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The Nature of Vietnam

Vietnam’s nature is very diverse. Apart from geology and topography, the most conservative elements, climate plays a decisive role in the shaping of natural landscapes and the lives of the inhabitants.

These three elements exert great influence on the land, water and creatures. It is no coincidence that the term “Dat nuoc” (fatherland) is formed by a combination of two words “dat” (land) and “nuoc” (water). And the wet rice civilization of Vietnamese communities has also been formed in such natural conditions.

* Natural landscape

On the world map, Vietnam resembles the letter “S”, with a length four times its width. The broadest part of the country, stretching from Mong Cai, Quang Ninh province to where the Vietnam-China-Laos borderlines converge, around 500 km wide. The narrowest part is only around 50 km, from the end of Highway No. 20 near the Vietnam-Laos border to Dong Hoi, Quang Binh province. Vietnam is in Southeast Asia, encircling the old Asian continent with its back turning to the East Sea.

Offshore there are numerous islands and archipelagos. This is particularly true of the Ha Long Bay area, where there is a collection of approximately 3,000 islands. Far away are the Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagos. Further south is Con Son island, and Phu Quoc and Tho Chu islands are in the Gulf of Thailand.

Mountains and hills cove two thirds of the mainland. Meanwhile the areas under 500m in altitude account for 70 percent of the mainland. The highest provinces and the most grandiose mountain rages lie in the western and northwestern parts of the country. The 3,143m-high Fansipan (on Hoang Lien Son range in Lao Cai) is Vietnam’s highest peak. The closer mountains run towards the sea, the lower they become, coming to an end near the coast. At the two heads of the country are vast rich plains. These are the Red River Delta in the north (or Northern Delta – at an altitude of 25m, measured at 16, and the Mekong River Delta in the south (or Southern Delta is 39, These two deltas are regarded as the two rice granaries of the whole country. Lying between these two vast deltas is a series of narrow plains distributed along the coast of central Vietnam, from the catchment area of the Ma River (in Thanh Hoa) to Phan Thiet.

For millions of years, under the impact of monsoon winds and rains mountainous areas have been dissected by the entangled systems of rivers and streams. Under the impact of heat and humidity, rocks easily weather away. It is therefore not overly difficult to travel through these areas – even over the Truong Son mountain range.

Moreover, some mountains are on ranges that come from southern China or northern Laos while others like the Central Highlands go the other way, stretching back over some neighbouring countries. This natural topographic condition has made Vietnam a relatively “open” territory to its neighbours.

Regarding geological structure, Vietnam has many lime mountains especially in the region north of the Truong Son range. Under the impact of heavy rainfall and high humidity, many wonderful caves and grottoes have been created. Noteworthy are Bich Dong (in Ninh Binh province) which is named Ha Long Bay on land, Phong Nha (in central Quang Binh province) which was recognized by UNESCO as a World Natural Heritage in its 27th session on August 3rd 2003 in Paris. In addition, Vietnam has many hot springs for medical treatment throughout the country.

Such geography and topography have brought a wide diversity to Vietnam’s landscapes: there are coastal plains, deltas, mountains and hills.

Vietnam’s seaports are fairly great in number, with 80 ports scattered from Quang Ninh to Kien Giang (including Phu Quoc and Con Dao islands). The most noteworthy are the major ports in Hai Phong, Da Nang, Vung Tau and Cai Lan (in Quang Ninh).

Along the 3,260-km long coastline are numerous beautiful areas and beaches. These include Tra Co Beach (in Hai Ninh district, Quang Ninh province), which is 18 km long, covered with soft yellow sands, where cars can run close to the waters edge of a calm and emerald sea; and Ha Long Bay, a world-renowned place of natural beauty which was acknowledged by UNESCO as a “World Natural Heritage Site” for its aesthetic landscapes on December 1999 and a “World Heritage Site” in terms of geological and geomorphologic values beaches at Do Son (in Hai Phong), Dong Chau (in Thai Binh), Cua Lo (in Nghe An), Chan Cam (in Ha Tinh), Cua Tung, Cua Viet (Quang Tri), Son Tra (Da Nang), Cam Ranh, Nha Trang (Khanh Hoa), Phan Rang (Ninh Thuan), Phan Thiet, Mui Ne (Binh Thuan), Vung Tau, Con Dao (Ba Ria Vung Tau) and many other places along the coast. They are wonderful places for tourists to come to relax and swim all year round. As its 2nd session held in August 2003 in Tadousse bay, Quebec, Canada, the World Most Beautiful Bays Club recognized the Bay of Nha Trang as one of the 29 most magnificent bays in the world.

