Vietnam is a small, S-shaped country bordering the South China Sea in southeast Asia.
     Vietnam is divided into three regions: the north (Bac Bo), the central area (Trung Bo), and the south (Nam Bo).
     The northern area is a cool climate, mainly mountainous, with patchy forests on higher slopes, turning into dense rainforest lower down. These mountains are the Hoang Liem Mountains, and, although they are extremely beautiful, are very inhospitable to people. This broad mountain range kept the invading Chinese out of Vietnam for hundreds of years.
     Most of the population in northern Vietnam is in the Red River Delta, a large, soggy area near the coast. In this area is the largest city in northern Vietnam, Hanoi, which is also the country's capital. The Red River itself winds through the mountains, bordered by jungle and rainforest, until it gets to the wet lowlands of the delta.
      The narrow neck of land that makes up central Vietnam is made up of two distinct areas; the coast and the mountains. The coastal regions are wet and sandy, with many lakes and low, sandy hills. The mountains are somewhat less lush than the northern ones, with shrubbier forests in some areas. These mountains are cut by numerous streams and rivers, which turn into high waterfalls as the mountains drop off near the coast.
     Most of southern Vietnam is only minimally forested, and very wet and hot. The extreme south of the country is dominated by the Mekong River Delta, in which live the biggest and nastiest of all fresh water fish, the Mekong Giant Catfish and the Mekong Giant Stingray. The delta is an open, coastal region, not unlike the Sacramento Delta in California, but is much larger. Besides the Mekong, there are many smaller rivers and deltas throughout southern Vietnam, as well as forested mountains in the western part of the region.
     In this southern region is Ho Chi Minh City (formerly called Saigon), which is Vietnam's largest city. It was previously the capital of the country of South Vietnam, but when Communists from the north took over the entire country, the city's name was changed. It is now named after the leader of these Communist invaders, Ho Chi Minh.

