Vietnam – General informations
Vietnam officially the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (Cộng hòa Xã hội Chủ nghĩa Việt Nam) is the easternmost country on the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia. With an estimated 92.7 million inhabitants as of 2016, it is the world’s 130-most populous country, and the eight-most-populous Asian country. The country is bordered by China to the north, Laos to the northwest, and Cambodia to the southwest, and the East Sea to the East. Its capital city has been Hanoi from 1945.
Vietnam’s history is one of war, colonization and rebellion. Occupied by China no fewer than four times, the Vietnamese managed to fight off the invaders just as often. Even during the periods in history when Vietnam was independent, it was mostly a tributary state to China until the French colonization. Vietnam’s last emperors were the Nguyen Dynasty, who ruled from their capital at Hue from 1802 to 1945, although French exploited the succession crisis after the fall of Tu Duc to de facto colonies Vietnam after 1884. Both the Chinese occupation and French colonization have left a lasting impact on Vietnamese culture, with Confucianism forming the basis of Vietnamese social etiquette, and the French leaving a lasting imprint on Vietnamese cuisine.
After a brief Japanese occupation in World War II, the Viet Minh under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh continued the insurgency against the French, with the last Emperor Bao Dai abdicating in 1945 and a proclamation of independence following soon after. The majority of French had left by 1945, but in 1946 they returned to continue the fight until their decisive defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954. The Geneva Conference partitioned the country into two at 17th parallel, with Democratic Republic of Vietnam in the North and Ngo Dinh Diem declaring himself President of the Republic of Vietnam in the South.
US economic and military aid to South Vietnam grew through the 1960s in an attempt to bolster the Southern Vietnam government, escalating into the dispatch of 500.000 American troops in 1966 and what became known as the Vietnam War – although the Vietnamese refer to it as the American War. What was supposed to be a quick and decisive action soon degenerated into a quagmire, and US armed forces were withdrawn following a cease-fire agreement in 1973. Two years later, on April 30, 1975, the war ended when a North Vietnamese tank drove into the South’s President Palace in Saigon. An estimated 3 million Vietnamese and over 55.000 Americans were killed.
The war against the American was only one of many that the Vietnamese have fought, but it was the most brutal in its history. Over two thirds of the current population was born after 1975. Nowadays, American tourists will receive a friendly welcome in Vietnam.
Weather-wise and geographically, Vietnam is unusual. With rolling hills, plains and great beaches, it is a country of contrasts and its weather reflects this dual personality.
Unlike most other countries of a similar size, Vietnam extends across two climatic zones, with a moderate climate in the North, and a tropical climate in the South.
The country measures more than 2300 km from North to South with a coastline about 2000 km long, covering an area of 329.560 square kilometers.
Laos and Cambodia share its western borders, with China to the North and East Sea to the East.
Vietnam is often depicted as a place with steamy jungles and hot beaches, but country’s climate is quite diverse, with freezing temperatures and even snow in its northern highlands.
Vietnam has two distinct monsoon seasons. The southwest monsoon brings it wet and humid weather while the northeast monsoon delivers drizzly, colder temperatures to the north and dry weather to the south.
Northern Vietnam has four seasons: during its winter months December – February, it may dip down to 5-6 degrees Celsius, even below zero in mountainous areas. The summer months of June and July are hot, with daytime temperatures reaching 35 degrees Celsius. Drizzling rains and more pleasant temperatures come in autumn, August-November, and the spring, March-April.
Central Vietnam has warm temperatures year round, with the hottest months in middle of the year and cooler, drier days from November to April.
Southern Vietnam has a dry season from November to April and a wet season from May to October.
Overall, Vietnam enjoys a mild tropical or subtropical climate and aside from a few months a year in the high northern region you’ll never need to worry about packing cold-weather gear. But do bring an umbrella, especially if visiting from July to November, Vietnam’s stormiest months.
Vietnam People & Culture
Vietnam’s people are a special mix of cultures, languages and historical backgrounds. The one common denominator amongst them is that, as in most Southeast Asia countries, they love to smile and are genuinely interested in foreign visitors.
The new generation of Vietnamese are largely unfamiliar with the devastation the country suffered years ago and should be approached thus. Enjoy your visit to this charming land.
The Vietnamese population is surpassed only by Indonesia as Southeast Asia’s most heavily populated country. However, Vietnam is the region’s most ethnically homogenous country with the Kinh making up about 90% of the population.
85% of Vietnam’s ethnic-minority population belongs to indigenous groups – the largest of which are Thai and H’Mong – who have been settled in the mountainous regions of the country for many centuries.
Vietnamese language reflects the country’s unique mix of racial and cultural origins, with its fusion of monotonic Mon-Khmer, and Tai tonality and grammar. Having been a Chinese province for over a millennium (111 BC – 939 AD), most of the country’s governmental, literary, and technical vocabulary comes from the Chinese language.
Though a writing system called Chu Nom, using partly modified Chinese characters, was developed in the 8th century. It was a Portuguese missionary in the mid-17th century who developed a system of spelling using the Roman alphabet that employed additional signs and several accents to indicate the tones. The use of this script spread and it was made the official written language by the French in 1910. Called Quoc Ngu or national language, it is now universally leaned and written by all Vietnamese.
With ten million followers and 20.000 pagodas, Buddhism is undoubtedly the largest established religion. However Vietnam has a rich and wide variety of religions based on imported faiths and popular beliefs, with several indigenous groups embracing animism, theism and ancestor worship. Catholicism, introduced by European missionaries, is the second largest religion, with about six million followers, and more than 6.000 churches.
Vietnam’s indigenous religions, including the Cao Dai and Hoa Hao sects, have their holy lands in the city of Tay Ninh and the provinces of Chau Doc and An Giang in the Mekong Delta. They peacefully coexist with one another and have contributed to the struggle against foreign aggression through the Vietnam Fatherland Front.
Visitors entering Buddhist pagodas are expected to remove their shoes and it is considered impolite to point feet, especially the soles, at people or statues of the Buddha.
Donations to the upkeep of temples are not expected, but are received gratefully. Permission should be asked before taking photographs of people or in places of worship.
The most appropriate manner of greeting is a gentle handshake and a smile. Though occasionally rigid, Vietnamese officials – such as the police – appreciate being treated in a firm, yet diplomatic manner.
It is best to deal with misunderstandings with patience and good humor. Local people who offer assistance appreciate small gifts such as cigarette lighters, pens, foreign cigarettes, liquor, perfume and even shampoo…
However, giving money to street beggar can lead to mob scenes as other beggars also attempt to impose upon such generosity.