People of Vietnam - What Travelers Should Know

Insights into the People and Culture of Vietnam


(Post written by Ai Nguyen)

Though hundreds of thousands have stepped foot on Vietnam, its people remain somewhat a mystery.   What is it about this unique heritage that makes it a hard code for outsiders to crack?  For travelers, seeing it through the lens of the locals and understanding the people and the culture of the country you visit will make your journey a richer and much more rewarding experience.

Luxury Vietnam Travel

Fishermen at Dawn, Nha Trang

Mekong Delta - Vietnam Travel

Mekong Delta

Ask a few travelers who have been to Vietnam in recent years what Vietnamese are like and you may get very different answers.  True, it does depend on to which region you visit and with whom you encounter.  Backpacker enclaves may encounter a much different crowd than luxury travelers.  Vietnamese from the north are often more reserved and subdued while people in the south are more open and friendly.  Northerners also often regard themselves as more educated, prudent and hardworking while southerners are more hedonistic, spontaneous and free-spirited.   For the most part, you will hear that Vietnamese are genuinely hospitable people.  Those who have spent a little more time in Vietnam and taken the effort to understand its culture may be astounded by the spirit, sheer determination to strive and lust for life in the people of this land.

Traditionally influenced by Confucianism and Buddhism and more recently Communism followed by Capitalism, Vietnamese society itself is sorting out the inherent conflicts between these ideals.  Confucian believes in the harmonious subordination; Buddhism in compassion, peace and non-materialistic; and Communism with the notion of equality.  All clashes with the free-market ideas of Capitalism in which the majority of Vietnamese wholeheartedly embrace.  The result is a mixed-bag of those who believe in the traditional values, those who are influenced by the socialist principles taught through the education system, and those who see free-trade as opportunities for making money, getting ahead and achieving success.

Sapa Rice Terrace - Vietnam Travel

Sapa Rice Terrace

Floating Market Vietnam

Floating Market, Can Tho

One trait which should not be ignored is that Vietnamese are very proud and fiercely nationalistic people and it’s easy to see given its history.  Mongol conquests all but controlled most of Asia and Europe in its heyday, yet, the three times they attempted invasion on this small land, it all but ended up in vanquish.  After a 57-day siege in 1954 at Dien Bien Phu, North Vietnam, the French faced a catastrophic defeat that brought an end to an era of French colonization in Indochina.  The Vietnam War lasted 20 years with American muscles and brains of Henry Kissinger and the likes at the helm; through the carnage and destruction of an epoch-defining conflict, the Vietnamese, yet again, emerged in triumph and resolution.  Now the Chinese, once again, are testing the will of the Vietnamese over the conflict of the South China Sea waters.   If history is of any indication, the outcome is not hard to predict.  Vietnamese have a strong value of their ethnic identity and though many had attempted to conquer and subjugate, Vietnam today is still its own independent nation.

Halong Bay - Luxury Vietnam Travel

View of Halong Bay

Halong Bay, Vietnam

View of Halong Bay

It can be argued that Vietnamese are forgiving people.  Today, Americans visiting Vietnam should not be concerned so much of the ill-will Vietnamese may have harbored against them due to the Vietnam War.   After all, the Vietnamese did win.  The past has been forgiven though it is hard for either side to forget.  With 30 million tons of bombs and 72 million liters of herbicides, including “Agent Orange” dumped onto this land the Vietnamese called ‘To Quoc’ – loosely translated as Ancestor’s Land, the remnants are hard to ignore.  Today, Vietnamese aren’t afraid to welcome Americans back to their land, if only to show what they are made of.  Perhaps, that’s their intention all along.  The Cu Chi tunnels are permanent fixtures of tourism attractions, so are the tanks that killed many Americans displayed in front of Independence Palace and War Remnants Museum.

This isn’t the sentiment of all Vietnamese, however.  Many from the south would remember that Americans were once its allies and the loss of the Vietnam War is considered the loss of their own.

Old Town Hoi An Vietnam Travel

Old Town Hoi An

Luxury Vietnam Travel - Notre-Dame Saigon

Notre-Dame Cathedral, Saigon

At the core, Vietnam is a nation of resilience and determination.  There is an inner strength and resoluteness that’s often overlooked by foreigners.   The nation itself has many times been dubbed as ‘Phoenix rising from its ashes’.  Through thousands of years of atrocities and obliteration, the will of survival in its people is astonishing and short of a mystery.  Though described by many as warm, inquisitive and generous people, Vietnamese have a defiant spirit that only people with thousand years of oppression can possess.  There’s no capitulation as you may see in their neighbors.

Of course the toll of war, political agendas, and the presence of tourism, have unavoidably left its remnants on the country and its people.  The need to survive and strive has led some with espousing the mentality of “do whatever it takes”.  The ideology of Communism is also often warped where now those in power can take all, often through corruption and despotism.  The opportunities for straying are there for the taking with more and more investors pouring in moneys and tourism becoming more prevalent.  Such is the world of a developing country.  Hopefully, this is simply a mask that, in time, can be peeled off to reveal the beauty of the people of this nation.

Explorient offers a fantastic array of luxury, cultural inspiring travel experiences to Vietnam and beyond. Be sure to check out our Vietnam Tours as well as our Cambodia, Laos & Myanmar Tours pages for amazing journeys in the Indochina region.

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