Overview of Vietnam’s Geography
Total area: 331,210 KM2
Coastline: 3,260 KM
Total Land Boundaries: 4,550 KM
Border Countries: Cambodia 1,137 KM, Laos 2,340 KM, China 1,065 KM
Timezone: UTC/GMT +7
Provinces: 58 provinces, 5 municipalities
Highest Point: Mount Fansipan (3,144 M)
Natural Resources: offshore oil and gas deposits, timber, hydropower, coal, phosphates, bauxite, chromate, manganese
Natural Hazards: occasional typhoons (Central Vietnam)
Vietnam’s Location and Borders
The country boasts an area of 331,210 square kilometers in Southeast Asia, sharing its land borders with only 3 countries: China to the north, Laos, and Cambodia to the west. Most of its periphery, particularly in the east, south, and southwest, is outlined by the South China Sea in the Pacific Ocean. Vietnam’s land border is only 4,550 km, but its sea border is an outstanding 3,260 km, starting from Mong Cai beaches in the north to Ha Tien beaches in the southwest.
On the world map, Vietnam lies between the Northern Tropic and the equator, with the shape resembling the letter S. Vietnamese find this fact a unique and endearing feature of their country, affectionately dubbing it “the S-letter-shaped country”. Vietnam measures 1,650 km long from north to south; the widest width on the mainland is 500 km, and the narrowest part is 50 km.
With the predominant oceanic nature of its border, it is no wonder islands are a quintessential part of Vietnam’s territory. The Northern Gulf (Vinh Bac Bo) harbors over 3,000 isles, assembling big groups around Ha Long Bay, Bai Tu Long, Cat Ba Islands, and Bach Long Vi Islands. The two massive islands in the central region, Hoang Sa and Truong Sa, are far from the mainland. Lastly, Con Son, Phu Quoc, and Tho Chu Islands stand in the south and southwest.
Beach coasts and islands are a major part of Vietnam’s geography
Due to its position within the tropical rain belt, Vietnam experiences high temperatures and considerable humidity all year round. While the north is closer to China and shares a continental climate, the rest of mainland Vietnam has a tropical monsoon climate influenced considerably by the South China Sea. However, the tropical monsoon climate is not consistent throughout the territory of Vietnam, creating distinct regions and climatic zones. Vietnam’s weather varies from season to season, from lowlands to highlands, from north to south, and from east to west. Due to the strong impact of the Northeast monsoon, its average temperature is lower than that of other Asian countries at the same latitudes.
The two main climatic zones in Vietnam
Due to the significances of Vietnam’s geography, the country’s climate can be split into two major climatic zones:
(1) the North (from Hai Van Pass northwards) stays under the influence of Northeast monsoon winds (from mainland central Asia) and Southeast monsoon winds (from Thailand, Laos, and the South China Sea), thus having a tropical monsoon climate with four distinct seasons (spring – summer – fall – winter) and high humidity.
(2) the South (from Hai Van Pass southwards): hardly influenced by monsoon winds, thus having a consistent tropical climate, hot all year round, and having only two seasons – the dry season and the rainy season.
During the rainy season in Vietnam, shallow areas can get flooded
Besides, due to the natural topography, Vietnam also has several climatic sub-zones (or microclimates). Specifically, Sapa City in Lao Cai Province and Dalat City in Lam Dong Province have a clear temperate climate. Meanwhile, Lai Chau Province and Son La Province have humid continental climates. These places with cool temperatures all year round are ideal destinations for holiday getaways.
Vietnam’s average temperature ranges between 21 and 27 degrees C (70 to 80 degrees F) and gradually increases from north to south. In the summer, the country’s average temperature is 25 degrees C (77 degrees F), which can be 23 degrees C in Hanoi, 25 degrees C in Hue, and 26 degrees C in Ho Chi Minh. In the winter in the North, temperatures hit their lowest in December and January. Northern mountainous areas like Sapa, Tam Dao, and Hoang Lien Son can drop as low as 0 degrees C (32 degrees F).
Vietnam has a high amount of sun, with total annual sunshine ranging from 1,400 to 3,000 hours per year (4 to 8 hours a day). Annual precipitation is 1,500 mm to 2,000 mm, and humidity is a massive 80%. Due to monsoon winds and terrain complexities, Vietnam experiences frequent harsh conditions like storms, floods (especially in central Vietnam), and droughts.
