Vietnam is shaped in a long "S" stretching for 1000 miles from China in the north to the Gulf of Thailand in the south. The country's land area including water is about 127,000 square miles which makes it slightly larger than Italy or a bit smaller than Japan. It is broad in the north and south and narrow in the center, where at one point, it is only 31 miles wide; Vietnamese often describe their country as resembling a bamboo pole supporting a basket of rice on each end since. This image can also be seen as a metaphor for the demography of Vietnam with the heavily populated, grain producing areas located in the north in the Red River Delta and in the south in the Mekong Delta with a thin, less productive and less densely inhabited coastal region linking them. Vietnam has 2144 miles of coastline and 2372 miles of land borders: 966 miles shared with Laos, 796 miles with China, and 610 miles with Cambodia.
Vietnam is a country of tropical lowlands, hills, and densely forested highlands, with level land covering no more than 20 percent of the area. Three quarters of Vietnam is made up of mountains and hills. In the north, there is the Hoang Lien Mountains which contains the highest point in Vietnam, Fan Si Pan, extending 10,312 feet into the sky. The country can be divided into four geographical regions: the highlands and the Red River Delta in the north, the Truong Son Mountains form the Central Highlands running almost the full length of Vietnam along its borders with Laos and Cambodia, the coastal lowlands, and the Mekong River Delta in the south. The Red River and the Mekong River are navigable in their entirety and are considered to be the two major rivers in Vietnam. To help prevent flooding in their deltas, a system of dikes and canals have been built which confines the rivers to their paths. However, silt carried by the Red River and its tributaries has raised the level of the river beds above that of the surrounding plains and breaks in the levees result in disastrous flooding every year during the Monsoon season.
Due to the vast range of latitudes and altitudes, Vietnam's climate is remarkably diverse. Although the entire country lies in the tropics and subtropics, local conditions vary from frosty winters in the far northern hills to year-round, equatorial heat in the Mekong Delta. Because most of Vietnam is over 1600 feet above sea level, most of the country enjoys a subtropical climate. Vietnam lies in the East Asian monsoon zone, with two monsoons setting the rhythm of rural life. The winter monsoon comes from the northeast between October and March bringing chilly winters to all areas north of Nha Tran, but dry and warm temperatures to the south. From April or May to October, the southwestern monsoon brings warm, humid weather to the whole country except for those areas sheltered by mountains, such as the central coastal lowlands and the Red River Delta. Between July and November, violent and unpredictable typhoons often develop over the ocean east of Vietnam hitting the central and northern regions with devastating results.
In the south, there are two main seasons: the wet and dry. The wet season lasts from May to November. During this time, there are heavy but short-lived downpours almost daily, usually in the afternoon. The dry season usually runs from December to April where late February to May is hot and very humid. Falling in the shadows of the Truong Son Mountains, the Central lowlands are denied significant rainfall from the southwestern monsoon. Much of the coastal strip's precipitation is brought by the northeastern monsoon between December and February. The cold and wet winter weather of the north-central coastal lowlands is accompanied by fog and fine drizzle. Areas north of the 18th Parallel have two seasons: winter and summer. Winter is cool and wet, usually lasting from November to April. February and March are marked by a constant drizzling rain. The hot summers run from May to October. The north is subject to occasional typhoons during the summer months.