Vietnam (Việt Nam), officially the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (Cộng hòa xã hội chủ nghĩa Việt Nam) is a long, thin country in Southeast Asia. Vietnam is neighbouring countries are China to the north, Laos and Cambodia to the west.
Vietnam’s history is one of war, colonisation and rebellion.
Occupied by China no fewer than four times, the Vietnamese managed to fight off the invaders just as often. At various points during these thousand years of imperial dynasties, Vietnam was ravaged and divided by civil wars and repeatedly attacked by the Songs, Mongols, Yuans, Chams, Mings, Dutch, Qings, French and the Americans. The victories mostly belonged to the Vietnamese but, even during the periods in history when Vietnam was independent, it was mostly a tributary state to China until the French colonisation. Vietnam’s last emperors were the Nguyễn Dynasty, who ruled from their capital at Hue from 1802 to 1945, although France exploited the succession crisis after the fall of Tự Đức to de facto colonise Vietnam after 1884. Both the Chinese occupation and French colonisation 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 Communist Viet Minh under the leadership of Hồ Chí 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 the 17th parallel of latitude, with a Communist-led North and Ngo Dinh Diem declaring himself President of the Republic of Vietnam in the South.
Fighting between South Vietnam and the North Vietnamese backed Viet Cong escalated into what became known as the Vietnam War – although the Vietnamese officially refer to it as the American War. 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 half a million American troops in 1966. What was supposed to be a quick and decisive action soon degenerated into a quagmire and US armed forces were only withdrawn following a cease-fire agreement in 1973. Two years later, on 30 April 1975, a North Vietnamese tank drove into the South’s Presidential Palace in Ho Chi Minh City and the war ended with the conquest of South Vietnam. An estimated 800,000 to 3 million Vietnamese and over 55 thousand Americans had been killed.
The Vietnam war 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. American tourists will receive a particularly friendly welcome in Vietnam, as many young Vietnamese ape American mores and venerate US pop culture.
Vietnam is large enough to have several distinct climate zones.
The North has four distinct seasons, with a comparatively chilly winter (temperatures can dip below 15°C/59°F in Hanoi), a hot and wet summer and pleasant spring (March-April) and autumn (October-December) seasons. However, in the Highlands both extremes are amplified, with occasional snow in the winter and temperatures hitting 40°C (104°F) in the summer.
In the Central regions the Hai Van pass separates two different weather patterns of the North starting in Langco (which is hotter in summer and cooler in winter) from the milder conditions South starting in Danang. North East Monsoon conditions September – February with often strong winds, large sea swells and rain make this a miserable and difficult time to travel through Central Vietnam. Normally summers are hot and dry.
The South has three somewhat distinct seasons: hot and dry from March to May/June; rainy from June/July to November; and cool and dry from December to February. April is the hottest month, with mid-day temperatures of 33°C (91°F) or more most days. During the rainy season, downpours can happen every afternoon, and occasional street flooding occurs. Temperatures range from stifling hot before a rainstorm to pleasantly cool afterwards. Mosquitoes are most numerous in the rainy season. December to February is the most pleasant time to visit, with cool evenings down to around 20° (68°F).