Vietnam has mainly the following terrain types: hills and mountains, plains, coasts, and continental shelf. There are only sand deserts in Vietnam and no dry or cold deserts. Moreover, Vietnam’s typography gets lower from northwest to southeast, reflected by the flowing direction of significant rivers in Vietnam.
Mountains in Vietnam
Mountains and hills account for up to 3/4 of Vietnam’s territory, but they are generally low. Low mountains under 1,000 m comprise a gigantic 85%, while mountains over 2,000 m high constitute only 1% of the total terrain. Vietnam’s mountains and hills from Northwest to Southeast are 1400 km long, forming the shape of a giant arch towards the South China Sea.
The largest mountains are all in the west and northwest, with Mount Fansipan being Indochina’s highest peak (3,143 m). In contrast to the long and high mountain ranges in the north, southern Vietnam possesses average highlands with specific peaks, constituting a region called Tay Nguyen (or Central Highlands). The eastern edge of Tay Nguyen was elevated through natural processes and became Truong Son Mountains, the most well-known mountain in Vietnam due to its role in the Vietnam War.
Mountains are omnipresent in Vietnam
Flatlands in Vietnam
Plains in Vietnam account for only 1/4 of the Vietnam area and are divided by mountains and hills. The two largest, most fertile plains in the country are the North Delta (or Red River Delta, 16,700 square kilometers, around the Red River) and the South Delta (or Mekong Delta, 40,000 square kilometers, around Mekong River downstream). Sandwiched by these two plains are a thread of intermittent small plains running alongside the central coast, called Coastal Plains, starting from Ma River in Thanh Hoa province to Phan Thiet City in Binh Thuan province, totaling an area of 15,000 square kilometers.
Rivers in Vietnam
Lastly, it would be an incomplete picture to talk about Vietnam’s geography without talking about its extensive range of rivers. There are an astounding 2,360 rivers over 10 km long in Vietnam. Rivers in Vietnam follow two main flowing directions: northwest-southeast rivers and arch rivers. The two biggest rivers are, as mentioned – the Red River in the north and the Mekong River in the south. The entire network of Vietnam’s rivers and streams receives up to 310 billion cubic meters of water every year. There are two flow seasons of rivers: flood season and dry season, with the flood season taking up 70 to 80% of the total annual water amount, causing frequent floods to nearby areas.
Vietnam has over 2,000 rivers
Vietnam’s Geology, Flora, and Fauna
Land types in Vietnam are diverse but generally fertile and beneficial to agriculture and fishery development. Due to Vietnam’s advantageous geology and climate, the country has eclectic vegetation of up to 14,600 plant species. Tropical forests are the main home to Vietnam vegetation, primarily plants prone to sunlight, favoring high temperatures and high humidity.
Fauna in Vietnam is also varied, registering 275 species of mammals, 800 species of birds, 180 species of reptiles, 80 species of amphibians, 2,400 species of fish, and 5,000 species of insects. Several animal species are recorded in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Northern Highlands and mountains are home to many Asian black bears, sun bears, foxes, and civets, while dense forests house many types of monkeys (red-shanked douc) and wild cats.
Nature reserves are home to Vietnam’s varied flora and fauna
Vietnam has established several natural reserves and national parks across the country to preserve and develop this biodiversity. The most outstanding names are Hoang Lien Son (around Fansipan Mount., Lao Cai Province), Cuc Phuong (Ning Binh Province), Phong Nha Ke Bang (Quang Binh Province), Bach Ma (Thua Thien Hue Province), Con Dao (Ba Ria Vung Tau Province), and Cat Tien (Dong Nai Province). These are not only where Vietnamese and international biologists conduct their research but also appealing ecotourism spots.
UNESCO has recognized 9 Vietnamese biosphere reserves as the World’s reserves, including Can Gio Mangrove, Dong Nai, Cat Ba, Kien Giang, Ca Mau, Cu Lao Cham, Red River Delta, Western Nghe An, and Langbiang. These are a testament to the richness of Vietnam’s geography.
More on Vietnam’s National Parks
Summary of Vietnam’s Geography
A long glimpse into Vietnam’s geography to know that the country is characterized by overall low hills and mountains, wide-ranging flora and fauna, extensive rivers, and most importantly, two massive plains. Maybe due to this favorable nature, Vietnamese people tend to have a friendly and laid-back attitude to life and heartwarming hospitality.
Sources of reference: Vietnam Ministry of Affairs