Vietnam’s full name is Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Vietnam is the 13th most populated country in the world with more than 86 million inhabitants. The country is larger than Italy but smaller than Germany or approximately three times the size of Iceland and is the 65th largest country in the world. About 86% of the population is ethnic Vietnamese and 85% follows Mahayana Buddhism.
As you might have guessed, the Vietnamese speak Vietnamese :) and now they use a Vietnamese alphabet, which is based on the Latin alphabet with some additional umlauts. Previously they had used the Chinese writing system. I always thought that Iceland was the only country with the letter Ð/ð but apparently the Vietnamese have that one too. At least we still have the Þ/þ for our selves :)
Vietnamese Dong is used for currency but the US dollar can be used in some of the more touristic establishments. One USD equals 18,800 dong so you have a lot of dough when you chance over to dong. My theory is that having such a high-denomination currency hampers inflation, at least on tourist things. At least that seems to be the case compared to Cambodia that mainly uses the US dollar and they seem to have been raising prices a lot. It seems little, just two quarters at a time but when you compare that to the neighboring countries the difference is obvious.
Vietnam got its independence from China around the year 1,000 and kept it more or less until the French colonized Vietnam in 1885. In 1954 the country was split in two after several years of internal fighting, North Vietnam belonged to nationalist communists led by Ho Chi Minh and South Vietnam to former French supporters. US military advisers worked with the government in the South part and in 1965 they became involved in ground combat operations.
After the war Vietnam became a troubled, isolated country, especially after its invasion into Cambodia where Vietnamese forces helped to over through the Khmer Rouge. Vietnam’s only friend throughout this period seems to be the USSR. Rehabilitation after the Vietnam war was slow and marked with big humanitarian and economic problems.
In 1986 things stared to change for Vietnam with a change in leadership in the communist party. After a really slow economic progress since the war, Vietnam’s economy was transformed into a socialist-oriented market economy similar to what we have seen in China in recent years.
Since the changes in 1986, Vietnam’s economy has been growing 7-8% per year, making it the second fastest growing economy in the world. Vietnam is still relatively poor with a GDP (ppp) of $2,800 per capita. Agriculture is still the main pillar of the economy with rice, cashew nuts, black pepper, coffee, tea and rubber as the main exports. Production is always getting more and more important with manufacturing, information technology and high-tech industries growing rapidly.