* Islands and archipelagos

Vietnam has several thousand islands, mostly with areas varying between 0.001 and 100 It is not easy to obtain accurate statistics. According to the latest data (1995), the system of offshore islands comprises 2,773 large and small islands have an area over 1,720 The number of islands with an area more than 1 is only 84 (accounting for three percent of the total number of islands, 3 of these islands have an area over 100 and 14 islands with an area over 10

As far as distribution of islands is concerned, 83.7 percent of the total number of islands is near the shore of Quang Ninh and Hai Phong, 5. percent in the provinces of Kien Giang and Ca Mau in the Gulf of Thailand. Though small in number, the area of islands here accounts for 35.5 percent of the total such area throughout the country. The rest of Vietnam’s islands scatter along the coastal plains of the Red River Delta and Eastern Nam Bo. Unnamed islands number nearly 1,300. Distances from the mainland to islands also vary: Cai Bau Island is only a channel’s width from the mainland, while Bach Long Vi is 135 km from Hai Phong, Hon Hai 155 km from Phan Thiet; Tho Chu is 146 km from Ong Doc estuary (Kien Giang); Hoang Sa Archipelago is 350 km from Da Nang and Truong Sa Archipelago is over 450 km from the Cam Ranh Bay.

Vietnam’s islands and archipelagos can be used as strategic locations, and are extremely important on account of economic and military benefits.


Long and narrow in shape, Vietnam has the features of a peninsula as the oceanic influence can be felt everywhere. Vietnam lies in the inter-tropical zone, with high temperatures and humidity all year round, except for the far north, which is close to Huanan, China. Vietnam can be divided into two major climatic zones.

The North zone, from Hai Van Pass northwards (it has been proposed that the zone runs northwards from Ngang Pass), is affected by monsoons that flow in from the Asian continent or from Thailand and Laos to the East Sea. It has four distinct seasons and high humidity. The South zone, from Hai Van Pass southwards, is less affected by monsoons, except the western and eastern parts of the zone, which are affected by monsoons. This zone has only two distinct seasons, dry and rainy (dry seasons lasts from November to April).

Vietnam has some climatic subzones: some with a temperature climate such as Sa Pa (in Vinh Phuc) and Da Lat (in Lam Dong); and others with a continental climate as Lai Chau, Son La. These are also ideal resorts and eco-tourist sites.

* Temperature, rainfall, humidity

Vietnam’s topography and monsoons bring on differences in the rates of precipitation between zones, however the difference in humidity in each zone in each month is inconsiderable (except for the north).

In northern mountainous regions (such as Sa Pa, Tam Dao, Hoang Lien Son, Mau Son Mount in Lang Son) temperatures can go below 0oC and there have been reports of snowfall (most recently in December 2002, when temperatures were recorded as around -4oC - -6oC).

According to the statistics recorded at several sites, the average rainfall, humidity, and temperatures are shown in the table.

* Rivers and streams

Vietnam has as many as 2,295 rivers and streams of all types, the shortest one being only 10 km long. The total rainfall in Vietnam is estimated at 640 billion cubic metres, 310 billion cubic metres of which flow into rivers.

Among the 2,995 rivers and streams, 1,600 rivers flow into the sea. On average, there is a river mouth every 20km along the coast. These rivers carry silt from inland to estuaries, so the mainland gradually encroaches on the sea. In some places, stretches of land hundreds of meters wide have been expanded into the sea (e.g. in Thai Binh, Nam Dinh and Ca Mau).

Vietnam ahs nine major systems of rivers as follows:

a. The system of the Red River, including the Red River, Da River and Lo River.

b. The system of the Ky Cung – Bang Giang rivers in the provinces along the Vietnam – China border.

c. The system of the Thai Binh river, including Cau, Thuong, and Luc Nam rivers.

d. The system of the Ma river, including Ma and Chu river.

e. The system of the Ca river, including Ca, Con and Ngan Pho rivers.

g. The system of the Ba river (Da Rang river and its tributaries).

h. The system of the Dong Nai – Vam Co rivers, (including Dong Nai, Vam Co Dong and Vam Co Tay rivers).

i. The system of the Mekong River.

The distribution of these rivers is uneven throughout the three parts of the whole country.

