Vietnam, has finally won its last battle, to capture the imagination of the traveling public. Elegant Hanoi now vies with its dynamic sister, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) for the attention of visitors drawn by the eclectic mix of old and new. More modern than other Vietnamese cities, Ho Chi Minh City has also retained its French colonial influences. Its vibrancy is maintained by the ever-entrepreneurial Saigonese and the streets are jam-packed with mopeds and scooters, often carrying whole families. The markets are chaotically busy.
Elsewhere, the scenes are timeless. Early morning on the Mekong Delta brings the daily floating markets where fruit and vegetables are peddled. Everywhere the green patchwork of rice paddies stretches into the distance, broken only by the silhouette of water buffalo and farm workers wearing conical hats bending down to tend the young plants. The soaring mountains in the north of the country tower over tiny villages where life continues much as it has done for centuries, with traditional costumes still proudly worn. The old French hill stations have survived throughout the country offering a welcomed respite from the heat. And, in the South China Sea, the 3000 chalk islands in Ha Long Bay are not to be missed. The ancient former imperial capital, Hue, takes you back to a time of concubines and eunuchs.
The conquest of Vietnam by France began in 1858 and was completed by 1884. It became part of French Indochina in 1887. Vietnam declared independence after World War II, but France continued to rule until its 1954 defeat by Communist forces under Ho Chi Minh. Under the Geneva Accords of 1954, Vietnam was divided into the Communist North and Anti-Communist South. US economic and military aid to South Vietnam grew through the 1960s in an attempt to bolster the government, but US armed forces were withdrawn following a cease-fire agreement in 1973. Two years later, North Vietnamese forces overran the South reuniting the country under the Communist rule.
Despite the return of peace, for over a decade the country experienced little economic growth because of conservative leadership policies. However, since the enactment of Vietnam's "doi moi" (renovation) policy in 1986, Vietnamese authorities have committed to increased economic liberalization and enacted structural reforms needed to modernize the economy and to produce more competitive, export-driven industries which have resulted in rapid economic growth in the last decade.
The present constitution asserts the political supremacy of the Communist Party of Vietnam. In April 2001, the party chose a new Secretary General in Nong Duc Manh. Nong is one of the triumvirates that now govern Vietnam along with Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and President Nguyen Minh Triet.
Time: GMT + 7
Area: 329,247 sq km (127,123 sq miles)
Population: 83.6 million
Population Density: 253.9 per sq km -
Capital: Hanoi - Population: 3 million
Government: The present constitution, promulgated in 1992, asserts the political supremacy of the Communist Party of Vietnam, (CPV). The 496-member National Assembly is responsible for legislation. The Assembly is elected every five years from candidates proposed by the CPV. Executive power is exercised by the Council of Ministers. The Assembly elects a president, who acts as head of state and also appoints a prime minister from among the members of the assembly. The prime minister leads the Council of Ministers, the members of which hold executive power. Vietnam has been Socialist Republic since 1980 and gained independence from France in 1954
Head of State: President Nguyen Minh Triet since 2006
Head of Government: Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung since 2006
Language: Vietnamese is the official language. English, French, Chinese and occasionally Russian and German are spoken
Electricity: 220/110 volts AC, 50Hz; plugs are mostly flat pin
Geography: Located in Southeastern Asia, bordering the Gulf of Thailand, Gulf of Tonkin, and South China Sea. Vietnam shares borders to the north with the People’s Republic of China and to the west with Laos and Cambodia. The land is principally agricultural with a central tropical rainforest. Extending 1,650 km North to South, the country is only 50 km across at its narrowest point
Coordinate: 16 00 N, 106 00 E
Social Conventions: Handshaking and a vocal greeting are normal. Clothing should be kept simple, informal and discreet. Avoid shorts if possible as they are usually only worn by children. Don’t go naked or topless on the beaches or in the water: culturally, this is a big no-no and would be asking for trouble. Footwear should be removed when entering Buddhist pagodas. Vietnamese people should not be touched on the head
Photography: There are restrictions at ports, airports and harbors, and in similar areas elsewhere. It is courteous to ask permission first before taking photographs of people