The Socialist Republic of Vietnam, as the nation is officially titled, is sandwiched between Cambodia and Laos to the west and the South China Sea and the Gulf of Tonkin to the east.   China borders it to the north and Vietnam’s southern end juts out into the Gulf of Thailand.
Temperatures in Vietnam are usually hot and humid hovering around 80 degrees. Further north, the climate becomes milder.  There are two seasons in Vietnam: the dry season and the rainy season .
A 2008 estimate puts the Vietnamese population at 86,116,560.  The Viet ethnic group is the most dominant (86% of the population). Minority ethnic groups make up the remainder although even the largest groups contribute barely over 1% each.  The Vietnamese government recognizes over 50 distinct national minorities such as the Tay, the Thai, the Muoung,  the Hoa, the Nùng, and the Hmong.
Vietnam’s sovereignty was a source of international contention for much of the 20th century.  The 1954 Geneva Accords divided the former French colony into a Socialist northern republic and a democratic southern one.  After nearly two decades of conflict, U.S. troops left South Vietnam.  Communist forces began their permanent occupation of the territory in 1975.

The dominant Viet are concentrated in the coastal plains and river deltas where Vietnam’s urban areas are located.  The other two thirds of the country’s landmass (which is slightly larger than New Mexico’s) is covered in highlands and inhabited by a number of ethnic minorities.  Vietnam was originally populated by immigrants from China and from Indonesia.   Vietnamese civilization began with the Phung-nguyen culture, which appeared around 2000 B.C. in northern Vietnam.  Around 1200 B.C., the Dong Son culture of the same region was casting bronze and growing rice in irrigated paddies in the Red and Ma river deltas.  The Hung dynasty, Vietnam’s first, was established by representatives of the Dong Son.   China overthrew the Hung dynasty around 100 B.C. and ruled much of modern-day Vietnam until 907 A.D., when the Chinese Tang dynasty collapsed.  Nam Viet, as the Chinese called Vietnam, subsequently reverted to self-rule.

During the 17th century, European traders began landing on the Vietnamese coast.  The Portuguese, Dutch, and French all set up trading posts and religious missions.  The French Jesuit Alexandre de Rhodes created a romanized Vietnamese alphabet after arriving in Hanoi in 1627.  In 1802, the Vietnamese emperor Gia Long united Vietnam, bringing separate kingdoms together to form the country that exists today.  France began its official invasion of Vietnam in 1859 and declared it a territory in 1885. The French colonization ended in 1955,  after the Vietnamese victory at Dien Bien Phu.
The main religions in Vietnam are Buddhism and Catholicism .  One can also find followers of Taoism, Confucianism, the Hoa Hoa and Cao Dai faiths, Islam, and  various Christian denominations. On the whole, four great philosophies have shaped Vietnamese spiritual life: Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism , and Christianity.

Vietnamese is the official language of Vietnam. In addition, there are dozens of other languages spoken by ethnic minorities in the mountains. The most widely spoken foreign languages in Vietnam are English, French, Chinese (Cantonese and Mandarin), and Russian.
“Ao dai” (or Long gown) is the traditional costume of Vietnam.  Vietnamese cuisine is extremely varied  — there are supposedly nearly 500 different traditional dishes.  The main components of the Vietnamese diet are white rice, vegetables, fruits, fish, poultry, pork, very little beef, and the famous fish sauce or “nuoc mam”.

Vietnam’s primary industries are food processing, garments, machine-building, mining, coal, steel, cement, chemical fertilizer, glass, tires, and paper.  Its primary agricultural crops are rice, coffee, rubber, cotton, tea, pepper, soybeans, cashews, sugar cane, peanuts, and bananas.   Its principal exports include crude oil, rice, coffee, rubber, tea, and manufactured garments.  Between 2001 and 2007, Vietnam’s exports to the United States increased by 900%.  Vietnam joined the World Trade Organization in 2007.

Vietnam’s major cities include: Hanoi, Haiphong, Ho Chi Minh City, Hué, Danang,  and  Nha Trang.  Hanoi is the national capital and the former seat of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam .