Việt Nam's nature is very diversified. 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 Đất nước (fatherland) is formed by a combination of two words Đất (land) and nước (water). And the wet rice civilization of Vietnamese communities has also been formed in such natural conditions.


On the world map, Việt Nam resembles the letter “S”, with a length four times its width. The broadest part of the country, stretching from Móng Cái, Quảng Ninh Province to where the Việt Nam-China-Laos borderlines converge, is around 500 km wide. The narrowest part is only around 50 km, from the end of Highway No. 20 near the Việt Nam-Laos border to Đồng Hới, Quảng Bình Province. Việt Nam 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 H_1 Long Bay area, where there is a collection of approximately 3,000 islands. Far away are the Hoàng Sa and Trường Sa archipelagos. Further south is Con Son Island, and Phú Quốc and Thổ Chu islands are in the Gulf of Thailand.

Mountains and hills cover 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 ranges lie in the western and northwestern parts of the country. The 3,143m-high Fansipan (on the Hoang Lien Sơn range in Lao Cai) is Việt Nam'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 16,654 sq. km) and the Mekong River Delta in the south (or Southern Delta is 39,568 sq. km). 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 Việt Nam, from the catchment area of the Mã River (in Thanh Hoá) to Phan Thiết.


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 Tru6ng Son mountain range. Moreover, some mountains are on ranges that come from southern China or northern Laos while others like the Tây Nguyen (the Central Highlands) go the other way, stretching back over some neighboring countries. This natural topographic condition has made Việt Nam a relatively "open" territory to its neighbors.

Regarding geological structure, Việt Nam has many lime mountains especially in the region north of the Trường Sơn range. Under the impact of heavy rainfall and high humidity, many wonderful caves and grottoes have been created. Noteworthy are Bích Động (Ninh Bình) which is named Hạ Long Bay on land, Phong Nha (Quảng Bình) which was recognized by UNESCO as a World Natural Heritage in its 27th session on 3 August 2003 in Paris.

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

Việt Nam's seaports are fairly great in number, with 80 ports scattered from Quảng Ninh to Kiên Giang (including Phú Quốc and Côn Đảo islands). The most noteworthy are the major ports in Hải Phòng, Đà Nẵng, Vũng Tàu and Cái Lân (in Quảng Ninh).

Nha Trang City, Khánh Hoà province

Along the 3,260-km-Iong coastline are numerous beautiful areas and beaches. These include Trà Cổ Beach (in Hải Ninh District, Quảng Ninh Province), which is 18 km long, covered with soft yellow sands, where cars can run close to the water edge of a calm and emerald sea; and H9- 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 7 December 1999 and a "World Heritage Site" in terms of geological and geomorphologic values on 29 November 2000. There are also picturesque beaches at B6 San (in Hải Phòng), Đồng Châu (in Thái Bình), Hải Thịnh (in Nam Định), Sầm Sơn (in Thanh Hoá), Cửa Lò (in Nghệ An), Chân Cầm (in Hà Tĩnh), Cửa Tùng, Cửa Việt (Quang Trị, Sơn Trà (Đà Nẵng), Cam Ranh, Nha Trang (Khánh Hòa), Phan Rang (Ninh Thuận), Phan Thiết, Mũi Né (Bình Thuận), Vũng Tàu, Côn Đảo (Bà Rịa-Vũng Tàu) and many other places along the coast. They are wonderful places for tourists to come to relax and swim all year round. At 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.


Việt Nam has several thousand islands, mostly with areas varying between 0.001 and 100 sq. km. 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, with a total area of 1,720 sq. km. The number of islands with an area more than 1 sq. km is only 84 (accounting for three percent of the total number, but 92.73 percent of the total area of islands), three of these islands have an area over 100 sq. km and 14 islands with an area over 10 sq. km.

As far as distribution of islands is concerned, 83.7 percent of the total number of islands is near the shore of Quảng Ninh and Hải Phòng, 5.7 percent in the provinces of Kiên 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 Việt Nam's islands scatter along the coastal plains of the Red River Delta and Eastern Nam B9. Unnamed islands number nearly 1,300. Distances from the mainland to islands also vary: Cái Bàu Island is only a channel's width from the mainland, while Bạch Long Vĩ is 135 km from Hải Phòng; Hòn Hải is 155 km from Phan Thiết; Thổ Chu is 146 km from Ông Đốc estuary (Kiên Giang); Hoang Sa Archipelago is 350 km from Đà Nẵng and Trường Sa Archipelago is over 450 km from the Cam Ranh Bay.

Ha Long

Việt Nam'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, Việt Nam has the features of a peninsula as the oceanic influence can be felt everywhere. Việt Nam 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. Việt Nam can be divided into two major climatic zones:

The North zone, from Hải Vân 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 Hải Vân 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 season lasts from November to April).

