Journeys Through Time and Space

Part of the Vietnam exhibition.

Vietnam Today

Fishermen cast their nets on the Nam Dinh coast.
John Kleinen


In Vietnam most people are farmers, and most farmers grow rice. Fish contribute significantly to both the diet and the economy. While crude oil is Vietnam's largest export, food products run a close second. Vietnam is one of the world's three top rice exporters.


More than 80 million people live in Vietnam today, making it the 14th most populous country on the globe. The nation's literacy rate approaches 85 percent, and over half of Vietnam's citizens are younger than 25.

A crowded intersection in Ho Chi Minh City.
Ellen Kaplowitz


Most Vietnamese people live in villages along the densely populated coast and the river deltas, although cities are now home to a quarter of the population. Hanoi in the north, Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) in the south and Danang in the center are Vietnam's largest cities.


Vietnam is the most diverse country in Southeast Asia. More than 50 different ethnic groups, each with its own language, call Vietnam home. The Kinh, or Viet, ethnic group makes up 87 percent of the population.


Roughly 900 miles long, and slightly smaller than California, Vietnam is wide in the north and south, narrow in the middle. A spine of forested mountains connects the flat, fertile deltas at the mouths of two great rivers, the Red River in the north and the Mekong in the south.

The History of a People

Water puppet of Le Loi. Kinh people; Hanoi; late 20th century.
Craig Chesek / AMNH

Vietnam is an ancient country. The story revealed by its artifacts, its monuments and its heroes both legendary and real is one of repeated struggles against foreign domination. The conflict known in Vietnam as the American War (1964–1975) represents but one brief, painful episode of a history reckoned in thousands of years rather than centuries. As an American veteran observed, "The country is not the war; the war was not the country."

30,000 BC–Prehistory

First inhabitants. Farming, pottery, and metalworking develop.

800 BC—Early states period

Small states rise and fall. Chinese invasions.

1000 AD—Monarchy

Independent kingdoms start with Ly dynasty. Chinese invasions resisted. Champa kingdom flowers and declines.

1858—French colonial period

French dominate first south, then center, then north.

1945Indochina wars

August Revolution. French colonists expelled. American War.

1975Unified Vietnam

War with Cambodia and China. Refugees depart by sea. Renovation of economy.