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Local hill tribes near Sapa, Vietnam.  <img src='http://www.guidegecko.com/images/spyglass1.png' align='texttop' /> Click for full image
Travel Guide > Asia > Vietnam

Vietnam People & Culture

  
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People

Most people in Vietnam are ethnic Vietnamese (Kinh), though there is a sizable ethnic Chinese community in Ho Chi Minh City, most who are descended from migrants from Guangdong province and are hence bilingual in Cantonese or other Chinese dialects and Vietnamese. There are also numerous other ethnic groups who occupy the mountainous parts of the country, such as the Hmong, Muong and Dao people. Theres also a minority ethnic group in the lowlands near the border with Cambodia known as the Khmer Krom.

Religion

Buddhism is the single largest religion in Vietnam, with over 85% of Vietnamese people identifying themselves as Buddhist. Catholicism is the second largest religion, followed by the local Cao Dai religion. Christianity, Islam, and other local religions also share small followings throughout the southern and central areas.

Due to its long history as a tributary state of China, as well as several periods of Chinese occupations, Vietnamese culture is heavily influenced by that of Southern China, with Confucianism forming the basis of Vietnamese society. The Vietnamese language also contains many loan words from Chinese, though the two languages are unrelated. Buddhism remains the single largest religion in Vietnam, though like in China but unlike in the rest of northern Southeast Asia, the dominant school of Buddhism in Vietnam is the Mahayana School.

Having a chat with the locals.  <span style='white-space:nowrap;'><img src='http://www.guidegecko.com/images/spyglass1.png' align='texttop' /> Click to enlarge</span>

Nevertheless, Vietnamese culture remains distinct from Chinese culture as it has also absorbed cultural elements from neighbouring Hindu civilisations such as the Champa and the Khmer empires. The French colonisation has also left a lasting impact on Vietnamese society, with baugettes and coffee remaining popular among locals.

Customs

Souvenir shops in Vietnam sell lots of T-shirts with the red flag and portraits of "Uncle Ho." Many overseas Vietnamese are highly critical of the government of Vietnam you may want to consider this before wearing communist paraphernalia in their communities back home! A less controversial purchase would be a nón lá (straw hat) instead.


It's common to be stared at by locals in some regions, especially in the central and northern side of the country, and in rural areas. Southerners are usually more open.

Asian women traveling with non-Asian men could attract attention, being considered lovers, escorts or prostitutes by some people, but this concept is disappearing. In some cases Asian women traveling with non-Asian men could even receive some unwanted comments.

The most surprising thing about the topic of the Vietnam War (the American or reunification war, as it is called in Vietnam) is that the Vietnamese do not bear any animosity against visitors from the countries that participated. Two-thirds of the population were born after the war and are quite fond of the west. That said, there are some attractions which present a very anti-American viewpoint on the war's legacy, which may make some feel uncomfortable.

Be sensitive if you must discuss past conflicts. Well over 3 million Vietnamese died, and it is best to avoid any conversations that could be taken as an insult to the sacrifices made by both sides during the wars. Do not assume that all Vietnamese think alike as many Vietnamese in the South are still bitter about having lost against the North.





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