Việt Nam has some climatic subzones: some with a temperate climate such as Sa Pa (in Lào Cai), Tam Đảo (in Vĩnh Phúc) and Đà Lạt (in Lâm Đồng); and others with a continental climate as Lai Châu, Sơn La. These are also ideal resorts and co tourist sites.


Việt Nam'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 Đảo, Hoàng Liên Sơn, Mẫu Sơn Mount in Lạng Sơn) temperatures can go below 0°C and there have been reports of snowfall (most recently in December 2002, when temperatures were recorded as around 4°C - 6°C).


Việt Nam's has as many as 2,295 rivers and streams of all types, the shortest one being only 10 km long.

The total rainfall in Việt Nam is estimated at 640 billion cubic metres, 310 billion cubic metres of which flow into rivers.

Among the 2,295 rivers and streams, 1,600 rivers flow into the sea. On average, there is a river mouth every 20 km 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 Thái Bình, Nam Định, and Cà Mau...).

On the Đồng Nai river, Đồng Nai province

Việt Nam has nine major systems of rivers as follows:

a. The system of the Red River, including the Red River, Đà River and Lô River.

b. The system of the Kỳ Cùng - Bằng Giang rivers in the provinces along the Việt Nam-China border.

c. The system of the Thái Bình River, including Cầu. Thương, and Luc Nam rivers

d. The system of the Mã River, including Mã and Chu river.

e. The system of the Cả River, including Cả, Con, Ngàn Phố rivers.

f. The system of the Thu Bồn River. including Thu Bồn. Cái, Bung rivers

g. The system of the Ba River (Đà Rằng River and its tributaries)

h. The system of the Đồng Nai - Vàm Cỏ rivers (including Đồng Nai, Vàm Cỏ Đông and Vàm Cỏ Tây rivers).

i. The system of the Mekong River

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

North Viet Nam

The system of rivers and streams in the north consists of the 1,126 kill-long Red River, which originates from Ngụy Sơn Mountain, Đại Ly Lake (Vân-Quý Plateau, China), and flows into Việt Nam at Hà Khẩu (Lào Cai). The section flowing through Việt Nam is 550 km long. The Đà River is 910 km long, originating in Yunnan (China), and flowing through Lai Châu, Sơn La and Hoà Bình and joins the Red River at Trung Hà (Phú Thọ). The Chảy, Lô and Gâm rivers are all in Bạch Hạc (Việt Trì). The Thái Bình River system in northeastern Việt Nam consists of the Cầu (300 km long), Thương (160 km long) and Lục Nam (180 km long). All these rivers flow in the northwestern and southeastern directions and eventually reach the sea.

Rattan suspension bridge in Mường Hoa stream, SaPa, Lào Cai

The system of the Bằng Giang-Kỳ Cùng rivers includes two rivers running counter to each other. They converge in Guangxi (China), forming the Tà Giang, a tributary of the Tây Giang river, which discharges into the sea in Guangzhou (China). The 108-km Bằng Giang River with its 26 tributaries flow past Cao Bằng. Flowing in the southeastern and northwestern directions, the 243-km Kỳ Cùng River with its 79 tributaries run past Lạng Sơn town to Thất Khê before going to China.

Central Viet Nam

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

The major system consists of the Mil River (including Mil river, Chu river, etc in Thanh Hoá). The Mã River is 512 km long, and originates in Sơn La. It flows out of Việt Nam to Laos, then returns to Thanh Hoá and eventually reaches the East Sea. The other river systems include the 531-km Cả (Bình Ca), 158-km Gianh (Quảng Bình), 104-km Hương (Thừa Thiên-Huế), 135-km Trà Khúc, and Vệ rivers. The system of the 205-km Thu Bồn river originates in Ngọc Linh mountain. Other rivers in the Central Highlands are the 388-km Đà Rằng, Ya Hun, Ya Krong, Se San, Ya Đrang, Đắc Răng and Ya Mout rivers.

South Việt Nam

In the eastern part of south Việt Nam there is the system of Đồng Nai-Vàm Cỏ rivers, which ranks third in terms of length in the systems of rivers in Việt Nam. This system has 265 tributaries, including the 91-km Đa Đủng, 79-km Đắc Nông, 272-km La Ngà, 256-km Sài Gòn, 218-km Vàm Cỏ rivers. Originating in the Central Highlands, this system discharges into the sea at Cần Giờ and Soài Rạp.

