The Socialist Republic of Vietnam consists of the former Democratic
Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam) and the former Republic of Vietnam (South
Vietnam). The division of the country resulted from the defeat of the French by
Communist-inspired nationalists in 1954. A prolonged civil war resulted in a
victory for the Communist north, and reunification occurred in mid-1976.
Vietnam has an area of 127,207 square miles (329,465 square kilometers) and
is located in Southeast Asia. The country has a coastline of nearly 1,440 miles
(2,317 kilometers), much of which fronts on the South China Sea. Border
countries are China, Cambodia, and Laos. The latter two countries, along with
Vietnam, constituted the former French Indochina.
Northern Vietnam is quite mountainous, especially the extreme north and
northwest. The Red River (Song Hong), which originates in China's Yunnan
Province, is the principal river of the north and is about 725 miles (1,167
kilometers) in length. The major lowland area is a delta that has been created
by deposits from the Red River as it enters the Gulf of Tonkin. The river passes
through the capital city of Hanoi. For more than 2,000 years the Tonkin Lowland,
considered the cradle of Vietnamese civilization, has been the scene of
considerable water control efforts in the form of canals and dikes.
The southernmost portion of the country is dominated by another lowland that
is much more extensive than that in the north. This lowland has essentially been
created by the Mekong River (Song Cuu Long) and its various tributaries. Just
north of Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) the landscape becomes more varied
and rolling with forested hills.
The central portion of Vietnam varies in width but is only 35 miles (56
kilometers) at its narrowest point. This region has only a narrow coastal strip
in contrast to the rest of the coastline, where wider lowlands exist.
The westernmost portion of the area is dominated by the Annamese, or
Annamite, Cordillera, a major mountain chain, which forms the spine of the
country from north to south. Along with the two major rivers, there are many
shorter rivers that drain the highlands and flow eastward to the South China
Sea. The country also has six island groups, 14 separate mountain ranges, and
three large lakes.
The climate of Vietnam is largely tropical, though the north may be
distinguished as subtropical. Differences in humidity, rainfall, and temperature
are caused largely by changes in elevation. The north has a hot and humid five-
month-long wet season lasting from May through September. The remainder of the
year is relatively warm and rainfree, but humid. A prolonged period of fog,
cloudiness, and drizzle occurs from December through April in the central zone
and coastal lowlands. The south is characterized by a monsoon-type climate
dominated by a changing wind pattern that brings rainfall. The rainy period is
shorter than in the north.
In the north maximum rainfall occurs in July and August, while in the south