Tuesday, June 6, 2017

hoa xong

Subtle Cultural Differences in Vietnam’s Two River Deltas

The two largest and longest rivers in Vietnam, the Red and the Mekong, are both rich in mythology and history. Not only do they help the country feed itself but both have served the country in its historical independence struggles.

The people that have settled these rivers have done so at different time periods, and have faced different challenges and obstacles. These differences have shaped the structure of the villages here and the people’s mentality as well.

The river deltas make fascinating trips when visiting Hanoi or Saigon because they are easily accessible by road or by boat and take travelers straight to the heart of rural life in Vietnam.


The Red River is the cradle of Vietnamese civilization, and the river’s marshy flatlands are the place where Vietnamese culture was born more than 4,000 years ago. The Dong Son Bronze Age culture was the very beginning of this history, and the fantastically cast bronze drums (and their images of soaring cranes and stilt houses surrounding the sun) symbolized these peoples view of the world. The Bronze Age drums have been excavated and restored, and no have now become a historical symbol of modern Vietnam.

The current capital city itself, Hanoi, is situated here and the very name means ‘the city within the bend of the river.’ Its an ancient city, almost 1,000 years old (it celebrates this birthday in 2010) and was founded by Ly Thai To who first named it ‘Thang Long,’ City of the Soaring Dragon,’ because he saw a huge dragon fly towards the heavens when he set foot at this site.

The Delta formed by the Red River is not as fertile as the Mekong, and therefore has only two rice harvests per year. The villages here are far older, and have had to deal directly with fierce invasions from the Chinese, to the North.

The very structure of these villages is inward looking because they are always ringed with a thick grove of bamboo, that acts as a natural fence to ward off intruders, wild animals, bandits, etc. Life is hard in these villages and strict hierarchy has developed to keep order, peace and progress in the right state.

The Red river itself has strongly influenced the lives of northerners because of its annual flood season that frequently devastates farmer’s fields, villages and causes many deaths. The people here respect the river and it’s ferocious powers. Some have developed traditional crafts like pottery, papermaking, basketry, and lacquer ware products.

During the wars against the French and the Americans, the sparse foliage of the Red River delta didn’t offer the kind of protection that Vietnamese forces needed to go about their resistance struggle in secret. Though the river and its tributaries provided a vital transport link to move supplies around during the wars and heavy bombing here resulted in heavy casualties.


The Mekong River flows for 4,000 kilometers from the steppes of Tibet through China, Burma, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia before finally reaching southern Vietnam. When it leaves Cambodia the river splits into arms and becomes lazy and flat; with so many outlets flooding here isn’t as serious a problem as in the North.

The Mekong river is historically known as the ‘Cuu Long,’ or the ‘River of Nine Dragons,’ for the nine separate branches that reach out to the South China Sea. Though several of these branches have silted up, the name remains because the number nine is lucky in Vietnamese culture.

The Mekong was not settled until the 17th century. The first arrivals were a mixed group, some were criminals, and some were adventurous types looking for a new life. These Vietnamese settlers found the Delta area practically untouched by the native populated of Khmer people.
It was the last place Vietnamese could settle on their southward expansion and they eagerly dug into the rich fertile soil and began to plant fruit orchards and rice fields.

They also converted the tropical forests to rice growing areas and began to utilize canals to manage the flooding. With a steady stream of water all year round, the lack of typhoons, and the warm weather, the ‘pioneers’ in the Mekong were a relaxed group, who lived in open plan villages. These southerners are famous for their relaxed attitude and friendliness; this contrasts sharply with the slightly colder, more reserved attitudes towards outsiders of their northern cousins.

Today the Delta serves as Vietnam’s largest rice bowl, and produces half the country’s rice crop in three harvests a year; agriculturally, this makes it one of the world’s most productive regions. The extra yearly harvest, and abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables, also contributes to the more laid back lifes of the Delta inhabitants.

In the wars of the 20th century, the Mekong served the Viet Minh (against the French) and Vietnamese soldiers (against the Americans) well because the intricate pattern of twisting canals and heavy foliage made it easy to hide, ambush and defeat the enemy. Both wars were definitely won by the tremendously courageous people, both men and women, who built tunnels into the earth to defeat the enemy. During both wars of independence the Mekong was the scene of fierce fighting and bombing, and despite the use of defoliants to clear away the dense jungle, the Vietnamese forces were victorious.

Despite the subtle differences in personality, the people of the northern and southern deltas share the same common wet rice cultivation farming lifestyle, and both share a deep love for their country, the heroes that have preserved their independence, and the bright economic future they hope to enjoy.

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