Spreading over a whooping 331,210 square kilometres of land, Vietnam is distinctly divided into North and Southern regions.
While during the Vietnam war, the United states and the Soviet Union placed themselves in the South and north, respectively. The deeper differences also arise as the two regions are characterised by different types of cuisines, languages ( to some extent), geography & weather.
Thus, as a tourist when you travel to these regions, a brief understanding of their characteristics is always beneficial; Whether you just want to do some good old sightseeing and need to know the weather conditions and landscapes, or if you want to travel and know the cuisines, the language, the history, culture and its differences.
Hence here I enlist 9 ways in which the Northern and southern regions of Vietnam are different-
Accent and language
Northern and Southern dialects, although both of them are called Tiếng Việt (“Vietnamese”), have some slightly different words and pronunciations.
In the North, one shall find people saying things with a ‘zzz’ sound in their diction. However, this is absent down in the South. In the south, people have whining sounds in their words, and their sounds are longer.
The difference also consists in the popularity of Northern Vietnamese dialect.
Since many applications, which are used to learn the language teach the northern dialect, it is also more popular than the southern one. In fact, the distinction is so strong sometimes people from either don’t understand each other itself!
Northern days begin later than the southern ones since their mornings are colder. The southerners begin their days early, and by the time the day begins in the North, they are already well on their way to begin their day of work.
Similarly, as the day goes on, it is darker in the north sooner than that in the South. Hence people head homewards or to take a break earlier.
Apart from this, small differences are the Northerner’s taking to alcoholic beverages with their early morning breakfasts, and the southerners aversion from taking to the same.
North has more and different varieties of meat. Their diet shall also primarily consist of lots of noodle based dishes. Pho, Bun Cha, bún riêu, banh cuon- these are some very popular dishes in the North, that are all noodle based.
Another thing that is noticed in northern dishes is the absence of chillies, they are replaced by black pepper. If one observes northern Vietnamese dishes, a pattern emerges. These dishes are influenced by Chinese ones, which is very close to the northern region.
In the south, the Pho remains popular. However, this pho is different from the northern in taste and ingredients.
Having a better climate and a lack of snow, Southerners have an opportunity to cultivate. Thus dishes in the south have strong spices, more herbs, sugar and even coconut!
Noodle based dishes lose their dominance in the South, and dishes like com tam (broken rice with pork) and goi cuon ( summer rolls) are popular.
The southerners is also more westernized, so international brands like McDonalds, KFC’s , etc. also form a part of their food.
Naturally, when the cuisines, landscapes, lifestyles and daily schedules are so different the people will be too!
People from Northern Vietnam are characteristically more formal and restrained than the bubbly and outgoing people from the South .
However, with the Northerners, once you do get to know them with patience and care, there are a lot of tales and memories.
Southerners are generally a lot more forthcoming than them so it shouldn’t take you as much time as with the northerners for you to mix with them. However, their hospitality can get a bit overwhelming too, at times.
Another interesting aspect to the people of both sides is that Northern regions also have very many ethnic and religious minorities among them. While touring through the region you can stay over with them or interact with them and learn about the local way of life. They hold weekly or annual markets as well, which provide an interesting insight into Vietnamese culture.
Tourism in the north is almost a deluge of hills, caves, and valleys. Meanwhile, in the south the popular tourist spots are among the many beaches Ho Chi Minh city and its multiple islands.
The North reflects more of Vietnam’s history and culture. Multiple markets, 50 and more ethnic groups, various monuments- it is brimming with it.
Southern Vietnam provides the tourists with its beautiful, pristine beaches and islands. The hustle and bustle of Saigon, or Ho Chi Minh city, as well! The roads are much better here too, just as a travellers tip.
From a tourists point of view, Northern Vietnamese holidays shall be when you’d like to have a more contemplative, peaceful, & slow holiday. Southern Vietnam, is the way to go, for a holiday if you’re not looking for a way to get out of city life, or an escape into solitude.
Ho Chi Minh is overall more westernized compared to Hanoi. Hence, with this between their two biggest cities, the South is decidedly more influenced by west than the North
A fun fact I found online is that while there is one McDonalds to every 500,000 people in Ho Chi Minh, there is only one McDonalds in the North to every 1.5 Million people in its Northern Counterpart - Hanoi.
Similarly, Ho Chi Minh has the biggest labels opening their boutiques there, as well.
The youngsters there are more up to date with the latest trends and movements taking place in the fashion world globally too.
Apart from this, night life in Ho Chi Minh is more active and wild than that in Hanoi. Hanoi goes to bed early however Ho Chi Minh has a wild nightlife with clubs, bars and pubs.
While in the North people drink the locally made and freshly brewed Bia Hoi. In the South people usually drink lagers of various Vietnamese and international brands.
While not the best of beers, Bia Hoi is often enough to satiate the North Vietnamese tastes for the day. That is, at least until they find themselves in the midst of rice alcohol.
This is another type of liquor served after fermenting rice. It sometimes includes animal organs and medicinal herbs, and thus is of three different kinds. This has a much higher alcohol content.
It is yellow and cloudy looking in appearance and is found commonly along the countryside in the North.
Coffee and Tea
Northern varieties of brewed tea is often much better to taste than Southern kinds of tea.
There are various kinds, in the north people serve mostly warm or hot drinks. These are such fresh leaf green tea (Trà xanh) and plain black tea (Trà Mạn). The chè lá tươi and the “nước vối” are also other types of green teas that people in the North prefer to drink.
Meanwhile, in the South people drink tea with infusions of lotuses and jasmines. One of them is called trà sen” and is made of an infusion of scented flowers and leaves. However these are served cold, with some cubes of ice.
About the differences in coffee, in the North people drink coffee of various types. Hot/Cold, black or with milk! They use a special sort of a filter called ‘Phin’ to make their coffee as well. Some notable varieties of Northern coffee are the flavourful Yogurt coffee and the thick Egg Coffee.
Southerners, don’t make much of a fuss around their coffee. They just have theirs in a tall glass filled with crushed ice, black however, with a good amount of sugar.
While Northern Vietnam experiences weather changes, temperature shifts and what not, the sub-tropical South remains stagnant. Constant warm temperatures, light rains and no typhoons- there are hardly any temperature changes.
Northern Vietnam experiences mild summers and in the northern most parts, almost freezing winters. With a tropical weather, it experiences monsoon between the months of May to November. Light rainfall, that continues throughout is characteristic to it.
In the South, the weather rarely dips below 20 degrees Celsius, and it is hot and humid for most parts of the year. Except, during the rains which are again between May and November The weather however just before the monsoons arrive might peak really high and then cool down courtesy of the rainfall. The showers during the monsoons there are short, but harsh downpours lasting for a few hours.