Located on the eastern coast of mainland Southeast Asia, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam is bordered by China to the north and Cambodia and Laos to the west. The country is long and narrow, shaped like the letter S, with Hanoi (the capital) and the Red River Delta to the north and Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam’s largest city, also known as “Saigon”) and the Mekong Delta to the south. Vietnam has a coastline of 3,444 km (2,140 mi) with the East Sea (also called the South China Sea) to the east.
Vietnam’s climate is tropical in the south and monsoonal in the north. While there are slight variations in temperature, Vietnam’s climate can generally be divided into the rainy season (May to September) and the dry season (October to March).
With an estimated 95 million people, Vietnam ranks 14th in the world in population. About 85-90% of its population is ethnic Vietnamese (also known as “Kinh”), with 53 other ethnic groups recognized by the government.
Vietnamese is the official language, and has some similarities to Khmer, Thai and Chinese. Under Chinese rule for a thousand years, an estimated 30% of Vietnamese vocabulary is derived from Chinese. Thanks to French colonial rule, Vietnamese uses a Romanized alphabet, unlike most of its Asian neighbors.
While Vietnam has no official religion, the majority subscribe to what’s known as the “Three Teachings” of Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism. Ancestor worship is common. It’s estimated that up to 10% of the population are Roman Catholics, followed by smaller numbers of Protestants, Muslims and Hindu. In the Mekong Delta, the Cao Dai and Hoa Hao sects are popular, in part based on Buddhism.
Vietnam’s main exports include seafood, rice, crude oil, clothing and coffee.
The monetary unit is the Dong (VND) where VND 22,700 is equal to USD 1.