From the Kinh to the Khmer, Vietnam is home to a rich tapestry of cultures and ethnic groups. In this post, we’ll introduce you to some of the most prominent ethnic groups in Vietnam and tell you a little bit about their history, culture, and traditions.
photo: Nguyễn Hoàng
The Kinh people of Vietnam are a dominant ethnic group in the country. They make up over 85% of the population and account for over 98% of the country’s Catholics. The Kinh people have been present in what is now known as Vietnam since at least 3000 BC, though they were not unified until the centuries after 1000 BC. The name “Vietnam” comes from the Chinese word “the Red River” or “the Red Water”, referring to the Red River delta region around Hanoi.
With a long history of agriculture and trade, the Kinh people have developed into a diverse group that includes farmers, fishermen, merchants, artisans and bureaucrats. Over time, they have intermarried with other groups such as Cham ethnic group (who are also known as Khmer), which has led to a complex culture that still exists today.
photo: Lan Anh Hoàng
The Hmong are an ethnic minority group who live in the mountainous regions of northern Vietnam. The Hmong have a long history in Vietnam; they first migrated from southern China to northern Vietnam over 2,000 years ago. Traditionally, the Hmong have been a largely agricultural people, growing crops like rice, maize, and sweet potatoes.
Hmong culture is very distinct from that of the Kinh majority. The Hmong language belongs to the Miao-Yao family of languages, which is unrelated to Chinese or Vietnamese. Hmong traditional dress is also very different from that of the Kinh; women typically wear colorful embroidered blouses and skirts, while men wear black trousers and blue shirts.
photo: Bunly Hort
The Khmer are an ethnic group who live in southern Vietnam, specifically in the Mekong Delta region. They are closely related to the Cambodian people and share many cultural similarities with them. The Khmer first settled in what is now southern Vietnam over 1,000 years ago; however, they only began migrating to the Mekong Delta region in large numbers during the 18th century CE.
Like other ethnic groups in Vietnam, the Khmer have their own unique language and culture. The Khmer language belongs to the Austroasiatic family of languages, which includes Vietnamese and Cambodian. Khmer traditional dress consists of sarongs for both men and women; however, men typically wear white sarongs while women wear sarongs that are brightly colored or patterned.
Vietnam is home to a diverse array of ethnic groups with their own unique histories, cultures, and traditions. In this post, we introduced you to three of the most prominent ethnic groups in Vietnam: the Kinh (Vietnamese), Hmong (Chinese), and Khmer (Cambodian). Understanding these different groups is essential for any traveler wanting to truly experience all that Vietnam has to offer!