Quick Facts about Vietnam
Vietnam is a long, narrow country in Southeast Asia, shaped like the letter 'S'. At its narrowest, it is only 48 km wide.
To the west, Vietnam has borders with Laos and Cambodia, and in the north, a border with China. The South China Sea is to the east and south, forming a three and a half thousand km coastline.
The Mekong River in the south and the Red, or Hong, River in the north both flow into the South China Sea in flat areas called deltas. Deltas form where rivers flow into the sea and are the most fertile agricultural areas.
Altogether there are more than 200 rivers flowing from the highlands to the coast.
The mountains, forests, wetlands and coast provide many habitats that support a large number of mammals, reptiles, amphibians and birds, including some found nowhere else, such as the Tonkin snub-nosed monkey, Vietnamese greenfinch, Chu Yang Sin flying frog, and the Vietnam water snake.
The lotus, pine, bamboo and chrysanthemum are regarded as 'the four graceful plants', with the lotus being a symbol of commitment and optimism for the future. It is also a particular Buddhist symbol of purity.
Official name of country: The Socialist Republic of Vietnam Type of government: Communist state Head of State: President Head of Government: Prime Minister
Flag of Vietnam: a yellow,five-pointed star on a red background
Coat of Arms: a star surrounded by images relating to industry and agriculture (a coat of arms is like a badge).
Capital city: Hanoi, population of about 8 million people.
Other major cities: Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), Da Nang, Haiphong
Official language: Vietnamese, a language that is unique because it is the only one that is unrelated to other languages.
Unit of currency (money): the Dong
One Australian dollar generally equals about 17, 000 Dong. This exchange rate varies.
See what the exchange rate is today for the Australian dollar or the currency of where you live:
Population: About 91 million.
Most of the population lives on flat plains near the coast, or on flat land beside rivers that run between the mountains, where the soil is rich and fertile.
The Vietnamese population includes people of over 50 different ethnic groups that relocated themselves from neighbouring countries long ago at various times in history. These groups generally remain in traditional villages, speaking their own languages and wearing their traditional clothes. They live mainly in the north of Vietnam.
Read about the ethnic groups and how they came to Vietnam:
Religion: There is no official religion, but most people are Buddhist.
There are about 6 million Catholics, with minor religions being Muslim, then Protestant, Hoa Hao, and Cao Dai. These latter two are both Vietnamese religions.
Traditional folk religions in which people worship gods, goddesses and ancestors are not organised religions but are beliefs practiced by a large section of the population.
- The area of Vietnam is 329, 566 square kilometres, more than half of it hilly and mountainous.
- Highest mountain: Fan si Pan (3143 metres)
- Longest river: Mekong (4200 kilometres)
Climate: tropical, hot, wet and humid, but because the country is so long there are three different climate areas between the north and south. It is always cooler in the mountain areas. Strong winds called monsoons blow from China and bring dry weather from October to March. From May to September, the monsoons come from across the ocean, causing floods. In summer, violent tropical storms, called typhoons, form over the Pacific Ocean and bring thunderstorms, high winds, crashing waves and heavy rain. Average rainfall each year: between 120 and 300 cms.
Time difference from Australian Eastern Standard Time: 3 hours behind
Natural resources: phosphates, coal, manganese, bauxite, offshore oil and gas deposits, forests, hydropower.
Main agricultural products: rice (second largest exporter of rice in the world), soy beans, coffee, tea, peanuts, rubber, pepper and sugar
Industries: fishing, plastics, bicycle manufacturing, paper products, cotton textiles, food processing, tourism and mining of petroleum, salt, coal and tin.
United Nations World Heritage sites: Vietnam has two, Halong Bay and Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park.
A timeline of some of Vietnam's history
Years from a very time ago are labelled BC or BCE...BC means 'before Christ' but today the term BCE, or 'Before the Common Era' is commonly used because it is not about Christianity.
The term AD refers to dates after the birth of Christ and has similarly been changed to CE, or 'Common Era'.
111 BC (BCE): Vietnam is ruled by the Chinese, who named the country Annam, which meant 'Pacified South'. The Vietnamese people resented Chinese rule and tried always to resist.
40 AD (CE): The Chinese executed one of the leaders of a Vietnamese tribe. His wife and her sister, who became known as the Trung Sisters, rallied other tribal leaders. Their armies defeated the forces of the Chinese governor, who fled Vietnam. The Trung Sisters became queens of their part of Vietnam. Three years later, the Chinese defeated the Vietnamese. The Trung Sisters, rather than surrender, threw themselves into a river.
150 CE: Another famous and heroic woman, Trieu Au, led an army of 1000 men into battle against the Chinese. She rode on an elephant and wore gold armour. Her army was defeated.
939 CE: The Chinese were defeated and Vietnam was now independent. Many different families now different parts of Vietnam.
1802: Nguyen Phuc Anh took control of Vietnam and declared himself Emperor Gia Long, and in 1804 he began work on his palace and citadel in Hue on the banks of the Perfume River. It was similar to the Forbidden City where Chinese Emperors lived. Much of this still remains today, and sections are being restored to they way they looked.
1859: The French occupied Saigon
1885: All of Vietnam was colonised by the French, together with Cambodia and Laos in an area that was then known as French Indo-China.
1940: During the Second World War, France was defeated by Germany. Germany's ally, Japan, occupied Vietnam.
1945: The Vietnamese, led by Ho Chi Minh, drove the Japanese out of the country. Vietnam was declared to be the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. The French returned, and Ho Chi Minh’s troops continued to fight for another 8 years.
1954: The French were defeated and left Vietnam. A conference of world leaders decided to divide Vietnam into two separate states. The north was the Communist Democratic Republic of Vietnam with its capital in the city of Hanoi. The south was the non-communist Republic of Vietnam, with its capital in the city of Saigon.
In the south, the government was unpopular and was replaced by military rulers (men from the armed forces). People in the south who wanted south and north to become one country of Vietnam, were called the Viet Cong. They fought against the army of the south. The North Vietnamese supported the Viet Cong in their fight.
In 1965, the United States of America sent troops to south Vietnam to help fight against the Viet Cong and the Northern Vietnamese. A few weeks later, Australia and New Zealand also sent troops to South Vietnam. In the west, this was called the Vietnam War, but the Vietnamese called it The American War.
U.S. planes dropped bombs and sprayed poisonous chemicals onto large areas of land, to destroy the forests which gave shelter and food to the Viet Cong fighters. Bombs were also dropped on North Vietnam.
In 1970, the Australian Government decided to bring Australian troops home from Vietnam. The last Australian troops returned home in 1972.
In 1972, the North Vietnamese invaded South Vietnam. Fearing that other countries would become involved and enlarge the war, a ceasefire agreement was signed between North and South Vietnam, the Viet Cong and the U.S.A. All American troops were gone from the country by 1974.
In 1975, after a bit more fighting between the North and the South, the war was over. The North had won and the country became known as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh, the man whose vision it was that Vietnam should be united as one country run by Vietnamese people rather than other nations, did not live to see this. He remains a hero to Vietnamese people.
In total, 223,748 South Vietnamese soldiers lost their lives, approximately 4 million Vietnamese people were killed or injured during the war, in both North and South Vietnam. The number of Americans killed was 58,183 and thousands more were wounded. The number of Australians killed was 496 and 2398 were wounded.
Today, the Vietnamese people are still suffering the harmful effects of the poisonous chemicals that were sprayed over their land during the war.