mekong and Red River delta have heavy rainfall and rich soil that make them the main rice growing regions. Other important food crops of Vietnam are corn, potatoes, peanuts, and bananas. Popular cash crops include coffee, peppers, sugarcane, and tea.

Vietnam has had to overcome the ravages of war for over 30 years but the result of economic reforms can now be seen. Important industries include food processing, mining, clothing manufacture, machine building, steel, and fishing. The country’s main exports include rice, coffee, petroleum products, steel, cotton, and motorcycles.

Economic growth in Vietnam has also been boosted since the country joined the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in 2006.

Climate

Vietnam's climate is extremely diverse due to the wide range of latitudes and altitudes. The climate is tropical in the south and monsoonal in the north with a hot, rainy season (mid-May to mid-September) and a warm, dry season (mid-October to mid-March).

In the south, there are two main seasons: the wet and dry. The wet season lasts from May to November and the dry season usually runs from December to April. Late February to May is usually extremely hot and humid.

Typhoons may occasionally occur in the north from July to November with extensive flooding, especially in the Mekong River delta.

Security

Vietnam is a relatively peaceful country and violent crimes such as armed robbery rarely occur. However, foreigners should be aware of pick-pocketing and other petty crimes. Particular care should be taken in areas around hotels and places of interests frequented by foreigners and business people.

Foreigners should not leave drinks or food unintended, go to unfamiliar venues alone, or purchase liquor from streets as the quality cannot be assured.

In case of emergencies foreigners can call:

  • 113 for police
  • 114 for fire
  • 115 for ambulance

Foreigners Living in the Country

Vietnam has around 74,000 foreigners working in the country from more than 60 countries. Graduates account for almost half of these, skilled professionals account for around 35 percent and approximately 17 percent are artisans in a traditional industry.

In Hanoi, foreigners mostly live in the areas of Tay Ho, Quang Ba (considered as streets of foreigners), Nghi Tam, Tu Liem, My Dinh, and Cau Giay.

In the South, most foreigners live and work in urban areas such as Districts 1, 2, and 7, and the surrounding areas such as Binh Duong, Dong Nai, Ba Ria-Vung Tau.

Tourism

Vietnam has a great potential for tourism with beautiful beaches, natural parks and nature reserves, tranquil village life as well as cultural interest. The main tourism destinations in Vietnam include:

  • Sa pa, Tam Dao, Bach Ma, Ba Na, Da La – these towns, national parks and beaches are located 1,000 metres above the sea level and have temperate climate zones
  • Ha Long Bay – recognised as a World Natural Heritage site by UNESCO for its natural beauty and geological value
  • Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park – home to the largest cave in the world and an UNESCO World Natural Heritage site. Other natural reserves include Cat Tien National Park, Can Gio mangrove, and Cat Ba Island
  • Tra Co, Thien Cam, Lang Co, Da Nang, Nha Trang, Mui Ne, Phu Quoc – popular coastal resorts
  • One Pillar Pagoda, Tay Phuong Pagoda, Pho Minh Pagoda, Dinh Bang Temple, Cham Tower – valuable architectural monuments
  • Other cultural cities like the graceful historic old port of Hoi An and the ancient imperial city of Hue

Tourists are also attracted to Vietnam because if its traditional festivals, handicrafts and cuisine.

  • For more information from the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism: Click here