Guidebook There are really two Vietnams ...


There are really two Vietnams ...

“The same flag hangs from rusted metal poles no matter where you are in Vietnam,” writes Matthew Pike in The Culture Trip, “but the North and South are very different in many ways.” If you travel through Vietnam, says Vietnam Coracle, you can’t miss the differences from one region to the next. “From landscape to language, climate to culture, etiquette to ethnicity: the list is long and fascinating,” and there is “plenty of healthy and (mostly) good-natured rivalry between regions.”

The two regions have always been very different, The Economist wrote in 2005. “The warm southern climate, for example, permits three rice crops every year in the Mekong delta, while farmers in the chillier Red River basin in the north can manage only two … Southerners and northerners speak different dialects, eat different food and even—according to popular belief -- have different temperaments … northerners are considered reserved and bookish, while southerners are thought to be friendly and flamboyant -- much like the stereotypes of Scandinavians and Mediterraneans in Europe.” And the ‘American War’ “exacerbated these differences,” noted The Economist. “For one thing, the south suffered less from American bombing, leaving it with better infrastructure. What is more, northerners have lived under a communist regime since 1954, whereas southerners have much more recent experience of capitalism,” and their links to ‘viet kieu’, or overseas Vietnamese, give the south a more cosmopolitan outlook, and provide southern businessmen with capital and ideas.”

So what are the main differences between north and south? Matthew Pike in The Culture Trip list some of the main ones:

Language: “Tiếng Việt (“Vietnamese”) is the official language throughout Vietnam, but regional dialects do change it in significant ways … the North and South each use different words, phrases, and phonetic elements, so sometimes even they can’t understand each other.”

The rains: “The rainy season in Vietnam lasts from May to November … in the South, storms come in fast, with little more than a cold gust of wind to warn you. Downpours rarely last longer than a couple of hours, though. In the North, however, it tends to drizzle throughout the day.”

Dry season temperatures: “The South is consistently hot. It almost never dips below 20°C (68F) in Ho Chi Minh City, even at night. In the North, average temperatures drop to as low as 17°C (63F) from January to March … farther North, in the mountains, you’ll see snow.”

Coffee: “Life in the South would grind to a halt without iced coffees … in the North, coffee is less prevalent, and cafes are more difficult to find … given the choice, many Northerners would prefer a cup of tea.”

Mealtime: “Generally speaking, Northerners prefer noodles to rice … the South produces more livestock, rice, and fruits thanks to its warmer climate and large agricultural region.”

Nightlife: “If you’re the type to stay out until the sun comes up, the South is where you want to be … in Hanoi, however, thanks to curfews and their more traditional ways, you’ll have to be more creative if you want to stay up all night and get wild.”

Hospitality: “While you’ll certainly find exceptions to this rule, Southerners tend to be quick to smile, whereas Northerners are seen as more aloof.”

Travel destinations: “In the North, tourists come for both the natural beauty and the history … the region is rich with awesome sights and remnants from days long gone. Tourism in the South is dominated by beaches and resorts … foreigners come from far and wide to lounge on the many pristine beaches .”

History: “Power in Vietnam has always been in the North—mostly in Hanoi, but also in Hue during the French colonial years. While Saigon may have more glitz, modern art, and relics from the American War, it simply cannot compete with the North in terms of history.”

The difference between the country’s two main cities is striking, notes Traveller. “Hanoi has the beautiful, other-worldly Lake Hoan Kiem, but Ho Chi Minh City, nee Saigon, has the disturbing, confronting War Remnants Museum. Hanoi has graceful, stately French colonial public buildings, but in Ho Chi Minh City, old Saigon's historic hotels overlook the Belle Epoque Opera House.” Vietnam’s “tale of two cities” is like the age-old differences between Beijing and Shanghai or Kyoto and Tokyo, says The Diplomat -- “more to do with history and culture than with ideology.” Hanoians “don’t dispute Ho Chi Minh City’s economic success,” but what they take issue with is “the notion that such success is necessary or desirable, or that the forms that success takes make a city attractive.”

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