Northern and southern Vietnam

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Northern Vietnam and Southern Vietnam are two historic, geographic and cultural regions within Vietnam. In the present context, Southern and Northern Vietnam could be differentiated as followed: (Each region consists of subregions, with often considerable cultural differences between subregions).

Northern Vietnam includes the following subregions:

Southern Vietnam includes the following subregions:

Historical context[edit]

Map of Nam tiến - Vietnam's southward territorial expansion at the expense of Champa & Khmer Empire. Area in cyan blue (excl. Tây Ninh, Bình Phước) and northern half of Lam Sơn (dark green) were returned to Cambodia & Laos respectively.
Main article: History of Vietnam

The Red River Delta in Northern Vietnam is the traditional homeland of the ethnic Vietnamese (Kinh people) where various Bronze Age cultures such as Phung Nguyen and Dong Son originated over 4000 years ago. Though migration and conquests, Vietnamese people gradually spread south in a process called Nam Tiến (Advancing South).

Central Vietnam was home to Cham people, a Malayo-Polynesian ethnic group who found their distinct Indianised Kingdom over the Central Coast before being subdued by the Vietnamese during the 14th century. Their predecessors, people who are now known as the Sa Huynh culture, dated back from 1000 BCE.

The Mekong Delta in southernmost Vietnam was part of Funan, Chenla then Angkor Empire. Chinese and Vietnamese started migrating en masse to this region during the 16th to 17th century.

Northern and Southern Vietnam was a fluid concept that changed constantly during the course of history. During the Lê–Mạc wars (1541-1592), Vietnam was partitioned with the Mạc dynasty holding the Red River Delta and Lê dynasty controlling the Central Region from Nghệ An to Bình Định while Champa and the Khmers still hold their polities further south.

During the Trịnh–Nguyễn War (1627–73), the country was partitioned between two ruling Lords with the border being the Gianh River in Quảng Bình Province. The North, called Đàng Ngoài (Outer Expanse) is ruled by the Trịnh Lords and Nguyễn lords in the South, called Đàng Trong (Inner Expanse) or Quảng Nam Quốc, with Lê emperors still nominally act as head of state. 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.

After the Tay Son Wars (1770-1802) and the founding of the Nguyễn dynasty, the country started getting the present shape with the center of power now switched to Huế in Central Vietnam. 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.

From 1954 to 1975, Vietnam was again divided into two separate nations, divided by the Bến Hải River in Quảng Trị Province at the 17th parallel. The North, ruled by a communist government, is allied with communist China and the Soviet Union, while the South had a free-market economy, quasi-democratic government and had contact with the United States, the West and Western-aligned nations. 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.

Regions of Vietnam. The Paracel Islands and Spratly Islands (not shown here) are part of the South Central Coast.

The largest city in the North is Hanoi, the nation's capital; and the country's economical capital and largest city in the South is Ho Chi Minh City (formerly called Saigon).

Cultural differences[edit]

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. Discussions of inherent differences between people in the North and in the South are prohibited and can be classified as "reactionary" in Vietnamese state-controlled media[1] or ''undermining national unity''.

Perceived traits and stereotypes[edit]

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.[2][3]
  • Southerners consider themselves more dynamic.[2]
  • Northerners are more concerned about status and appearances.[2][4]
  • Southerners are more liberal with their money while Northerners are more thrifty.[2]
  • Northerners are more conservative and afraid of change, while Southerners are more dynamic.[4]
  • Southerners are more Westernized, while Northerners are more Communist-influenced[5]
  • Southerners are more direct while Northerners are more formal.[2][4] Some Southerners say they have difficulty understanding Northerners due to the formalities.[5]
  • Northern Vietnamese (e.g. Hanoi) are more socially conservative, southern Vietnamese (e.g. Saigon) are socially liberal, open, and modernist.
  • Central Vietnamese (e.g. Huế) are culturally and socially conservative and traditional. They are also tend to be more religious [usu. Buddhist.]

A satirical poem, titled Tính tình con gái 3 miền (Personalities of Ladies from the 3 Regions),[6][7][8] composed by Nguyễn Tất Nhiên, plays on the stereotypical personality traits possessed by women from the Northern (Tonkin), Central (Annam) and Southern (Cochinchina) regions. The poem can be read here (in Vietnamese).


Main article: Vietnamese cuisine

Cuisine is one of the cultural differences between the regions. Northern Vietnam being the "cradle" of ethnic Vietnamese civilization, bears many of Vietnam's signature dishes (such as phở and Bún chả cá). The cuisine is perceived to be complex but bland in flavours.

The South's cuisine has been influenced by the cuisines of southern Chinese immigrants and indigenous Cambodians, and thus Southerners prefer sweet and sour flavors, respectively, in many dishes. Examples of sour-flavored food items include Canh chua and green mango salad/green papaya salad. Southern cookery also tend to use a significantly larger variety of fruits and vegetables than the other 2 regions. The cuisines of Southern Vietnam and Cambodia also share considerable similarities in ingredients, cooking style and food dishes, such as Hủ tiếu Nam Vang.