    Vietnam has an? exceptionally long history, dating all the way back to the Paleolithic time, at the beginning of the Stone Age.
     It all started with the Dong Son people, a group of people living in a river valley in northern Vietnam. They were relatively advanced for their time, and quickly began using metal tools after they started with stone ones.
     The Dong Son eventually spread from their home in the Ma River Valley to the nearby Red River Delta and elsewhere. They eventually became known as the Lac Viet, or Valley People, because they inhabited various river deltas and valleys in northern Vietnam.
     Thousands of years later, after the Lac Viet had extended their territory southward throughout much of Vietnam, the Chinese invaded from the north. This was around 250 B.C. The Chinese slowly took over more and more of the Lac Viet's (Vietnamese) land, and eventually conquered all of it.
     This, however, was only the story of northern Vietnam. The first people to arrive in the south were probably Polynesians. Next came Indians and Indonesians, and the region became very Indian-influenced. Indian rulers set up small kingdoms in that area, and introduced Buddhism to Vietnam.
     The largest of these kingdoms, and the one that eventually took over the land of all the others, was Champa. Champa occupied the entire southern half of what is Vietnam today. The Chinese, who occupied the northern half of Vietnam, forced Champa to pay taxes.
     The people of northern Vietnam had it much worse off than that. The Chinese ruled them for about a thousand years, and were not good rulers. The Chinese rulers forced the often dirt-poor Vietnamese to pay huge taxes, and eventually, the Vietnamese became very unhappy with it all.
     There were a number of uprisings carried out by the Vietnamese, and some succeeded in freeing a small area for a short time, but none succeeded in the long run. Finally, one such uprising was able to free Vietnam from the Chinese. Vietnam, then called Nam Viet, was not free from war, however.
     Vietnamese rulers, each wanting to control at least a portion of the newly freed country, fought with each other for years, until a man named Ly Thai To defeated all the rest. He was the start of the Ly Dynasty. This dynasty made Vietnam into a wealthy country, complete with a strong enough army to drive off invading Mongols from the north.
     But it did not last. Another dynasty, the Tran Dynasty, eventually overcame the Ly Dynasty and took control of the country.
     The Tran Dynasty was not very good at running a country, and was soon defeated by another equally weak leader. After seven years of him, the Chinese came in and, once again, took over Vietnam.
     This time, Chinese rule was even worse. The Chinese made a point of destroying Vietnamese culture, to discourage the Vietnamese into submission.
     It did not work. After a relatively brief period, a Vietnamese man named Le Loi got together an army and defeated the Chinese. He started the Le Dynasty.
     Under the Le Dynasty, Vietnam prospered. The Le kings built Vietnam's first university and organized the country's military so that, seemingly, the dynasty was undefeatable.
     Even with such great prosperity, other people in Vietnam wanted more power. The Nguyen and Trinh families organized small armies and teamed up against the Le king of the time.
     The Trinh group controlled northern Vietnam, while the Nguyens controlled the south. The Le Dynasty was still the country's leadership, but only in name. The corrupt Nguyen and Trinh rulers used the Le king like a puppet.
     In the town of Tay Son, two brothers were very unhappy with the situation. They got together an army of local peasants, over two thousand in number, and set out to defeat the Nguyens and Trinhs. They won, but only stayed in power briefly.
     With the help of the French, who wanted more involvement in Vietnam, the Nguyens regained control of not only southern Vietnam, but the whole country. This was the beginning of the Nguyen Dynasty, which lasted for more than a hundred and fifty years.
     When the Nguyen kings began killing Christians for no reason whatsoever, the French got mad. They sent their soldiers into Vietnam to take over the country, and they succeeded. They divided the country into two parts: Cochin China in the south and Tonkin in the north.
     The French oppressed the ?Vietnamese, taking money, crops, and many other things out of Vietnam. Many people were illiterate, poor and hungry, and the idea of an uprising was high on the minds of the Vietnamese.
     Then, the Germans took over France, and Vietnam was handed over to the Japanese. This did not last long, however. When the French got their country back, they also got Vietnam. So, the oppression began all over again.
     A man man named Ho Chi Minh gathered together an army in the mountains of northern Vietnam. He was descended from the once-powerful Nguyen Dynasty, and he wanted to be the ruler of Vietnam.
     Ho Chi Minh was a communist. He believed in a government in which government controls almost every aspect of life for every citizen of the country.
     Ho began fighting the French. The United States, who was also against the French, supported him with money. That was before the U.S. knew he was a communist. Eventually, Ho's army drove the French out of northern Vietnam. The French and French-supporting southern-Vietnamese people made their own country in the south, called South Vietnam, while communist northern Vietnam was called North Vietnam.
     Now, the United States realised what was going on. This was the beginning of the famous Vietnam War. Ho was a communist, and the U.S. has always been against communism. So, the U.S. sent in its army to fight the North Vietnamese. It was a long and hard fight, but Ho's army, called the Viet Cong, slowly gained ground. Eventually, Ho Chi Minh took over the entire country. Since then, Vietnam has been a communist country.

