Let's be honest: If you're just starting to think about investing in China, then you're way behind the curve.

Yes, many Chinese stocks are more attractive today than they were a year ago because of the market's recent decline. Yes, China's economy remains an emerging global power with many years of growth ahead of it. And yes, it's the "main event" of our upcoming Motley Fool Global Gains research trip to Asia.

But emerging bellwethers Baidu.com (NASDAQ:BIDU) and Ctrip.com (NASDAQ:CTRP) aren't up 333% and 137%, respectively, over the past two years because no one has been paying attention.

In other words, we know about China. It's not the economy we're most excited to see in action.

The next big thing
That honor falls to a country that will not only spawn its own aggressive growth, but will benefit directly as China moves from being an export-driven manufacturing economy to a global economic power. It should do even better because it's less of a rival to China -- as Taiwan and Japan are -- and more of a partner. Its manufacturing economy should benefit alongside increased Chinese consumption, as well as tightening regulatory standards in China that could cause companies to move operations south. Finally, it doesn't hurt that both governments are communist, and party leaders said recently that "relations are in one of the best times in history."

Yet this country already scores higher than both China and India on the World Bank's "political stability" index. It also has clear free trade policies, a cordial relationship with the United States, and one of the youngest workforces in Asia.

In fact, it was identified by an April Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS) Global Economics Paper as being "a top candidate among the N-11 economies to meet its growth potential over the longer horizon." That means that among the "Next 11" economies Goldman identified in 2005 as those most likely to replicate the rapid and massive economic growth that we've seen in Brazil, Russia, India, and China (the BRIC), this is the place that has made the most progress since Goldman's initial N-11 report.

Meet the N-1
Today, this country is -- to put my own spin on the Goldman term -- the N-1, and Goldman projects for it "a sustained high-growth path of the kind exemplified by China and India" and "real GDP to grow at 8% per annum in 2007-2020." Multinationals such as Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) and General Electric (NYSE:GE) have plans to open massive manufacturing facilities in the country very soon, and small-cap laser-maker II-VI (NASDAQ:IIVI) has already done so.

 In other words, these are exciting economic times for Vietnam -- and they stand to get even more exciting over the next few years.

"Next" is not necessarily "now"
Goldman Sachs is among the smartest investment firms in the world. If its research is dubbing Vietnam "The Next Asian Tiger in the Making" and the "Next Economic Miracle," then investors should start taking a look at ways to put money to work in the country.

Unfortunately, that's easier said than done. There aren't many pure-play Vietnamese stocks for sale in the United States, and a lack of research on Vietnam's public companies means we probably wouldn't know which ones to buy even if they were available.

Finally, Vietnam -- like many rapidly growing Asian nations -- isn't necessarily known for its standards of corporate governance. A recent special report by The Economist advised, "Investors excited by opportunities in Vietnam should note that standards of corporate governance are pitiful. Even stock market-boosters admit that companies' accounts are largely works of fiction."

That's a problem, though it’s one The Economist is hopeful will be solved, given the wake-up call from Vietnam's 50% stock-market drop since the beginning of the year.

Price matters
You could spend hours reading about Vietnam, but the opportunity can be summed up as follows: Lots of growth, lots of volatility. The key, then, is to do your due diligence and make sure you don't overpay. After all, if you bought China's Shanghai Composite index when hopes were high in 2000, you've earned respectable 9% annual returns. If you waited until pessimism sunk share prices in 2005, then you've earned a mind-boggling 41% annual return.

But this is why we're so excited to visit Vietnam: We're looking to drill drown on the macro potential here and figure which companies stand to benefit the most. Then we need to figure out how to invest in them.

Yet opportunity abounds
One company that's already caught our eye is Chicago-based (and NYSE-traded) Jones Lang LaSalle (NYSE:JLL). The commercial real estate firm already has operations in the country, and it should do very well given Vietnam's shortage of -- and growing demand for -- office and industrial space.

If you'd like to learn more about the opportunities in Vietnam and follow along with Global Gains advisor Bill Mann and our team as we visit companies there -- as well as in Macau, China, Indonesia, and Singapore -- sign up now to receive our free real-time dispatches live from the field.

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