Culture and identity
Around 86% of Vietnam’s population of 88 million are ethnic Vietnamese. They are influenced by Confucianism, in particular the principle of respect for their elders. There are also Chinese, Thai, Khmer, Cham people and about 53 ethnic minority groups who are known as Montagnards as they live in the mountainous areas. These minority groups follow their own customs and traditions and mostly live a nomadic life.
Popular artistic forms include silk painting, theatre, puppetry, music and dance, lacquer ware and ceramics.
There is a state system of social security and the healthcare system is extensive and well planned. The average life expectancy is 75 years (male: 73 and female: 77). Infant mortality rate is 20 per 1,000 live births. The most common diseases affecting general health are malaria, tuberculosis, intestinal infections, diphtheria and chicken pox.
Around 94% of the population has access to safe water while only 75% has access to safe sanitation. Government health programs are improving hygiene habits and limiting the spread of disease. The contribution of traditional medicine practices, including acupuncture, is important in the healthcare system. About 280,000 (0.5%) people are living with HIV/AIDS (mainly injecting drug users).
Religion and beliefs
The majority of Vietnamese are Buddhist. There are two sects developed from Buddhism, Hoa Hoa and Cao Dai, which is influenced by Taoism, Confucianism and Christianity. Due to a strong Chinese influence Confucianism and Taoism are also followed, as are Christianity and Islam. Animism – the belief in spirits – is strong in rural and highland areas.
Food and shelter
Key ingredients in Vietnamese food include rice and noodles, vegetables, pork, poultry, beef, seafood, a variety of fresh herbs and fish sauce. Large bowls of noodle soup with vegetables and meat are common; and fried or fresh rice paper rolls are popular snacks. The French colonial influence is seen predominantly through baguettes. Fruit is abundant and some of the unusual items include dragon fruit, longan, mangosteen, pomelo, three-seed cherry and water apple. Meals are cooked on small burners, placed on the table for everyone to select from and are eaten with chopsticks. The elderly have first choice and parents use their chopsticks to select food for small children.
Homes are generally small but vary greatly according to the climate and the materials available. They may be made of cement or bricks with a metal roof, or of bamboo or clay with a thatched roof. Boats and houses on stilts with curved roofs are traditional in the delta regions. A room or corner is often set aside for an altar for ancestor worship.