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, Laos and 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: north, central, and 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 ethnolinguistic 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.
Vietnam is approximately 331,688 km² (128,066 sq mi) in area (not including Hoang Sa and Truong Sa islands), larger than Italy and almost the size of Germany. The perimeter of the country running along its international boundaries is 4,639 km (2,883 mi). The topography consists of hills and densely forested mountains, with level land covering no more than 20%. Mountains account for 40% of the area, with smaller hills accounting for 40% and tropical forests 42%. The northern part of the country consists mostly of highlands and the Red River Delta. Phan Xi Păng, located in Lào Cai province, is the highest mountain in Vietnam at 3,143 m (10,312 ft). The south is divided into coastal lowlands, Annamite Chain peaks, extensive forests, and poor soil. Comprising five relatively flat plateaus of basalt soil, the highlands account for 16% of the country's arable land and 22% of its total forested land.
Overshadowed until now by the medical tourism industries in other nearby Asian countries like Singapore and Thailand, Vietnam is slowly emerging as a potential challenger for tourist-friendly Thailand. In addition to offering surgeries of all kinds including cosmetic and dental procedures, Vietnam is a leader in traditional Chinese medicine. Acupuncture is widely practiced as a curative measure for many types of illness.
Although Vietnam is a relative novice on the medical tourism scene, it is gradually gaining a reputation for itself as a destination capable of offering a broad selection of surgical procedures with a high standard of expertise and pre- and post-operative care. The country also offers alternative medical treatments such as acupuncture, which is attracting increasing numbers of patients with conditions for which Western medicine has proven unsuccessful in treating.
Cosmetic surgery is the main field concentrated on by Vietnam’s medical tourism industry with clinics offering the usual selection of procedures, including rhinoplasty, blepharoplasty, abdominoplasty, liposuction and breast augmentation. A small number of establishments also offer orthopedic and obstetric treatment. Dental surgery is a burgeoning field as well, with both essential and cosmetic procedures on offer.
Vietnam has plenty to offer medical tourists beyond treatment, and visitors can take advantage of a wealth of attractions across the length of the country during convalescence. Pretty beach resorts are on hand for those who need to rest after surgery.
As Vietnam becomes a more desirable destination for medical and cosmetic surgeries, its infrastructure has seen appropriate improvements. Though still nowhere near the top of the heap as far as medical tourism destinations go, Vietnam is slowly gaining ground in an ever more competitive industry. With prices that are up to 70 percent cheaper than in the west, Vietnam is becoming an attractive option for many. Some Vietnamese doctors are trained overseas and can speak English fluently.
Legend has it that Vietnam's origin lay in the harmonious union of lac Long Quan, King of the Sea, and Au Co, Princess of the Mountains. Real life was not so paradisical, as Vietnam's early history--like its recent history--is characterized by a nearly continuous struggle for autonomy. First came an entire millenium of Chinese domination, which was finally thrown off in the 9th century. External control was imposed once again in the 19th century, when Vietnam was occupied by the French.
French rule lasted until WWII, when the country was invaded by Japan. At the war's end the predominantly Communist Viet Minh, which had led the resistance movement against the Japanese, declared the country's independence. The French Indochina War ensued, until France admitted defeat in 1954, and the Geneva Accords left Vietnam divided into a Communist north and an anti-Communist south. By this time the U.S. had replaced the French as the primary sponsor of the anti-Communist government. Tension between north and south mounted over the next few years, until in 1964 full scale war erupted. The conflict lasted for the next eight years, and involved hundreds of thousands of troops from the U.S. and other countries. In 1973 a cease-fire agreement allowed the U.S. the opportunity to withdraw its troops, and in 1975 the southern capital of Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese. An extended period of political repression followed, prompting massive emigration from the country. In 1991, with the fall of Communism and the end of the Cold War, many western powers re-established diplomatic and trade relations with Vietnam. The last country to do so, in 1995, was the U.S.
The richness of Vietnam's origins is evident throughout its culture. Spiritual life in Vietnam is a grand panoply of belief systems, including Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Tam Giao (literally 'triple religion'), which is a blend of Taoism, popular Chinese beliefs, and ancient Vietnamese animism.
The most important festival of the year is Tet, a week-long event in late January or early February that heralds the new lunar year and the advent of spring. Celebration consists of both raucous festivity (fireworks, drums, gongs) and quiet meditation. In addition to Tet, there are about twenty other traditional and religious festivals each year.
Vietnamese architecture expresses a graceful aesthetic of natural balance and harmony that is evident in any of the country's vast numbers of historic temples and monasteries. The pre-eminent architectural form is the pagoda, a tower comprised of a series of stepped pyramidal structures and frequently adorned with lavish carvings and painted ornamentation. Generally speaking, the pagoda form symbolizes the human desire to bridge the gap between the constraints of earthly existence and the perfection of heavenly forces. Pagodas are found in every province of Vietnam.One of the most treasured is the Thien Mu Pagoda in Hue, founded in 1601 and completed more than two hundred years later. In North Vietnam, the pagodas that serve as the shrines and temples of the Son La mountains are especially worth visiting. In South Vietnam, the Giac Lam Pagoda of Ho Chi Minh City is considered to be the city's oldest and is notable as well for its many richly-carved jackwood statues.
Places To Visit
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
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