Vietnam's people are a special mix of cultures, languages and historical backgrounds. The one common denominator amongst them is that, as in most Southeast Asia countries, they love to smile and are genuinely interested in foreign visitors.
The new generation of Vietnamese are largely unfamiliar with the devastation the country suffered years ago and should be approached thus. Enjoy your visit to this charming land. The origins of the Vietnamese people are a combination of the Mongol races of north and east Asia, with Chinese and Indian influences.
The population is surpassed only by Indonesia as Southeast Asia's most heavily populated country. However, Vietnam is the region's most ethnically homogenous country with the Vietnamese making up about 90% of the population. 85% of Vietnam's ethnic-minority population belongs to indigenous groups - the largest of which are Thai and Hmong - who have been settled in the mountainous regions of the country for many centuries. About 3% of the population is ethnic Chinese living in the urban centers of the South.
Vietnamese language reflects the country's unique mix of racial and cultural origins, with its fusion of monotonic Mon-Khmer, and Tai tonality and grammar. Having been a Chinese province for over a millennium (111 BC-939 AD), most of the country's governmental, literary, and technical vocabulary comes from the Chinese language.
Though a writing system called Chu nom, using partly modified Chinese characters, was developed in the 8th century. It was a French missionary in the mid-17th century who developed a system of spelling using the Roman alphabet that employed additional signs and several accents to indicate the tones. The use of this script spread and it was made the official written language by the French in 1910. Called Quoc-ngu or national language, it is now universally learned and written by all Vietnamese.
With ten million followers and 20,000 pagodas, Buddhism is undoubtedly the largest established religion, however Vietnam has a rich and wide variety of religions based on imported faiths and popular beliefs, with several indigenous groups embracing animism, theism and ancestor worship. Catholicism, introduced by European missionaries, is the second largest religion, with about six million followers, and more than 6,000 churches.
Vietnam's indigenous religions, including the Cao Dai and Hoa Hao sects, have their holy lands in the city of Tay Ninh and the provinces of Chau Doc and An Giang in the Mekong Delta. They peacefully coexist with one another and have contributed to the struggle against foreign aggression through the Vietnam Fatherland Front.
Visitors entering Buddhist pagodas are expected to remove their shoes and it is considered impolite to point feet, especially the soles, at people or statues of the Buddha. Donations to the upkeep of temples are not expected, but are received gratefully. Permission should be asked before taking photographs of people or in places of worship.
The most appropriate manner of greeting is a gentle handshake and a smile. Though occasionally rigid, Vietnamese officials - such as the police - appreciate being treated in a firm, yet diplomatic manner. It is best to deal with misunderstandings with patience and good humor. Local people who help appreciate small gifts such as cigarette lighters, pens, foreign cigarettes, liquor, perfume and even shampoo. However, giving money to street beggars can lead to mob scenes as other beggars also attempt to impose upon such generosity.
Ecotourism is a new and growing industry in Vietnam and there are many good investments. Foreigners like best to book TUN Travel tours including Vietnam visa between October and December, as this period is more often than not free from the heavy rains that obstruct the jaunt. But the Vietnamese prefer their tours to the peak of the mountain from February to April, as it is not so cold then.
Anyone who has ever visited and stayed at hotels in Hanoi Old Quarter will probably tell you that it may be the most beautiful city in all of Asia. People have settled here along the Red River for a thousand years. Nestled along wooded boulevards among the city’s two dozen lakes you will find architectural souvenirs left by all who conquered this great valley, from the Chinese who first came in the last millennium to the French, booted out in our own century.
Hoi An is still a small town, only recently discovered by foreign visitors. Bicycles are the transportation of choice here. Although it is easy to explore the narrow streets and ancient bridges and temples on foot or by cyclo, you can rent a bicycle for about $2 a day or a motorbike for about $5 a day.
A visit to Cho Lon, Ho Chi Minh City’s Chinatown, can take an afternoon, if not an entire day. Like Chinese districts in San Francisco, London, New York and Bangkok, Cho Lon is one of the oldest and most mysterious parts of Saigon. Cho Lon means ‘‘big market,’’ and the best place to begin your visit is at the overwhelming Binh Tay Market. Although it is likely to be hot and crowded, take your time here. The variety of goods here is positively astounding and will give you uncanny glimpses into modern Vietnamese life. Friendly bargaining should save you from 20% to 40%.
Another fascinating day trip is to Tay Ninh, the center of the Cao Dai religion, which has perhaps two million followers in Vietnam. Cao Dai is a 1920’s invention which took the best of Catholicism and Asia’s great religions, plus a dab of Hollywood. (The sect has bestowed sainthood on Victor Hugo and Winston Churchill, among others.) Visiting the ostentatious but breathtaking cathedral is the highlight of the trip to Tay Ninh. The noon worship service is open to visitors has been compared to a scene from Disney’s Fantasi
British experts recently announced the discovery of 57 new caves in the central province of Quang Binh, the home of the world’s largest cave of Son Doong, including the Fairy Cave 2 in Minh Hoa district. The cave is 2,519 meters long and 94 meters deep. Tours to the Fairy Cave 2 will be exclusively organized by Chua Me Dat Company Limited as of July 2016. First explored by experts from the Royal British Caving Association in 1994, the cave consists of stalagmites that at times look like terraced rice fields. As one of the largest in the Tu Lan Cave system, Fairy Cave, with a total length of nearly 3 km, includes two branches - Fairy Cave 1 and Fairy Cave 2 - which are connected by a primeval forest with huge trees. The cave is dry, with streams only appearing in the flood season.
The opening to the cave is quite wide, at 50 meters, and has a height of nearly 70 meters. Due to flooding in the wet season its walls are covered with a layer of sand. The name ‘the Cave of Fairies’ is tinged with mystery. Legend has it that the cave was named after a myth: fairies from heaven descended to this land, and were so busy sightseeing they forgot their way back to heaven. Local people discovered this place hundreds of years ago and consider it a sacred place to carry out important rituals in their spiritual life, including praying for rain and for peace. The sacred and mysterious factors retain this scenic beauty’s ancient and wild characteristics.