Vietnam lies on the eastern edge of mainland South-East Asia, bounded by the South China Sea to the east, China to the north, and Laos and Cambodia to the west. Vietnam has 63 provinces and cities, with a central government located in Hanoi. The largest city is Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon. Vietnam has achieved remarkable economic success since the Doi Moi (renovation) process began in 1986, and especially over the last decade. Vietnam’s economic growth and reductions in poverty are impressive by any measure. Since 1993, annual real GDP growth averaged around 8.5% and the rate of poverty fell from 58% of the population to 14.7% in 2007. Nevertheless, about one third of the population – 28 million of 86 million – is still poor by international measures. Although Vietnam continues to progress forward in many sectors there are many people, mainly residing in rural areas who need assistance.
From the increasingly commercial street life of Ho Chi Minh City in the South, to the more conservative attitude of the North, are countless cities and towns dotted through the 63 provinces. All are filled with people, busy in manufacturing or at the markets. Children and old people play an important part in family life, as everyone contributes to the daily activity. Thousands swarm through streets in Cyclos, on pushbikes or in the endless stream of small motorbikes. Honking of horns is a way of life.
Between the cities, rice paddy fields stretch from village to village. Water buffalo pull hand made ploughs. Myriads of small businesses dot the landscape and line the roads as people seek to lessen the disparity in wealth between urban and rural Vietnam.
Vietnam’s Changing Face
Whilst Vietnam continues to develop and prosper there is still much to be done in the vital areas of health and education particularly in remote and rural areas of the country. Poverty in Vietnam is concentrated among ethnic minorities who live in remote mountainous areas. However, there are also significant pockets of poverty among the rural majority Kinh people.
The people of Vietnam have a unique and fascinating culture that has been shaped by thousands of years of history. Their culture has been influenced by many other civilizations: the ancient peoples that once inhabited the land, the Chinese, the French, and most recently, the Americans and Russians.
Forced to be resilient through almost 250 years of constant war, the people of Vietnam are gentle, industrious and friendly. Their infectious smile is a symptom of a forgiving heart, and often belies the personal tragedies many have experienced. With a simple lifestyle, they are intelligent, and highly skilled in farming, fishing and a variety of trades and crafts.