        by Noah Arthur
The Vietnamese People
    The people of Vietnam are descended from a number of different groups that came to Vietnam early on. The Dong Son people, Chinese/Indonesians who lived in northern Vietnam, mixed with Indians, Polynesians, and others as time went on, and eventually developed into the Vietnamese people of today.
     Vietnamese culture has taken things from each of the many different cultures that influenced it. For example, women in southern Vietnam still dress like Indian women, because of the strong Indian influence to that area centuries ago.
     There are many different ethnic groups living in Vietnam, the largest of these is the Vietnamese, of Indonesian/Indian/Chinese origin. Others include pure Chinese, descended from the Chinese that ruled Vietnam more than two thousand years ago. There are a number of highland tribes living in Vietnam's mountains, as well. Some people in southern Vietnam are almost purely Indonesian.
     The Vietnamese language most closely resembles Chinese, but, like everything Vietnamese, it has borrowed things from other cultures and languages. The original Vietnamese writing system used characters similar to those used in Chinese, but this system was somewhat difficult to use, and the French gave Vietnam an easier system, called quoc ngu, that uses English-like letters.
     In this system, the letters are spelled into words, as in English, and each word or syllable has a tone mark over it. Tone marks tell what tone is to be used when pronouncing the word or syllable. There are six different tones, each represented in writing by a tone mark. A word pronounced with one tone usually means something completely different from the same word with a different tone.
     Rice is the staple of ?Vietnamese food. Most meals are made up of a big bowl of rice and small bowls of other foods in the center of the table. Each person puts rice in his personal bowl, places small amounts of other foods on top of the rice, and mixes it all together for a mainly-rice meal.
     For breakfast, noodles often replace rice. These noodles, called
pho, are made of rice. A noodle breakfast is a hot bowl of pho soup with flavored broth. Another common food in Vietnam is rolls. Paper-thin rice flatbread (called rice paper) is rolled around vegetables and/or meat to make a roll.
     Bird and mammal meats are not commonly eaten in Vietnam because most Vietnamese can't afford them. Fish is very commonly eaten because it is affordable. There is so much water and so many fish in Vietnam that fish is always easy to get, whether by buying it at the supermarket, catching it from the local lake, or raising fishes in a pond. Fish is so popular that the most common seasoning in Vietnamese food,
nuoc mam, is made from fermented anchovies.
     Vegetables are also a very common part of
Sources - Books:
Enchantment of the World, Vietnam
Sources - Websites:
Vietnam Bird Checklist: Complete Bird List
Communism in Vietnam
    Vietnam's communist government affects everyday life for all of the country's citizens. Communism's impact on life is usually not a good one, either.
     Communism is, by nature, oppressive. It is the form of government in which the government controls the lives of the country's citizens. In a communist country, the government tells people where they will live, where they will work, and how many children they are allowed to have.
     Communist countries are often very closed to the world outside, restricting trade and travel in and out of the country. Communist rulers often stay in office as long as they can, sometimes until they die.
     When this form of government came to Vietnam during the Vietnam War, many Vietnamese people who did not want to be oppressed fled the country in boats or planes. These boats were often cram packed with people, poorly supplied, and poorly sailed. Although many boats made it to other parts of Asia, or even as far as North America, many probably sunk, or their inhabitants starved while drifting around in the water.
     In Vietnam today, the communist government is not quite as extremely communist as it is in some other countries. Rather than one ruler that decides everything, there is a group of leaders, the National Assembly, that govern the country. Communism, however, is still very restrictive on travel, trade, and many other aspects of life in Vietnam.

    Vietnam's many different regligions are often somewhat mixed-together by people. As the book put it, "Vietnamese people shape their religion by what best fits their lifestyle." There are a number of small religions in Vietnam, such as Taoism, Tam Giao, and others.
     Vietnam's main religion, however, is Buddhism. Many Vietnamese are Buddhist, although elements from other religions are usually present in Vietnamese Buddhists' beliefs.
     Many Vietnamese believe a set of beliefs called Confucianism. Confucianism is not really a religion, because its beliefs do not include any god or gods. Confucianism is, essentially, a set of guidelines for life. Many Vietnamese people believe in Confucianism along with Buddhism or another religion.

Interview with a Vietnamese Woman
I interviewed a Vietnamese woman at my dad's work. She and her family had left Vietnam with her church when Ho Chi Minh and Communism took over the country. Her family got on a plane and flew to Guam, where they stayed for a while, and then eventually came to the mainland United States. She was twelve years old, living with her parents in Saigon, South Vietnam, when she and her family left. 

Here are the interview questions and her answers:

Question: What was everyday life like in Vietnam?
Answer: "Went to school, played with pets, watched tv."

Question: What was the government situation in Vietnam?
Answer: "Me and my family did not know that the government was unstable until after they left, but all along we knew that South Vietnam would be forced to surrender by North Vietnam."

Question: What problem caused your family to leave the country?
Answer: "My parents knew that South Vietnam would surrender to North Vietnam, so, to avoid oppression by communism, the family needed to leave. One day, when she got home from school, her dad said, 'start packing, we're going on a trip.' "

Question: Was there a noticeable change for the worse during the monts before leaving?
Answer: "No. The news talked about robberies and car crashes, not the war."

Question: Was it hard to get out of Vietnam?
Answer: "It was easy, but it was much harder for most people."

Question: Before leaving, did you know where you were going or where you would live?
Answer: "No. We just followed the group."

