Vietnam is a Southeast Asian country on the South China Sea known for its beaches, rivers, Buddhist pagodas and bustling cities. Hanoi, the capital, pays homage to the nation’s iconic Communist-era leader, Ho Chi Minh, via a huge marble mausoleum. Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) has French colonial landmarks, plus Vietnamese War history museums and the Củ Chi tunnels, used by Viet Cong soldiers.
Viet Nam is located in both a tropical and a temperate zone. It is characterized by strong monsoon influences, but has a considerable amount of sun, a high rate of rainfall, and high humidity. Regions located near the tropics and in the mountainous regions are endowed with a temperate climate.
At present there are 54 different ethnic groups inhabiting Viet Nam, in which Kinh (Viet) people make up nearly 90% of the whole population, and 53 other ethnic groups represent over 10%.
The major religious traditions in Viet Nam are Buddhism (which fuses forms of Taoism and Confusianism), Christianity (Catholicism and Protestantism), Islam, Caodaism and the Hoa Hao sect. Buddhism was first introduced to Viet Nam in the 2nd century, and reached its peak in the Ly dynasty (11th century). It was then regarded as the official religion dominating court affairs. Buddhism was preached broadly among the population and it enjoyed a profound influence on people’s daily life. Its influence also left marks in various areas of traditional literature and architecture. As such, many pagodas and temples were built during this time.
At the end of the 14th century, Buddhism began to show signs of decline. The ideological influence of Buddhism, however, remained very strong in social and cultural life. Presenty, over 70 percent of the population of Viet Nam are either Buddhist or strongly influenced by Buddhist practices.