Home to spectacular UNESCO heritage sites like the Neverland-like Ha Long Bay and the ancient town of Hoi An, Vietnam has fast become one of the world’s most popular holiday destinations. But while you might think you’ve heard everything there is to know about Vietnam, we’ll wager you’ve still got quite a bit to learn. How much do you know about this Southeast Asian nation? Did you know that Vietnam is actually two words – with ‘Viet’ referring to an ethnic group dating back to the 2nd century BC and ‘Nam’ meaning south, in reference to the surrounding Viet kingdoms? Thought not. We’ve picked a few more interesting facts about Vietnam that might just surprise you too.
Most interesting facts about Vietnam
1. You can find 16% of the world’s flora and fauna in Vietnam
Vietnam is one of the world’s most biologically diverse areas. According to WWF, it’s home to 16% of the world’s flora and fauna. The country is covered in mountain ranges, tropical rainforests, dry forests, coasts, beaches, rivers, lakes and mangroves. Unfortunately, many species are endangered or threatened due to habitat loss, unsustainable farming methods and poaching.
2. It’s one of the world’s few remaining communist states
Vietnam is one of the world’s last remaining communist states, along with China and Laos. North Korea is nominally communist, though its government doesn’t refer to itself as communist.
3. It’s home to the longest river in Southeast Asia.
The Mekong River runs through Vietnam. The 4,350 km river is the longest river in Southeast Asia, the seventh longest in Asia and the 12th longest in the world. It begins in the Qinghai province of China, flows through Tibet, Yunnan, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. It drains into the South China Sea, just south of Ho Chi Minh City.
4. China occupied Vietnam for over 1,000 years
China occupied Vietnam from the 2nd century BC to 939 AD, when Vietnamese commander Ngo Quyen defeated the Chinese.
The Chinese reign began with the occupation of the Red River delta. China introduced technical and administrative innovations, as well as sophisticated Chinese learning, making Vietnam one of the most advanced regions in mainland Southeast Asia. However, Chinese governors also imposed the Chinese language, culture, customs and institutions.
After China’s defeat, Vietnam enjoyed a golden era under the Lý and Trần dynasties, interrupted only briefly by the Chinese Ming dynasty. Between the 11th and 18th centuries, Vietnam expanded southward in a process known as Nam tiến (Southward expansion).
From 1859 to 1883 France colonised Vietnam along with the surrounding region which became known as Indochina. The French maintained control until World War II, when the Japanese Empire stationed its troops in Vietnam. The French were defeated in 1954.
5. Vietnam is the world’s second-largest coffee producer
Coffee production has been a vital income source for Vietnam since the early 20th century. The French first introduced it in 1857 and since then it has developed to become a major economic force, pausing only during the Vietnam War. Between October 2019 and September 2020, it exported 26,537,164 bags (weighing 60 kg) of coffee, second only to Brazil.
It’s not the only thing Vietnam produces either. As of 2018, Vietnam was the world’s largest exporter of cashew nuts, producing over 38% of the world’s cashews at a value of $2.94 billion.
6. This Vietnamese drink is one of the most unusual drinks in the world
Historically, in Vietnamese culture snakes possess medicinal qualities that can cure everything from hair loss to low libido. That goes some way to explaining Vietnam’s most unusual drink – snake wine. To make the wine, the snake is drowned in alcohol before being bottled. The snake venom dissolves in the water so that it no longer poses a threat to the drinker. The drink contains an astonishingly high alcohol percentage, so you’ll only find it served in shot glasses. It’s rare, but some snakes can survive in the bottle for months, which puts those opening the bottle at the most risk. In 2013, this article revealed that a woman had been bitten after the snake jumped out of the bottle it had been fermenting in for three months.
Other weird wines include versions made with scorpions and seahorses.
7. The world’s largest cave is in Vietnam
Son Doong, which means ‘Mountain River Cave’ and is located in the Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park in Quang Binh, is the world’s largest cave. It stretches across an impressive 38.5 million cubic metres. The cave was only discovered in 2009 and officially opened to the public in 2013.
As if that isn’t impressive enough, a group of British divers – the same group that rescued the trapped football team in Thailand in 2018 – discovered that there was actually another cave connected to it, called Thung Cave. An underwater tunnel connects the two sites. This adds another 1.6 million cubic metres to the cave’s volume. Once the two caves are connected, any other cave in the world will be able to fit inside it – quite comfortably.