Vietnam spent a 1,000 years under Chinese rule and inevitably that had a major impact on the Country. When Vietnam gained independence from China in the 10th Century and began to spread its territory into the Champa Kingdom, now Central Vietnam and into parts of the Khmer Empire further south. The arrival of European powers, and ultimately the colonisation by the French added further influences. The Communist regime of Ho Chi Minh wanted to reduce any outside influences yet the growth of tourism has seen that stance relaxed.
Vietnam tour packages do their best to introduce tourists to every element of Vietnamese life. Family and respect for elders is very important in Vietnamese daily life. In villages every member of the family, from the youngest to the oldest are likely to live together, sometimes four generations. Marriages and funerals have a set routine, the latter sometimes lasting almost a week.
There are several elements to Vietnamese culture
• Religion means primarily Buddhism though Taoism is significant with temples throughout the Country featuring Taoist images. It is a feature of life that many Vietnamese are influenced by ancestor and tradition as well so Buddhism is far from dominant in Vietnam.
• Literature includes folk stories and written literature. There are several myths and legends in Vietnam some of which provide the national explanation for a number of everyday events. There is over ten centuries of written Vietnamese literature with recent works stressing realism and aspects of ordinary life where once they were about war and heroism.
• Visual Arts include works dating back to the times when China was in control. There are also Champa and French examples while current Vietnamese lacquer work is popular both with tourists on Vietnam holiday packages and people who have never visited the country.
Calligraphy remains popular with locals who often seek a wall-hanging on special occasions.
Silk paintings are on display in the National Museum of Fine Arts; they are available for purchase in galleries and can be distinguished from those of Japan, Korea and China by the use of colour.
Woodblock prints are a third form of visual art.
• Performing Arts can be easily included in Vietnam travel packages; clients simply need to ask their Vietnam tour operator about wherethere is a chance to see a show.
Music is extremely popular in Vietnam. It varies by region so if music is your special interest then you should ask whether there is the chance to listen to the more classic music of the North, originating from the Mongols, the music born during the Champa Kingdom in Central Vietnam or the livelier music of the South.
Theatre comes in many forms including the famous water puppets dating back to the 10th Century in the northern region. The stories are traditional and after a spell where water puppetry was in danger of dying out the Government stepped in, realising its cultural significance.
Opera (Hat Tuong) has origins in China and was originally confined to the royal courts before becoming widely popular.
Cat Luong is more modern, folk opera popular in the South.
Hat Cheo is satirical involving music as well as dance. It is usually performed outdoors, often by semi-amateur performers.
Dance is different everywhere you go on Vietnam holidays. Each ethnic group has its own traditional dance and there are more than 50 such groups. There are numerous festivals and those traditional dances will always be performed at some point. Some more complex dances evolved in the royal court and involve a great deal of skill. The imperial lantern dance and the fan dance are common examples.