mountains, flat plains and most other landforms in between
Vietnam is mainly hills and densely forested mountains.
Most of its population lives on the 20% that is level ground:
40% of its 331,688 square kilometres is mountainous, and
the remaining 40% is hills. Approximately 25% of land is
covered 75% of our country, but deforestation by the US
Army during the war
reduced that figure to 23% in 1980. A programme to replace
5m hectares was launched in 1998 - so far, about 0.6m ha
have been reforested.
Vietnam has five main land regions. The North consists of
the Northern Highlands and the Red River Delta, and the South
is made up of the Annamite Mountain Range, the Coastal Lowlands,
and the Mekong Delta.
The towering peaks of the northwest mountains are, geologically
speaking, very recent. An eastern extension of the Himalayas,
the Hoang Lien Son range was created about a hundred million
Three peaks dominate
Sapa, a small town perched high in the mountains - Lung Cung
(2,918m), Pu Luong (2,985m) and Vietnam’s highest mountain,
Mt. Fansipan (3,143m). Amateurs can scale all three, but it's
a gruelling three-day trek to Fansipan’s summit, requiring
high levels of fitness and plenty of stamina.
The northwest area
is rocky, mountainous terrain. Much of it is inaccessible,
but that which can be reached is often spectacularly beautiful.
There are many rivers, including the intermediate levels of
the Red River and its major tributary, the Black River: lakes,
both natural and reservoirs, waterfalls and caves are abundant.
These features, and the presence of many different ethnic
minority groups, make it desirable area to visit.
mountains are lower and mainly composed of limestone. At its
western extremity, it borders on the Red River Delta, and
with China to the north and east. It is more remote and less
visited that the northwest. Consequently, the ethnic groups
living in the mountains along the border are unaccustomed
to meeting tourists.
The wide fertile plain of the Red River Delta has been the
favoured entry point for invaders from the North over the
centuries. To the south, separated by a narrow coastal plain
and an archipelago of rocky 'karst' limestone islands, lies
the Gulf of Tonkin and the East Sea. The coastline
is mostly muddy in the delta area and rocky around Ha Long,
but there are a few reasonable beaches, such as those on Cat
Ba Island, near Hai Phong, and at Tra Co, close to Mong Cai
and the Chinese border.
There are several
other areas of karst limestone in the north central area of
Vietnam, notably in Tam Coc and Hoa Lu, and the area further
south inland from Dong Hoi that contains the remarkable Phong
Nha Caves. Not yet fully explored, Phong Nha extends over
at least 35km of underground passages: during June, 2003,
the caves and the area around them became Vietnam’s fifth
World Heritage Area.
northern extremity of the coastal lowland area is marked by
granite mountains carrying the Hai Van Pass that descends
to Danang. Also in the Danang area are the famous Marble Mountains,
a further example of karst limestone formations. South of
Danang, the usable area is a strip of flat land of varying
width running the length of thecoast, broken only by a mountainous
area around Nha Trang and ending at the northern edge of the
Most of central Vietnam’s
population lives on the coastal lowlands in towns and villages
linked by the railway and Highway 1.
Further inland, the Annamite Cordilleras is a ridge of mountains
running from north to south rising to heights of around 1,500m
in places. Behind the peaks is Giai Truong Son, a series of
plateaux at elevations between 500 and 750m with red, highly
fertile volcanic soil.
plateaux extend from Dak Lak Lake 400km northwards to Dak
To. The highland area is long, thin and very varied in its
climate, topography, history and ethnicity. It shares a border
with Laos and, further south, with Cambodia. The largest centre
of population is the mountain town of Dalat.
The extreme south of Vietnam is a plain stretching south-east
to the vast Mekong Delta. Almost the entire area is near sea-level,
but there are outcrops of limestone karst formations in and
around Ha Tien, close to the border with Cambodia, and limestone
islands near the coast. Further away in the Gulf of Thailand,
Phu Quoc is a large granite island with a mountainous forested
area to the north.