Viet Nam, "The Viet of the South", more commonly written "Vietnam" in its westernized form, is a country of some 330,000 km2 on the Eastern coast of the Indochinese peninsula, with a population which has already reached 82.5million (est. 2004).
Some 3 million people live in Hanoi, the capital city in the North, and some 6.5 million (2005) in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly know as Saigon, in the South.
The shape of the country is rather like a long thin "S", with rich alluvial plains in the Red River Delta in the North and the Mekong Delta in the South. For the same reason, the country has sometimes been compared to a traditional Vietnamese carrying pole, with rice baskets at both ends, the burden of Vietnamese women for centuries.
With a coast line of over 3,000 km, Vietnam splits into three broad regions:
The plains, hills and valleys of the Northern Region (Bac Bo) which the French called Tonkin; the narrow coastal plains of the Central Region (Trung Bo) which the French knew and Annam ("The Pacified South"); and the fertile expanses of the Southern Region (Nam Bo) which the French called Cochinchina.
In the north, the temperature drops to 5oC during the winter and below zero in the hills, while in the South the temperature averages 27oC. The centre is subject to occasional typhoons.
There is abundant rainfall averaging 1600 mm per annum and this supports a canopy of tropical forest, now reduced to less than 25% of the land area.