Northern Vietnam

The system of rivers and streams in the north consists of the 1,149 km-long Red River, which originates from Nguy Son Mountain, Dai Ly lake (Tibet, China), and flows into Vietnam at Ha Khau (Lao Cai). The section flowing through Vietnam is 550 km long. The Da River is 910 km long, originating in Yunnan (China), and flowing through Lai Chau, Son La and Hoa Binh and joins the Red River at Trung Ha (Phu Tho). The Chay, Lo and Gam rivers are all in Bach Hac (Viet Tri). The Thai Binh River system in northeastern Vietnam consists of the Cau (300 km long). All these rivers (160 km long) and Luc Nam (180 km long). All these rivers flow in the northwestern and southeastern directions and eventually reach the sea.

The system of the Bang Giang – Ky Cung rivers includes two rivers running counter to each other. They converge in Guangxi (China), forming the Ta Giang, a tributary of the Tay Giang river, which discharges into the sea in Guanzhou (China). Originating in Na Vai, the 108-km Bang Giang river with its 26 tributaries flow past Cao Bang. Flowing in the southeastern and northwestern directions, the 243-km Ky Cung river with its 79 tributaries run past Lang Son town to That Khe before going to China.

Central Vietnam

Rivers and streams in the Central region are generally short with many slopes.

The major system consists of the Ma River (including Ma river, Chu rivers, etc in Thanh Hoa). The Ma river is 512 km long, and originates in Son La. It flows out of Vietnam to Laos, then returns to Thanh Hoa and eventually reaches the East Sea. The other river systems include the 361-km Ca (Binh Ca), 158-km Gianh (Quang Binh), 104-km Huong (Thua Thien – Hue), 135-km Tra Khuc, and Ve rivers. The system of the 205-km Thu Bon river originates in Ngoc Linh. Other rivers in the Central Highlands are the 138-km Da Rang, Ya Hun, Ya Krong, Se San, Ya Drang, Dak Rang and Ya Mout rivers.

Southern Vietnam

In the eastern part of the southern Vietnam, there is a system of Dong Nai – Vam Co rivers, which ranks third in terms of length in the system of rivers in Vietnam. This system has 265 tributaries, including the 91-km Da Dung, 79-km Dak Nong, 272-km La Nga, 256-km Sai Gon, 218-km Vam Co rivers. Originating in the Central Highlands, this system discharges into the sea at Can Gio and Soai Rap.

In the western part of southern Vietnam, the catchment area of the Mekong (or Cuu Long) river is in southern Vietnam. The Mekong river (whose sections in Vietnam are called the Tien and Hau rivers) is 5,000 km long, originating in the Tibetan highlands (China), at an altitude of 5,000m above sea level. The river passes northwest of Yunnan Province, flows along the Myanmar-Laos border for about 70 km, along the Thailand-Laos border for about 960 km, then into Laos for some 170 km, then into Cambodia (about 515 km long), through Tonle Sap and finally into Vietnam (at Chau Doc, Hong Ngu) to the estuaries of the Tien and Hau rivers (about 230 km long). Near the sea it splits into nine tributaries (Cuu Long means nine dragons) and flows into the sea, creating a vast delta.

Vietnam’s rivers and streams posses a huge potential for hydroelectricity (especially in the North, Central Highlands and the eastern part of Southern Vietnam). To date, on most of the rivers in the regions of Tay Bac, Viet Bac to the middle area of the central region, the Central Highlands and eastern part of southern Vietnam, numerous hydro-power plants have been and will be built up to the year 2020.

Along riverbanks and the coast, for thousands of years, the Vietnamese people have built thousands of kilometers of dykes and irrigation canals to fight floods as well as supply water for the rice-fields in the deltas. Nevertheless, flooding, particularly in the Mekong River Delta, sometimes appears as a great threat to the inhabitants during rainy seasons. This is a big problem that involves scholars and policy-makers working to find proper solutions.

* Mineral and natural resources

Vietnam has approximately 2,000 mines where over 90 sorts of minerals have been found. Of these, 120 mines with 30 various minerals have been mapped out or are being tapped.

For a small country with a population of around 80 million, such a number of mines and deposits is comparatively large. The reserves of coal in the Quang Ninh region are estimated at over 3 billion tones. For the energy industry, we have oil and gas, excluding brown coal resources (whose reserves are estimated at billions of tonnes, but at a depth of 1,000 m) and rare uranium soil (over 550 million tones in Phong Tho – Son La). The mine with a huge reserve of iron is at Thach Ke (Ha Tinh), which has a depth of about 50 metres. There are ore mines at Trai Cau, Linh Nhan and Cu Van (Thai Nguyen), in Ha Giang, Thanh Hoa and Thua Thien, but they only contain small amounts of minerals. These stores allow Vietnam to enjoy a healthy ferrous (iron-based) metallurgy industry.

