Vietnam is a country of tropical lowlands, rolling green hills, and densely forested mountains. The country is divided into the highlands and the Red River Delta in the north; and the Giai Truong Son (Central Mountains, or the Chaîne Annamitique, sometimes referred to simply as the Chaine), the coastal lowlands, and the Mekong River Delta in the south.
Vietnam’s mountainous terrain, forests, wetlands, and long coastline contain many different habitats that support a great variety of wildlife. Some 270 types of mammals, 180 reptiles, 80 amphibians, and 800 bird species reside in Vietnam.
Many rare and unusual animals live in Vietnam, including giant catfish, Indochinese tigers, Saola antelopes, and Sumatran rhinos. The government has set up 30 parks and reserves to protect its animals, but their survival is in doubt because much of their habitat has been cleared for lumber or to grow crops.
Theravada Buddhism is Cambodia’s state religion and has been since the 13th century, except during the Khmer Rouge period. However, Christianity and Cham Muslim are being active and popular among a large number of population as well in the capital and provinces, showing a sign of growth.
Buddhist monks are highly disciplined and must follow 227 rules in addition to the ten basic precepts of being a good Buddhist. Monks cannot take part in entertainment. They lead simple lives dedicated to Buddhism and the temple.
They follow the teaching of Buddha, an Indian prince born in the sixth century B.C. Buddhists believe that a person is continually reborn, in human or nonhuman form, depending on his or her actions in a previous life. They are released from this cycle only when they reach nirvana, which may be attained by achieving good karma through earning merit and following the Buddhist path of correct living.
The remaining 5% of the population are either followers of Islam, Animism, Hinduism or Christianity. These other religious sects use to have higher numbers but due to Pol Pot’s purging, the members of these sects who are known disciples were summarily executed during the reign of the Khmer Rouge.
ANGKOR WAT – HEART & SOUL OF COMABODIA
Angkor Wat Temple
Built between roughly A.D. 1113 and 1150, and encompassing an area of about 500 acres (200 hectares), Angkor Wat is one of the largest religious monuments ever constructed. Its name means “temple city.”
Originally built as a Hindu temple dedicated to the god Vishnu, it was converted into a Buddhist temple in the 14th century, and statues of Buddha were added to its already rich artwork.
Pools of water reflect the harmony and majesty of Angkor Wat’s structures, while its five soaring towers resemble the lush forms of the green trees surrounding them. The most recognizable landmark at the Unesco World Heritage site of Angkor, the temple is regarded by many as the pinnacle of the dazzling, inventive culture that flourished in medieval Cambodia.
Built during the heyday of the Khmer dynasty in the 12th century, this extraordinary complex of Hindu and Buddhist monuments remained hidden and unknown, especially to European missionaries. It was only in 1601 that a Spanish monk, Marcelo de Ribadeneyra, compiled the experiences of missionaries, whose zeal had pushed them south from Siam (modern-day Thailand) into the thick jungle areas around the Mekong River. From there they brought back intriguing reports of “a great city in the kingdom of Cambodia” with “curiously carved walls” and huge buildings that had fallen into ruin.
Laos is the only landlocked country in Southeast Asia. Nearly three-quarters of Laos is covered in mountains and forested hills that are too steep to live on. There are three plateaus between the mountains and the Mekong River—the Xiangkhiang, the Khammouan, and the Bolovens Plateaus.
The Xiangkhiang is the largest, while the Bolovens Plateau near Cambodia provides more fertile farmland where coffee, tea, rice, strawberries, and pineapples are grown. The lowland region is the most vital to the Lao. There the Mekong River floods the soil providing rich nutrients to grow enough rice and other crops to feed the whole country for one year.
Most of the country’s population lives along the river, which winds more than 2,600 miles (4,180 kilometers) from China through Laos to the ocean in South Vietnam. Only 10 percent of the country is below 600 feet, and the highest peak, Phu Bia is 9,242 feet (2,817 meters).