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Vietnam - Overview
Northern Vietnam and Southern Vietnam are two general regions within Vietnam.
 
Of the two regions, the older is Northern Vietnam, where the Vietnamese culture originated over 2000 years ago in the Red River Delta, though Vietnamese people eventually spread south into the Mekong Delta. During the Trịnh-Nguyễn War (1627-1673), the country was partitioned between two ruling families, with the border being the Gianh River in Quang Binh Province. From 1954 to 1975, Vietnam was again divided into two separate nations, divided by the Ben Hai River at the 17th parallel, each with its own government. Although the nation has been united since 1975, linguistic, cultural, and other differences serve to delineate the two regions from one another, with accompanying stereotypes.
The largest city in the North is Hanoi, the nation's capital, and the largest city in the South is Ho Chi Minh City (formerly called Saigon).
Each region consists of four subregions, with often considerable cultural differences between each subregion.
 
Northern Vietnam includes the following subregions:
Southern Vietnam includes the following subregions:
History
The Vietnamese nation originated in the Red River Delta, in what is today northern Vietnam. As the nation became stronger, the Vietnamese expanded southward in a process known as nam tiến (literally "southward march"). This culminated in the incorporation of territories formerly belonging to Champa and part of the Khmer empire into Vietnam, quite relatively recently in Vietnamese history. Along with the troops sent south, civilians were also sent to cultivate the land, and in their contact with the native Chams and Khmers, slightly different regional cultures began to emerge. At the same time, it is important to note that Vietnamese of all regions still share a general Vietnamese Culture.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, Vietnam was ruled by a figurehead emperor of the Lê Dynasty. Actual power rested in the Trịnh Lords in the North, called Đàng Ngoài (Outer Expanse) and Nguyễn Lords in the South, called Đàng Trong (Inner Expanse). The two sides ruled their own domain independent of the other, and frequently fought each other. The imposed separation encouraged the two regions to develop their own cultures.
During French colonialism, the French divided the country into three parts, directly ruling over Cochinchina (southern Vietnam) while establishing protectorates in Annam (central Vietnam) and Tonkin (northern Vietnam). Consequently, Cochinchina was more directly influenced by French culture than the other two regions.
 
Cultural differences
The cultural differences between the regions can be divided into two main categories: "tangible" cultural differences such as traditional clothing, cuisine, and so on; and "intangible" cultural differences dealing with stereotypes of behavior, attitude and such between the people of these two regions.
 
Perceived traits and stereotypes
While relations between Northerners and Southerners are generally civil, the increased contact due to the influx of Northerners into the South since the end of the Vietnam War have given rise to some stereotypes about people from different regions:
  • Northerners tend to view themselves as more cultured and refined.[1][2]
  • Southerners consider themselves more dynamic.[1]
  • Northerners are more concerned about status and appearances.[1][3]
  • Southerners are freer with their money while Northerners are more thrifty.[1]
  • Northerners are more conservative and afraid of change, while Southerners are more dynamic.[3]
  • Southerners are more direct while Northerners are more ceremonious and formal.[1][3]
Cuisine
Cuisine is one of the cultural differences between the regions. With Northern Vietnam being the cradle of Vietnamese civilization, many of Vietnam's most famous dishes (such as phở) have their birthplace in the North. The South's cuisine has been influenced by the cuisines of southern Chinese immigrants, and thus Southerners prefer sweet flavors in many dishes.
Central Vietnamese cooking, due to its royal setting, is quite different from the cuisines of both the Northern and Southern regions, in its use of many small side dishes, and also its distinct spiciness when compared to its counterparts.
Certain unusual foods are more prevalent in one region than in another. For example, dog meat is more popular in the South than in the North.[4]
 
Clothing
Traditional clothes are also often used to symbolize different regions. Commonly the Ao Tu Than is associated with the North, the áo dài with the central region (due to its emergence in the Vietnamese royal court in the 18th century), and the Ao Ba Ba in the South (although many of these clothes are worn across different regions).
 
Linguistic differences
There are an abundance of different dialects of the Vietnamese language, with major differences in phonology.
Despite the countless different accents one can find in each province, the three main accents are those of the North, Center, and South. Of these, the Northern and Southern accents are usually intelligible to speakers from either region (unless it is a particularly heavy accent) but, strangely, the Central accent is often unintelligible to both Northern and Southern speakers.
Differences in these accents lay in several different factors, including but not limited to the following:
  • Pronunciation of certain letters, an example would be: Hanoi "d" is pronounced like the English "z" while Ho Chi Minh City "d" is pronounced like the English "y"
  • Northern Vietnamese has the full 6 tones, whereas Southern Vietnamese has only 5 (merging two of the tones into one)
  • Words ending in "nh" are pronounced differently between North and South (See Vietnamese phonology for details)
  • Merging of the "tr" and "ch" sounds in Northern Vietnamese
  • Subtle differences in vocabulary between different regions
Because the accents of Central Vietnam (particularly that of the ancient capital of Huế) make extensive use of local vocabulary and, to the unaccustomed ear, reduce the number of tones to only 4, Central Vietnamese speech can be relatively difficult to understand for Vietnamese speakers from the Northern and Southern regions.
While these differences may seem superficial to non-Vietnamese speakers, even the difference in sound between Northern and Southern Vietnamese is quite striking.
The vocabularies of the different regions also differ, as certain words mean different things in different regions. For example, the word mận refers to two different fruits: it is used for Prunus salicina (a type of plum) in the North, while in the South it refers to Syzygium samarangense (the rose apple). Kinship terms are especially affected, as each term has a subtly different meaning in each region. In the South, the eldest child in a family is referred by the ordinal number 2, while in the North the number 2 refers to the second-eldest child.
 
Differences in climate
While the entire country lies in the tropics, there is quite a large difference in climate between Northern and Southern Vietnam.
Northern Vietnam has a full four seasons, with much cooler temperatures than in the South, as well as winters that can get quite cold. The lowest temperature reached in Hanoi was 2.7 °C in 1955.[5] The cold experienced during Northern winters is intensified by the humidity, as many are forced to use ointments to prevent their skin from cracking due to the cold. Snow can even be found to an extent up in the mountains of the extreme Northern regions in places such as Sapa and Lang Son.
Southern Vietnam, with its much hotter temperatures, has only two main seasons: a dry season and a rainy season.
 
Miscellaneous cultural difference
While Southern Vietnamese often ring in the Lunar New Year (Tết) with yellow mai (ume) blossoms, Northern Vietnamese often prefer hoa đào (peach) blossoms.