Vietnam borders Cambodia,
Laos and China and stretches over 1600km (1000mi) along the eastern
coast of the Indochinese Peninsula. The country's two main cultivated
areas are the Red River Delta (15,000 sq km/5400 sq mi) in the north
and the Mekong Delta (60,000 sq km/23,400 sq mi) in the south.
Three-quarters of the country is mountainous and hilly; the highest
peak at 3143m (10,310ft) is Fansipan in north-west Vietnam.
Vietnam is made up of equatorial lowlands, high, temperate plateaus
and cooler mountainous areas. The country lies in the intertropical
zone and local conditions vary from frosty winters in the far northern
hills to the year-round subequatorial warmth of the Mekong Delta. At
sea level, the mean annual temperature is about 27°C in the south,
falling to about 21°C in the far north.
Although Vietnam has diverse wildlife, it is in precipitous decline
because of the destruction of habitats, illegal hunting and pollution.
Fauna includes elephants, rhinoceros, tiger, leopard, black bear,
snub-nosed monkey, crocodile and turtle. Less than 30% of the country
remains forest-covered, and what remains is under threat from
population pressure and the growth of industry. The situation has
improved since 1992, following the banning of unprocessed timber
exports, education programs and reforestation projects.
Despite being little visited by travellers, Vietnam has 10 national
parks and an expanding array of nature reserves. The most interesting
and accessible national parks are: Cat Ba, Ba Be Lake and Cuc Phuong
in the north; Bach Ma in the centre; and Nam Cat Tien and Yok Don in
the south. In an attempt to prevent an ecological and hydrological
catastrophe, the government has plans to improve existing parks and
open up new ones.