Central Vietnamese cooking, due to its royal heritage, is quite different from the cuisines of both the Northern and Southern regions, in its use of many small side dishes and requiring more time, more complex preparation (ingredient prep, cooking, serving etc.) and placing greater importance and food presentation, examples like Bánh bèo and Bánh bột lọc. It is also distinctive in its spiciness when compared to its counterparts, for example in Bún bò Huế. Food items from this region also tend to be lesser in size of individual portions [more snack, appetizer-like].

Certain unusual foods are more prevalent in one region than in another. For example, dog meat is much more popular in the North than in the South.[9] Cat meat is also eaten in Northern parts of the country.[10][11] Similarly, certain seafood dishes and game meat, such as rural rodents meat, while popular in other parts of the country, is unheard of in the North.


Traditional clothes are also often used to symbolize different regions. In women's attire, commonly the Áo tứ thân 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 Áo bà ba in the South (although many of these clothes are worn across different regions). However, the áo dài is now a very popular and widely-worn ladies attire nationwide .

Linguistic differences[edit]

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 major accents are those of the North, Center, and South. Of these, the Northern and Southern accents are mostly intelligible to speakers from either region (unless it is a particularly heavy accent, and/or using certain distinct vocabulary) but, strangely, the rather heavy Central accent, in particular from the provinces of Nghệ An, Hà Tĩnh, Quảng Nam, and Quảng Ngãi is often unintelligible to both Northern and Southern speakers.

Differences in these accents lie 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
  • Some differences in vocabulary between different regions
  • Northerners speak with a higher-pitched accent and frequently pronounce words with a ''z'' (even though the letter Z doesn't exist in the Vietnamese Latin alphabet).
  • Central Vietnamese (in the North-Central Coast, from Nghệ An to Thừa Thiên - Huế) speak in a more lower-pitched, more monotone accent, which is also found in the accents of various aboriginal languages spoken by Montagnard hill tribe ethnicities, for example in the A Sầu Valley - A Lưới.
  • Southerners, along with the South Central Coast provinces of Bình Định, Phú Yên, Khánh Hòa, Ninh Thuận and Bình Thuận, speak with no significantly-distinctive accent, metaphorically, it's similar to American English [excl. the Southern and New York City dialects]. Some remark the Southern Vietnamese accent [in Nam Kỳ Lục tỉnh] is similar to Khmer.

Because the accents of Central Vietnam (culturally centered at the ancient capital of Huế) 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. The most difficult are from the provinces of Nghệ An and Hà Tĩnh.

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[edit]

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 humid subtropical climate, with a full four seasons, with much cooler temperatures than in the South (which has a tropical savanna climate), as well as winters that can get quite cold, sometimes with frost and even (rarely) snowfall. The lowest temperature reached in Hanoi was 2.7 °C in 1955.[12] Snow can even be found to an extent up in the mountains of the extreme Northern regions in places such as Sapa and Lạng Sơn.

Southern Vietnam, with its much hotter temperatures, has only two main seasons: a dry season and a rainy season.

Miscellaneous cultural differences[edit]

  • While Southern Vietnamese often ring in the Lunar New Year (Tết) with yellow mai (Ochna integerrima) blossoms, Northern Vietnamese often prefer hoa đào (peach) blossoms.


  1. ^ David Brown (2012-02-18). "Vietnam's press comes of age". Asia Times. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Ben Stocking (2007-02-26). "Shall the South rise again?". Associated Press. Retrieved 2009-05-27. 
  3. ^ (Vietnamese) Hanoi People's Committee. "Hà Nội thanh lịch". Retrieved 2009-05-27. 
  4. ^ a b c (Vietnamese) Hồng Phúc (2009-01-16). "Yêu Hà Nội, thích Sài Gòn". Saigon Times Online. Retrieved 2009-05-27. 
  5. ^ a b Stocking, Ben (March 4, 2007). "North-South divide persists in Vietnam". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 3 April 2014. 
  6. ^ "Đừng bao giờ lấy gái Bắc làm vợ!". Phụ Nữ Today. Phụ Nữ Today. Retrieved 28 November 2013. 
  7. ^ Nguyễn, Tất Nhiên. "Bài thơ nhận xét về con gái 3 miền khiến cộng động mạng ‘dậy sóng’". Duyên tình con gái Bắc. Retrieved 28 November 2013. 
  8. ^ Duyên tình con gái Bắc
  9. ^ Clare Arthurs (December 31, 2001). "Vietnam's dog meat tradition". BBC News. Retrieved 2007-05-10. 
  10. ^ AP (July 5, 2013). "Vietnam gang stole 4000 cats for meat". The Australian. Retrieved 8 December 2013. 
  11. ^ Masis, Julie (July 22, 2010). "Why do Vietnamese keep cats on a leash? (Hint: What's for dinner?)". CS Monitor. Retrieved 8 December 2013. 
  12. ^ [1]:Lowest temperature recorded in Hanoi

External links[edit]

See also[edit]