Quick stats on Vietnam

21 02 2010

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.

Cambodia – quick facts

11 02 2010

The Kingdom of Cambodia is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary representative democracy, just like Thailand.  The countries inhabitants are closing in on 15 million and the vast majority (90%) is ethnic Khmer and the dominating religion is Theravada Buddhism.

Cambodia is about the size of Switzerland but quite flat and is dominated by the Mekong and a lake called Tonle Sap (Great Lake) that grows ten times its regular size during the wet season.  Rice production and other agricultural products make up the biggest portion of the economy with textile and garments production and tourism having a substantial impact as well.  There is hope that there is oil beyond Cambodia’s shores and with that comes fears that the oil profit will be snatched up by corrupted politicians and their compatriots.  The economy has been growing about 10% a year for the last few years but in nominal terms that is not much as the GDP per person (ppp) is about $2,000, half that of Thailand but only around $800 in nominal terms.

Cambodia has had a big problem with deforestation.  In seventies around 70% of Cambodia was covered with primary rainforest but that number is down to around 3% today.  We can definitely see that when driving around in Cambodia, everywhere we go there are just dry plains waiting for the wet season so that they can be used for rice production.  This is a big difference from Thailand where it was not uncommon to see “wooden”  furniture and houses made of concrete and then painted like wood because of the strict Thai laws regarding deforestation and timber production.  In Cambodia however we see a lot of beautiful beds, chairs and tables made from the finest hard-wood available.

1999 was the first full year of peace in 30 years in Cambodia and since then the economy has been growing fast, security is getting better and better, resulting in more tourism and increased foreign investment so Cambodia is definitely going places, which is fantastic.  I just hope that this all will benefit the general population because the people have been through so much in the past and still they are so sweet and gentle.