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 27C in the south, falling to about 21C 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.

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Information provided by Vietnam Tourism Board.


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