Official name: Socialist Republic of Vietnam
Area: 329,560 square kilometers (127,244 square miles)
Highest point on mainland: Fan-si-pan (3,143 meters/10,312 feet)
Lowest point on land: Sea level
Hemispheres: Northern and Eastern
Time zone: 7 P.M. = noon GMT
Longest distances: 1,650 kilometers (1,025 miles) from north to south; 600 kilometers (373 miles) from east to west
Land boundaries: 4,639 kilometers (2,883 miles) total boundary length; Cambodia 1,228 kilometers (763 miles); China 1,281 kilometers (796 miles); Laos 2,130 kilometers (1,324 miles)
Coastline: 3,444 kilometers (2,140 miles)
Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)
Vietnam is a long, narrow country at the eastern edge of the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia. Its area of 329,560 square kilometers (127,244 square miles) is slightly greater than that of New Mexico.
Vietnam has no territories or dependencies.
Most of the southern part of the country is warmer than the north. The average annual temperature in Ho Chi Minh City is 27°C (81°F), compared with 23°C (74°F) in Hanoi. Although the Central Highlands are situated in the south, they are cooler because of their higher elevation. The average annual temperature at Da Lat, in the highlands, is 21°C (70°F). Average annual rainfall ranges from 172 centimeters (68 inches) in Hanoi to more than 406 centimeters (160 inches) in the mountains. Violent typhoons strike the central coastal region between July and November.
Vietnam has four major topographic divisions: the Red River Delta in the north; the Mekong Delta in the south; the Annamese Cordillera, a mountain system that spans nearly the entire length of the country; and the central lowlands, a narrow coastal plain between the mountains and the sea in the middle of the country.
Vietnam is bordered on the northeast by the Gulf of Tonkin, on the southeast by the South China Sea, and on the southwest by the Gulf of Thailand.
Coral reefs surround Vietnam's coastline and those of its offshore islands—along more than 90 percent of the entire coastal length.
The Gulf of Tonkin, which borders Vietnam on the northeast, and the Gulf of Thailand, to the southwest, are both inlets of the South China Sea.
Vietnam has a number of offshore islands in Ha Long Bay to the north, in the South China Sea to the east, and near the Mekong River Delta in the south. The largest of the islands in the north is Cat Ba, with an area of 355 square kilometers (137 square miles).
Vietnam's S-shaped coastline is heavily indented at the mouth of the Mekong River in the south, with another major indentation at Haiphong Harbor on the Red River Delta in the north. There are moderate indentations at the mouths of other rivers along the coast. A narrow line of sand dunes fringes much of the shore along the northern half of the coastal plain.
There are many small lakes scattered across Vietnam; however, most of the country's lakes and waterfalls are found in the Central Highlands. Ho Tay (West Lake), located in western Hanoi, is one of Vietnam's largest lakes, and one of the few in the northern part of the country.
The Red River, located in the far north, has a total length of about 1,167 kilometers (725 miles). Its two major tributaries are the Song Lo and the Black River. The 4,506-kilometer-(2,800-mile-) long Mekong is one of the great rivers of the world. From its source in the high plateau of Tibet, it flows through China, Laos, and Cambodia, where it branches out at the capital, Phnom Penh, before reaching the Mekong Delta in southern Vietnam. The southern branch, the Song Hau Giang, flows directly to the sea; the larger northern branch splits into four parts about 80 kilometers (50 miles) before reaching the sea. In addition to Vietnam's two major rivers, a number of shorter rivers and streams rise in the Annamese Cordillera and flow to the sea.
There are no deserts in Vietnam.
The low, level plain of the Mekong Delta rises no higher than 3 meters (10 feet) above sea level at any point. The smaller Red River Delta in the north is a flat, triangular region. Vietnam's central lowlands consist of a narrow coastal strip along the eastern slopes of the Truong Son Mountains. The southern portion of the Central Highlands rises to elevations of over 914 meters (3,000 feet) in many places. The hill city of Da Lat is in the center of this area.
Mountains account for three-fourths of Viet-nam's terrain. The Annamese Cordillera has two major branches. One projects southward from Yunnan Province in China, extending along the country's entire border with Laos and separating the Red River Basin from that of the Mekong River. The northern portion of this branch, called the Hoang Lien Mountains, includes Vietnam's highest peak, Fan-si-pan (3,143 meters/10,312 feet). The southern part, called the Truong Son, extends along Vietnam's boundary with Laos and part of its boundary with Cambodia until it reaches the Mekong Delta. Its peaks range in height from about 1,524 meters (5,000 feet) to 2,597 meters (8,521 feet). The second major branch of Viet-nam's mountains, sometimes referred to as the Northern Highlands, extends along the border with China, terminating in a series of islands northeast of Haiphong in the Gulf of Tonkin.
There are a number of caves in the limestone karst surrounding Lake Ba Be. The best known is the Puong Grotto.
Within the wider, southern portion of the Truong Son Mountains is a plateau area known as the Central Highlands.
Vietnam has a network of dikes to control river flooding, as well as an extensive system of intersecting channels and canals in the Mekong Delta. The nation's largest reservoir is at the Hoa Binh hydroelectric plant in the north. Between the 1940s and 1960s, Vietnamese rebels—fighting first against the French and later against the United States—built the Cu Chi Tunnels northwest of Ho Chi Minh City. These tunnels once extended for 250 kilometers (155 miles) all the way to the Cambodian border, and they constituted an underground city.
At its narrowest point, Vietnam is only 50 kilometers (31 miles) wide.
Hunt, Christopher. Sparring with Charlie: Motorbiking Down the Ho Chi Minh Trail. New York: Anchor Books, 1996.
Maitland, Derek. Insider's Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia Guide. Edison, NJ: Hunter Publishing, 1995.
Warmbrunn, Erika. Where the Pavement Ends: One Woman's Bicycle Trip Through Mongolia, China, and Vietnam. Seattle: Mountaineers Books, 2001.
Lonely Planet: Destination Vietnam. http://www.lonelyplanet.com/destinations/south_east_asia/vietnam/ (accessed April 14, 2003).
Vietnam National Administration of Tourism. http://www.vietnamtourism.com/e_pages/e_index.htm (accessed April 14, 2003).