The first map of Vietnam was compiled in early 1490 under the directive of king Le Thanh Ton of Le dynasty. This attempt was made for the purpose of military operations. Later under his reign the first atlas of Vietnam, known among Vietnamese as the Hong Duc Atlas, was compliled. For long, the Atlas served not only for national defence but also for land management.
After the liberation of North Vietnam in 1954, the DRV (Democratic Republic of Vietnam) Government founded the National Department of Surveying and Mapping (NDSM) in 1959. NDSM was in charge of basic surveying and mapping implementation in North Vietnam. At that time in South Vietnam the triangulation network, established by French before 1954, was upgraded by the US Army Map Service (AMS), using advanced radio-positioning techniques and a new map series in 1:50,000 scale, covering the whole country was compiled. Several photography missions for making 1:30,000 and 1:60,000 scale maps were also undertaken. In 1994, Vietnamese government decided to incorporate NDSM into the State Department of Land Management (SDLM), thus building up the General Department of Land Administration (GDLA), which later became the present Department of Survey and Mapping under the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MoNRE).
In due course of time, adavanced map production technologies that largely includes the usage of aerial photography, resulted in the generation of maps in various scales as:
- Cadastral map in scale 1:500 and 1:1,000 for urban land
- 1:1,000-1:2,000 for urban residential land
- 1:2,000-1:5,000 for agricultural land
- 1:10,000-1:25,000 for forested land
- Topographic map in scale 1:10,000 for industrial and coastal zones
- 1:25,000 scale maps for areas of important rural economy
- 1:50,000 and 1:100,000 for the whole country
- Sea bed topographic map in scale 1:10,000-1:25,000 for the coastal zone
- 1:50,000 for the continental shelf
- 1:100 000 for offshore fishing zone
GIS came to Vietnam in the early 1990s, with the advent of WinGIS – the first widely known GIS software developed by few Vietnamese academicians. WinGIS later on became the product of Dolsoft company and was renamed DolGIS. In the meantime the GIS was introduced in the contry also through international projects funded by agencies UNDP, UNEP, CIDA, SIDA, etc. Under these projects some prototypes of GIS applications were developed. These also served in imparting GIS training to officials of Vietnamese central authorities and some research institutions.
As part of these projects, GIS was known only as a tool to analyse data from satellite image and integrate the data for applications in fields of geology and environment. "Strengthening the capacity of facility management", the project under the consultancy of Dr Jerry C Coner, former UN regional adviser and funded by UNDP, was the first GIS project for facility management in Vietnam. It developed a prototype of an underground facility database for 1 sq km in Hochiminh City. Many officials underwent training in GIS in Qatar as part of this project. The project attracted governmental officials, scientists, professors and students and GIS came to be recognised as new decision support system useful for administration of big cities undergoing rapid urbanization.
In 1994, Center for Developing IT and GIS (DITAGIS) was founded. DITAGIS center belongs to HoChiMinh city University of Technology (HCMUT) and is one of the major data generating agencies. In 1996, the year of inception of Center for Remote Sensing (under the MoNRE), a National GIS project under the Ministry of Science and Technology was implemented. The project focussed on digitising map of Vietnam at 1:50,000 scale using MapInfo software. In 1998, GIS project of DongNai province was undertaken. This was the first project using GIS to manage environment at provincial level. In 2000, Hochiminh City Department of Science and Technology proposed the system of GIS for urban administration, called SAGOGIS comprising about 50 sub-systems but the project has not run so far.