Gaudy Baron
fruit market
flower shop
Vietnam War soldiers
Mekong Giant Stingray
Red Lacewing
Banded Kingfisher
Banded Pitta
Red-bearded Bee-eater
wild ox
White Dragontail
giant carp
Scarlet-rumped Trogon
Mekong Giant Catfish
Common Imperial
Fairy Bluebird
Hoan Kiem turtle
Vietnamese cooking. The most common of these is water spinach, a watery, nutritious, lettuce-like vegetable.
     Fruit and sweetened rice are the most common sweet-foods in Vietnam. In the hot, steamy tropical climate of Vietnam, fruit is usually readily available, fresh, and delicious. Many of the fruits eaten in Vietnam are different from ones common in America. For example, who reading this has ever heard of a
chom chom?
     Vietnamese music is mainly made up of percussion instruments, ranging from stone xylophones to drums to coin clappers, in which a clapper hits a shaker containing old coins. This traditional music has been changed greatly, and more familiar instruments are now being mixed in with the truly Vietnamese ones.
     An interesting form of Vietnamese entertainment is water puppetry. The performers do a puppet show while up to their waists in water. The most common water-puppet performance is "the golden turtle and the lake of the returned sword," about King Le ?Loi and the Hoan Kiem Turtle.
Vietnam may have the coolest wildlife of any country in the world. It has some of the strangest and coolest creatures from all of the groups of animals.
     In the mammal section, Vietnam has the sunbear, a strange, small blackish bear with a golden triangle on its chest. Vietnam's best mammal is the Javan rhino. This small, nocturnal rhino only lives in one place in Java and one place in Vietnam. It is rare and secretive in both locations. The Javan rhino is a small, dark gray-brown rhino with a stubby horn.
     Other awesome mammals of Vietnam include seversl species of wild ox and the waterbuffalo. 
     Perhaps Vietnam's strangest mammal is the Irrawaddy Dolphin, a small, round-nosed dolphin that lives in the Mekong River. It is very rare in the Mekong, although it is common in other rivers in India.
     Vietnam's birds are its most beautiful creatures. Vietnam has representatives from almost every order of birds in the world, from the Spotted Owlet to the Common Snipe to the Fairy Bluebird.
     Some of Vietnam's birds have truly unbelievable colors, such as the Red-bearded Bee-eater, all bright green with a red throat and a bright purple cap.
     The most beautiful of Vietnam's birds are probably the pittas. These are small, ground-dwelling forest birds that have somewhat long legs, short necks, and short tails. They are often patterned in spectacular colors.
     Vietnam's butterflies include some of the world's most beautiful. The butterfly diversity of Vietnam is truly astounding, featuring species from temperate Asia, tropical Asia, and Indonesia.
     Probably Vietnam's most famous butterfly is the Giant Orangetip. This striking species, four inches across and bright white with brilliant, black-edged orange forewing tips, is popular worldwide in mounted-butterfly displays.
     Vietnam's largest butterfly, and a common urban/garden species, is the Golden Birdwing. Females can be eight inches across, and both sexes are bright yellow on hindwings, dusty olive on the forewings, with black streaks.
     Probably the coolest and weirdest component of Vietnamese wildlife is its fish and other aquatic animals. Vietnam has the largest stingray in the world, the largest softshell turtle in the world, and the world's largest catfish.
     The stingray, called the Mekong Giant Stingray, can be as large as a small boat. These giants lurk in the muddy depths of the Mekong River, and are occasionally accidentally caught by fishermen. Whenever someone catches one, they are in for a surprise. Imagine pulling up a net you expect to be full of anchovies, and finding what looks like a flat, flopping boat in it!
     Vietnam's and the world's largest softshell turtle is the Hoan Kiem Turtle. These six-foot-long turtles live, of all places, in the lake in the middle of Hanoi, Vietnam's capital city. Nobody knows how they got there, or if they arrived naturally or with human help. Most likely, the natural lake was there before people, and these giant turtles have always been in it.
     The turtle is a strange and mysterious creature, and its classification is unclear. ?Some believe it to be a form of a common and widespread species, while others believe it to be its own species.
     Finally, Vietnam's giant catfish. This huge and famous creature, the Mekong Giant Catfish, is gray on the upperside and white-pink on the underside. It is truly immense, and is quite common in the Mekong River. It is a popular fishing fish, and is regularly caught and eaten.
Blue-winged Pitta
Green Cochoa
Irrawaddy Dolphin
Hoan Kiem turtle
Giant Orangetip
Blue Pitta
Golden Birdwing
people escaping communism by boat
a crowd in the city
planting rice
Buddhist monks praying
carrying rice stems