Vietnam National Parks
Vietnam, a country torn apart by civil war during much of the last century, has risen from the ashes of war to become one of Asia’s most dynamic economies. Few countries have changed so much in such a short time as Vietnam. In 1975, twenty years of bloody civil war ended and was followed by a decade of centralist economic rule under a hardline communist government. In 1986, “doi moi”, Vietnam’s equivalent of perestroika, signaled a new era for the country. An entrepreneurial spirit is once again alive in Vietnam as the old-style Communist system has given way to a more socialist market economy. Today Vietnam is still metamorphosing at a rapid rate. With booming cross-border trade with China and a growing internal economy with manufacturing, information technology and high-tech industries, Vietnam is transforming itself from an agrarian society to an industrial powerhouse. Since 2000, Vietnam’s economic growth rate has been among the highest in the world.
In Vietnam, there is still a marked difference between north and south, a psychological divide that has been around long before the civil war, which seems engrained in these regional cultures. One difference between the north and the south is the relative fertility of the soil. In the south three rice harvests per year are common, while in the north one harvest is more usual. Possibly because the northerners have historically had to work harder for the same reward, they tend to be more reticent, law-abiding and thrifty. However, the northerners lack the dynamism and entrepreneurial know-how of their more worldly southern counterparts. There are also notable differences in traditions. Ho Chi Minh City flaunts its westernization, while Hanoi is just as proud of its colonial and dynastic roots. Not surprisingly, this difference is also mirrored in the broader economy, where the south is Vietnam’s growth engine, while Hanoi is still the country’s capital. The southern part of the country boasts lower unemployment and higher average wages, and bustling Ho Chi Minh City (previously called Saigon) reflects cities like Bangkok and Singapore more than Hanoi. There are also dialectical differences between the north and the south. However, for visitors, the most enjoyable aspect of this north-south divide is likely to be the food. The quintessential northern food is pho bo, a beef noodle soup that is found throughout Vietnam, but originated in Hanoi, where you will still find the best. The south offers curries and spicy dipping sauces. However, the most renowned cuisine is found in central Vietnam. The cities of Hoi An and Hué both boast an astonishing variety of exotic dishes.
Vietnam, a long thin strip of a country, is located on the eastern side of the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia. Vietnam is bordered by Laos and Cambodia to the west, China in the north and the South China Sea to the east and south. As a coastal country with over 3,000 kilometer of coastline, Vietnam has many sea ports and beaches. Inland, the country’s extensive network of rivers play a key role in connecting the country, especially in rural areas. At each end of the country are river deltas with densely populated, fertile lowlands; the Red River Delta in the north and the Mekong Delta in the south. It’s in these delta regions that you are likely to encounter the paddy fields, dragonflies, buffaloes and conical-hatted farmers that are the stereotypic image of Vietnam. Between these two fertile deltas lies a narrow coastal plain (barely over 30 miles wide in some parts) and to the west the Truong Son or Annamite mountain range runs nearly the entire length of this country.
With dense jungles, tall mountains, fertile river deltas, and pristine beaches, Vietnam is a land of rich natural charm and cultural beauty. Vietnam’s ecological treasures make the country a wonder destination for travelers wishing to enjoy its unique flora and fauna. Vietnam has the highest number of endemic bird species on the Southeast Asian mainland. Since the 1990s the number of birders discovering Vietnam’s unique and exotic avifauna of over 850 species has increased steadily until it has become a world-class birding destination. During this time, Vietnam has become a major tourist destination, with travelers from around the world coming to enjoy its picturesque countryside, unique wildlife, exotic culture, beautiful beaches, and delicious cuisine.
In the far north-west of the country are the Hoang Lien Mountains and Mount Fan Si Pan. Rising up over 3,000 meters high, this is Vietnam’s highest peak. Further south are the Central Highlands consisting of the Kontum and Dalat Plateaus. The latter is home to several endemic bird species and distinct subspecies, making the Dalat Plateau of special interest to birders.
Vietnam’s climates are reflected in the distinct weather patterns found in the north, center and the south regions of the country. In the north, winters are cool and dry lasting from November through April, although drizzles are common in February and March. Hot, humid summers usually extend from May to the end of October in the north accompanied by frequent and heavy rains. In the center of Vietnam, February through August is the hot and dry period, with most of the rain falling between September and January. In the south, the rainy season is between May to November, with the rain usually coming in short, heavy bursts during the afternoon. The dry season in the south lasts from December through the end of April with the temperatures increasing in March and April just before the rains arrive.
Birders wanting to cover both Vietnam’s north and south during the same visit will find it desirable to schedule their trip between December and the May. Over-wintering birds should be around for most of this period. Forest birding is generally more comfortable in the drier conditions and birds are more vocal and easier to locate during the early months of the year.
From a tourist’s point of view, now is a great time to visit Vietnam. There are a vast number of places to visit that will intrigue and excite the traveler in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, as well as the other major centers. Despite the allure of these cities, it’s Vietnam’s strikingly beautiful, country landscape that is the most impressive. This includes Vietnam’s thirty national parks.