Shaped like an enormous letter S, Vietnam extends more than 1,500 km (1,000 mi) from China in the north to the Gulf of Thailand in the south. At its narrowest, just north of the port city of Da Nang, the distance between the sea and the country’s western border is less than 50 km (30 mi). Vietnam’s total area is 33,121 sq km (12,788 sq mi).
Vietnam has four major geographic regions. The country’s northernmost section consists of a tangled mass of rugged and heavily forested mountains that extend into Vietnam from China’s Yunnan Plateau. In Vietnam, these mountains attain a maximum elevation of 3,143 m (10,312 ft) at Fan Si Pan, the country’s highest point.
To the east and southeast of these mountainous highlands is the Red River Delta, a triangular-shaped alluvial plain that stretches along the Gulf of Tonkin, an arm of the South China Sea. The Truong Son (Annam Highlands) lies to the south of the delta and forms the backbone of Vietnam. Also in this region are the Central Highlands, a vast upland plateau situated between the Cambodian border and the South China Sea. Vietnam’s fourth and southernmost region is the Mekong Delta. This region is a fertile area of marshy flatland that stretches from the southern edge of the Central Highlands in the north to the mangrove swamps of the Ca Mau peninsula in the south.
Vietnam’s two major rivers are the Red River in the north and the Mekong River in the south, both of which are navigable for their entire lengths within Vietnam.
The Red River flows almost directly southeast from southern China into Vietnam’s northwestern highlands. The Mekong follows an irregular path across Southeast Asia to its mouth at the South China Sea. Farming in much of the Mekong Delta was once impossible because salt water from the South China Sea would periodically cover the low-lying land. To combat this problem, the French installed dikes during the 20th century. Today, an intricate system of dikes and canals helps prevent flooding of the Mekong and Red River deltas. Among Vietnam’s noteworthy smaller rivers are the Huong River (Perfume River) at Hue and the Ka Long O River near Vinh.
Vietnam’s coastline extends 3,444 km (2,140 mi) from the Chinese border in the north to the frontier with Cambodia in the Gulf of Thailand. In some areas, such as east of the Central Highlands and north of the Red River Delta, the mountains extend directly into the sea. This creates a number of protected harbors suitable for shipping, including those of the port cities of Da Nang, Qui Nhon, and Nha Trang. The mountains also form a picturesque backdrop, and beaches at Da Nang and Nha Trang are among the most popular resort areas in the country. The remaining coastal areas are flatlands, created by the deposits of alluvial soils by rivers. Over time, this deposition process creates triangular, flat deltas, notably the Red and Mekong deltas. Encarta "Vietnam" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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