In the western part of south Việt Nam, the catchment area of the Mekong (or Cửu Long) River is in south Việt Nam. The Mekong River (whose sections in Việt Nam are called the Tiền and Hậu 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 Việt Nam (at Châu Đốc, Hồng Ngự) to the estuaries of the Tiền and Hậu rivers (about 190 km long). Near the sea it splits into nine tributaries ("Cửu Long" means "nine dragons") and flows into the sea, creating a vast delta.

Việt Nam's rivers and streams possess a huge potential for hydroelectricity (especially in the North, Central Highlands and the eastern part of south Việt Nam). To ,date, on most of the rivers in the regions of Tây Bắc, Việt Bắc to the middle area of the central region, the Central Highlands and eastern part of south Việt Nam, numerous hydro-power plants have been and will be built up to the year2020.

Along riverbanks and the coast, for thousands of years, the Vietnamese people have built up 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.


Việt Nam 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 Quảng Ninh region are estimated at over 3 billion tonnes. 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 500 million tonnes in Phong Thổ-Sơn La). The mine with a huge reserve of iron is at Thạch Khê (Hà Tĩnh), which has a depth of about 50 meters. There are ore mines at Trại Cau, Linh Nhân and Cù Văn (Thái Nguyên), in Hà Giang, Thanh Hoá and Thừa Thiên, but they only contain small amounts of minerals. These stores allow Việt Nam to enjoy a healthy ferrous (iron-based) metallurgy industry.

Coal mining in Hồng Thái mine, Đông Triều, Quảng Ninh

Necessary for Việt Nam's non-ferrous metallurgy industry are zinc, lead, copper, volfram, tungsten and bauxite. Of these, Việt Nam has most of zinc at a mine in Quỳ Hợp (Nghệ An). There is also bauxite-mine in the Central Highlands that is sizable, but the technological procedure for extracting the mineral is complicated and not costeffective. Copper stores are found in Ban San (Sơn La), while gold and platinum can be found all over the country, but not in great reserves.
For our chemical industry, Việt Nam has apatite in Cam Đường (Lào 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 Hà Tiên and the western part of south Việt Nam), clay for making bricks, roof-tiles and ceramic products (in Quảng Ninh), white sands for making glass in Thuỷ Triều (Khánh Hoà), Vân Hải (Quảng Ninh), and kaolin used in producing porcelain in Biên Hoà (Đồng Nai) and Minh Tân (Hải Dương and Quảng Ninh).

Việt Nam boasts many hot springs and wells of mineral water. According to surveys, there are some 169 opencast streams of hot mineral water with a content of 1 g of minerals in 1 liter of water and a temperature of over 30°C. Over 100 wells of mineral water have been found throughout the country, of which 37 percent has a heat of 30°C40°C, 41 percent of 40°C-60°C, and 21 percent of 60°C-100°C. Given their rich contents of minerals, Vietnamese mineral water is useful for medical treatment.

Việt Nam'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 south Việt Nam, 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 Cửu Long and Nam Côn Sơn (belonging to the southern continental shelf). Several oil fields were explored and have been extracted for over a dozen years. Today, Việt Nam can exploit 20 million tonnes of crude oil and billions of cubic meters of gas every year.

Oil and Gas are big business and at the forefront of an industrilisation of Vietnam. The BP/Statoil Alliance and ONGC at Offshore Block 06.1 pumps thousands of barrels daily

The rain forest and topographic structure of Việt Nam 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 Việt Nam has a long coast, which facilitates many mangrove torests with high biodiversity such as U Minh Thượng, U Minh Hạ (Cà Mau), Cần Giờ (Hồ Chí Minh City), Giao Thuỷ, Nghĩa Hưng (Nam Định). It is estimated that Việt Nam'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 hectares, which accounted for 27 percent of the total area of the whole of Việt Nam. In 1991, it was approximately 7.8 million hectares, 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 hectares of forests have been lost while only 150,000 hectares 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 World Red Book. Việt Nam is also home to 800 species of birds (8.8 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.

Việt Nam has set up a number of national parks, which protect a wide range of rare species of flora and fauna, such as Hoang Lien San (in the Fansipan Mount area, Lào Cai), Cát Bà (Hải Phòng), Cúc Phương (Ninh Bình), and Pù Mát, Phong Nha (Quảng Bình), Bạch Mã (Thừa Thiên-Huế), Côn Đảo (Côn Sơn island, Bà Rịa-Vũng Tàu), Thiên Châu (Tam Nông, Đồng Tháp), Cát Tiên (Đồng Nai) national parks.

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



1. Mai Ly Quang: Glimpses of Vietnam - The gioi Publishers, Ha Noi, 2004, 223p.

2. Nguyen Hong Sam: Vietnam Today - Van hoa Thong tin publishers, Ha Noi, 1997, 206p.

3. Vietnam - Lanscape, Ha Noi, 40p.