Necessary for Vietnam’s non-ferrous metallurgy industry are zinc, lead, copper, volfram, tungsten and bauxite. Of these, Vietnam has most zinc at a mine in Quy Hop (Nghe An). There is also bauxite-mine in the Central Highlands that is sizeable, but the technological procedure for extracting the mineral is complicated and not cost-effective. Copper stores are found all over the country, but not in great reserves.

For our chemical industry, Vietnam has apatite in Cam Duong (Lao Cai), along with mines of pirit, barite fluorite and bentonite.

Raw materials used in construction are in great reserve, including limestone (found all over the north as well as in Ha Tien and the western part of south Vietnam), clay for making bricks, roof-tiles and ceramic products (in Quang Ninh), white sands for making glass in Thuy Trieu (Khanh Hoa), Van Hai (Quang Ninh), and kaolin used in producing porcelain in Bien Hoa (Dong Nai) and Minh Tan (Hai Duong and Quang Ninh).

Vietnam boasts many hot springs and wells of mineral waters. According to surveys, there are some 169 opencast streams of hot mineral water with a content of 1 gr of minerals in 1 liter of water and a temperature of over 30oC. Over 100 wells of mineral water have been found throughout the country, of which 37 percent has a heat of 30oC-40oC. 41 percent of 40oC-60oC, and 21 percent of 60oC-100oC. Given their rich contents of minerals, Vietnamese mineral water is useful for medical treatment.

Vietnam’s continental shelf is very rich in natural resources, namely seafood, oil and gas. However, different resources are distributed differently along the coast: 62 percent of fish, 72 percent of shrimps and 42 percent of squids are found in the sea of southern Vietnam, as are reserves of oil and gas. Within the 20 areas that have been found to have oil and gas, four of them are highly prospective reserves that lie around the two big oil and gas reserves of Cuu Long and Nam Con Son (belonging to the southern seabed). Several oil fields were explored and have been extracted for over a dozen years. Today, Vietnam can exploit 20 million tones of crude oil and billions of cubic meters of gas every year.

The rain forest and topographic structure of Vietnam have brought about an environment characterized by tropical jungles, which are humid and green all year round, comprising trees and plants that are fond of sunlight, high temperatures and high humidity. Jungles like this are not only on mountains and hills but also on the plains.

It should also be noted that Vietnam has a long coast, which facilitates many mangrove forests with high biodiversity such as U Minh Thuong, U Minh Ha (Ca Mau), Can Gio (Ho Chi Minh city), Giao Thuy, Nghia Hung (Nam Dinh). It is estimated that Vietnam’s flora consists of 12,000 species of plants (7,000 of which accounting for 3.2 percent of the whole world’s have already been identified), 800 kinds of moss and 600 kinds of fungus. Among the identified plant species, 2,300 are used as food, herbal medicines or extracted oils.

A survey conducted after 1975 showed that the forest area of the country was only 9.5 million ha, which accounted for 27 percent of the total area of the whole of Vietnam. In 1991, it was approximately 7.8 million ha, about 24 percent of the total area of the whole country. An estimate from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development showed that about 110,000 ha of forests have been lost while only 150,000 ha of new forests are planted every year.

In forests, 275 kinds of mammal animals (6.8 percent of the whole world’s) have been listed; many of which are rare breeds and have been included in the Red Book. Vietnam is also home to 800 species of birds percent of the world’s), 180 reptile species (2.9 percent of the world’s), 80 kinds of amphibian (2 percent of the world’s), 2400 types of fish (13 percent of the world’s) and over 5000 classes of insects.

Vietnam has set up a number of national parks, which protect a wide range of rare species of flora and fauna, such as Hoang Lien Son (in the Fansipan Mount area, Lao Cai), Cat Ba (in Ha Long, Quang Ninh), Cuc Phuong (Ninh Binh), and Pu Mat, Phong Nha (Quang Binh), Bach Ma (Thua Thien – Hue), Con Dao (Con Son island, Ba Ria – Vung Tau), Thien Chau (Tam Nong, Dong Thap), Cat Tien (Dong Nai) national parks.

These national parks are the targets of research by foreign and domestic biologists as well as attractive ecological sites for tourists.

Communist Party of Vietnam - (02/12/2005)

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