Cruising to Vietnam


The conquest of Vietnam by France began in 1858 and was completed by 1884. It became part of French Indochina in 1887. Vietnam declared independence after World War II, but France continued to rule until its 1954 defeat by Communist forces under Ho Chi MINH. Under the Geneva Accords of 1954, Vietnam was divided into the Communist North and anti-Communist South.

US economic and military aid to South Vietnam grew through the 1960s in an attempt to bolster the government, but US armed forces were withdrawn following a cease-fire agreement in 1973. Two years later, North Vietnamese forces overran the South reuniting the country under Communist rule. Despite the return of peace, for over a decade the country experienced little economic growth because of conservative leadership policies.

However, since the enactment of Vietnam's "doi moi" (renovation) policy in 1986, Vietnamese authorities have committed to increased economic liberalization and enacted structural reforms needed to modernize the economy and to produce more competitive, export-driven industries. The country continues to experience protests from various groups - such as the Protestant Montagnard ethnic minority population of the Central Highlands and the Hoa Hao Buddhists in southern Vietnam over religious persecution. Montagnard grievances also include the loss of land to Vietnamese settlers.


Location: Southeastern Asia, bordering the Gulf of Thailand, Gulf of Tonkin, and South China Sea, alongside China, Laos, and Cambodia
Geographic coordinates: 16 00 N, 106 00 E
Map references: Southeast Asia
Area: total: 329,560 sq km


3,444 km (excludes islands)

Maritime claims

Territorial sea: 12 nm
Contiguous zone: 12 nm
Exclusive economic zone: 200 nm
Continental shelf: 200 nm or to the edge of the continental margin


Tropical in south; monsoonal in north with hot, rainy season (May to September) and warm, dry season (October to March)


Low, flat delta in south and north; central highlands; hilly, mountainous in far north and northwest

Elevation extremes

Lowest point: South China Sea 0 m
Highest point: Fan Si Pan 3,144 m


Vietnam is a densely-populated, developing country that in the last 30 years has had to recover from the ravages of war, the loss of financial support from the old Soviet Bloc, and the rigidities of a centrally-planned economy. Substantial progress was achieved from 1986 to 1997 in moving forward from an extremely low level of development and significantly reducing poverty. Growth averaged around 9% per year from 1993 to 1997.

The 1997 Asian financial crisis highlighted the problems in the Vietnamese economy and temporarily allowed opponents of reform to slow progress toward a market-oriented economy. GDP growth averaged 6.8% per year from 1997 to 2004 even against the background of the Asian financial crisis and a global recession, and growth hit 8% in 2005. Since 2001, however, Vietnamese authorities have reaffirmed their commitment to economic liberalization and international integration. They have moved to implement the structural reforms needed to modernize the economy and to produce more competitive, export-driven industries.

Vietnam's membership in the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) and entry into force of the US-Vietnam Bilateral Trade Agreement in December 2001 have led to even more rapid changes in Vietnam's trade and economic regime. Vietnam's exports to the US doubled in 2002 and again in 2003. Vietnam hopes to become a member of the WTO in 2006.

Among other benefits, accession would allow Vietnam to take advantage of the phase out of the Agreement on Textiles and Clothing, which eliminated quotas on textiles and clothing for WTO partners on 1 January 2005. Vietnam is working to promote job creation to keep up with the country's high population growth rate. However, high levels of inflation have prompted Vietnamese authorities to tighten monetary and fiscal policies.


Airports: 28 (2005)
Airports - with paved runways: total: 23
Airports - with unpaved runways: total: 5
Pipelines: condensate/gas 432 km; gas 210 km; oil 3 km; refined products 206 km (2004)
Railways: total: 2,600 km
Roadways: total: 215,628 km (2000)


17,702 km (5,000 km navigable by vessels up to 1.8 m draft) (2005)

Merchant marine

Total: 235 ships (1000 GRT or over) 1,290,526 GRT/1,961,403 DWT
By type: bulk carrier 21, cargo 176, chemical tanker 4, container 4, liquefied gas 5, petroleum tanker 21, refrigerated cargo 2, roll on/roll off 1, specialized tanker 1
Foreign-owned: 1 (Denmark 1)
Registered in other countries: 12 (Cyprus 1, Honduras 1, Mongolia 7, Panama 2, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines 1) (2005)

Sailing Specifics: Ports and terminals

Hai Phong, Ho Chi Minh City


Southeast Asian states have enhanced border surveillance to check the spread of avian flu; Cambodia and Laos protest Vietnamese squatters and armed encroachments along border; after years of Cambodia claiming Vietnam had moved or destroyed boundary markers, in 2005, after much domestic debate, Cambodia ratified an agreement with Vietnam that settled all but a small portion of the land boundary.

Establishment of a maritime boundary with Cambodia is hampered by unresolved dispute over offshore islands; in 2004, Laotian-Vietnamese boundary commission agrees to erect missing markers in two adjoining provinces; demarcation of the China-Vietnam boundary proceeds slowly and although the maritime boundary delimitation and fisheries agreements were ratified in June 2004, implementation has been delayed; China occupies Paracel Islands also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan; involved in complex dispute with China, Malaysia, Philippines, Taiwan, and possibly Brunei over the Spratly Islands.

The 2002 "Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea" has eased tensions but falls short of a legally binding "code of conduct" desired by several of the disputants; Vietnam continues to expand construction of facilities in the Spratly Islands; in March 2005, the national oil companies of China, the Philippines, and Vietnam signed a joint accord to conduct marine seismic activities in the Spratly Islands.    

Other Sailing Destinations in the Region

Brunei - Burma - Cambodia - China - East Timor - Hong Kong - Indonesia - Japan - Macau - Malaysia - North Korea -Philippines - Russia - Singapore - South Korea - Taiwan - Thailand - Vietnam

Further Reading

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