Although many westerners still imagine Vietnam
through the lens of war, it is in reality a country filled with captivating
natural beauty and tranquil village life. Its highlands and rainforest regions,
far from being devastated, continue to yield new species and team with exotic
wildlife. Its islands and
beaches are among the finest in all of
Southeast Asia, and its cuisine is very possibly the most delicious you will
ever find. Over two decades have passed since Vietnam was officially united, and
in that time it has done a remarkable job of healing its wounds. Today, this
gracious and graceful country is an outstanding travel destination.
Shaped like an elongated S,
Vietnam stretches the length of the
Indochinese Peninsula and covers a
surface area of 128,000 square miles - making it roughly the size of Italy or,
in the U.S., New Mexico. China lies to the north,
Cambodia to the west, and the South
China Sea to the east.
Topographically, Vietnam is a verdant tapestry of soaring mountains, fertile
deltas, primeval forests inhabited by exotic fauna, sinuous rivers, mysterious
caves, otherworldly rock formations, and heavenly waterfalls and
beaches. Beyond nature, the curious and
open-minded visitor will find in Vietnam a feast of culture and history.
For convenience, the country can be thought of as comprising three unique areas:
south. The north is known for its alpine
peaks, the Red River Delta, the plains of Cao Bang and Vinh Yen, enchanting
Halong Bay, and historic
Hanoi, as well as for the diversity of its
ethno linguistic minorities.
Central Vietnam, also home to many
ethnic minorities, is characterized by high temperate plateaus rich in volcanic
soil and by spectacular beaches, dunes, and lagoons. It is also the location of
the ancient imperial city of Hue. In the
South, visitors encounter modern life in
Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) and the
fertile alluvial delta of the
Mekong River. Vietnam's territory also
encompasses a large continental shelf and thousands of archipelagic islands.
Vietnam's climate is as complex as its topography. Although the country lies
entirely within the tropics, its diverse range of latitude, altitude, and
weather patterns produces enormous climatic variation.
North Vietnam, like China, has two basic
seasons: a cold, humid winter from November to April, and a warm, wet summer for
the remainder of the year. Summer temperatures average around 70 degrees
Fahrenheit (about 22 C), with occasional typhoons to keep things exciting. The
northern provinces of Central Vietnam share the climate of the North, while the
southern provinces share the tropical weather of the South.
South Vietnam is generally warm, the
hottest months being March through May, when temperatures rise into the mid-90's
(low-30's C). This is also the dry season in the south, followed by the
April-October monsoon season.