The Land - Wildlife - National Parks - Environmental Issues

War On The Environment


Vietnam is a land shaped by its history. Dominated by the Chinese for a thousand years, the Vietnamese pushed southwards seeking new lands for cultivation and to put a bit of distance between them and their northern neighbour. Hemmed in by the Truong Son Mountains to the west, they had little choice but to head on down the coast, eating up the Kingdom of Champa and taking a bite-sized chunk out of Cambodia. The result is the map of Vietnam today. As the Vietnamese are quick to point out, it resembles a don ganh, the ubiquitous bamboo pole with a basket of rice slung from each end. The baskets represent the main rice-growing regions of the Red River Delta in the north, and the Mekong Delta in the south. The country is S-shaped, broad in the north and south and very narrow in the centre, where at one point it is only 50km wide. Vietnam stretches more than 1600km along the eastern coast of the Indo-chinese peninsula. The country's land area is 326,797 sq km, making it a bit bigger than Italy and slightly smaller than Japan. Vietnam has 3451km of coastline and 3818km of land borders, The coastline is one of the big drawcards lor tourists and it doesn't disappoint, with sweeping beaches, towering cliffs, undulating dunes and countless uninhabited islands along its length. The largest of these islands is Phu Quoc, off the coast of Cambodia in the Gulf of Thailand. Other major islands include Cat Ba and Van Don in the Halong Bay area and a splattering of dots off Nha Trang. The Red River Delta and the Mekong Delta are pancake flat and prone to flooding. Silt carried by the Red River and its tributaries, confined to their paths by 3000km of dikes, has raised the level of the river beds above the surrounding plains. Breaches in the dikes result in disastrous flooding. The Mekong Delta has no such protection and when cuu long (the nine dragons - the nickname for the nine tributaries of the Mekong where it splits in the delta) burst their banks it creates havoc for communities and crops. The Mekong Delta expands at a rate of about 100m per year, though global warming and the consequent rise of sea levels around the world could one day submerge it. Three-quarters of the country consists of rolling hills and mighty mountains, the highest of which is 3143m-high Fansipan in the far northwest. The Truong Son Mountains, which form the central highlands, run almost the full length of Vietnam along its borders with Laos and Cambodia. The most striking geological features in Vietnam are the karst formations. Karst consists of limestone in which erosion has produced fissures, sinkholes, caves and underground rivers. Northern Vietnam is a showcase for these outcrops, with stunning examples at Halong Bay and Bai Tu Long Bay, and around Ninh Binh and the Perfume Pagoda . At Halong and Bai Tu Long Bays. an enormous limestone plateau has steadily sunk into the ocean and the old mountain tops stick out of the sea like bony vertical fingers pointing towards the sky. Not all of Vietnam's mountains are limestone. The coastal ranges near Nha Trang and those at Hai Van Pass (Danang) are composed of granite, and the giant boulders littering the hillsides are a surreal sight. The western part of the central highlands, near Buon Ma Thuot and Pleiku, is well known for its red volcanic soil, which is incredibly fertile. The highlands are, of course, high above sea level, but are mostly undulating and not as scenic as the north.