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Vietnamese culture and civilisation have been profoundly influenced by the Chinese, and to many observers of Vietnamese history, China has long treated Vietnam as some sort of renegade province rather than an independ-ent entity. However, the Vietnamese existed as a people in the Red River Delta region long before the first waves of Chinese arrived more than 2000 years ago. History has, however, influenced the mix of Vietnamese minorities. The steady expansion southwards in search of cultivable lands absorbed first the Kingdom of Champa and later the eastern extent of the Khmer empire, and both the Chams and the Khmers are sizeable minorities today. There are perhaps one million Khmers inhabiting the Mekong Delta, or what they their money, refer to as Kampuchea Krom (lower Cambodia), and almost as many Chams living along the coastal regions between Phan Rang and Danang. Traffic was not only one way. Many of the 50 or more ethno-linguistic minority groups that inhabit the far northwest only migrated to these areas from Yunnan (China) and Tibet in the last few centuries. They moved into the mountains that the lowland Vietnamese considered uncultivable and help make up the most colourful part of the ethnic mosaic that is Vietnam today. For more on the minorities who inhabit the mountains of Vietnam, see Hill Tribes. While the invasions and occupations of old may be over, the largest minority group in Vietnam has always been the ethnic-Chinese community, which makes up much of the commercial class in the cities.While the government has traditionally viewed them with duspicion, and drove many of them out of the country as ‘boat people’ in the late 1970s. many are now comfortably resettled and play a major part in driving economic development.
How has tourism affected Vietnam?
People over the world know more about Vietnam, because the media coverage has changed. No more wars, no more soldiers, just a beautiful country with smiling people. More and more tourists are coming to Vietnam This brings more money into the economy, more knowledge to the local people, and promotes cultural exchange. This is good for everyone , the loca ls and the tourists.
What about the north-south divide?
I think northern people are still very traditional when compared with Saigon. They are more discreet than the more open southe rners, but can be a bit self-righteous. They are a little more frugal than southerners when it comes to spending money, but they seem more industrious than Saigon people. But I think Saigon people are friendly , open-minded , easy-going, simple... of course. I'm from the south!
Your favourite place in Vietnam ?
In Vietnam, it has to be Saigon. In my heart, the name 'Saigon' is so spiritual and so dear .. Even though I travel a lot, I can't wait to get back to Saigon. I love that feeling when the plane is landing at Tan Son Nhat Airport in Saigon, I can imagine the heat of the weather, the haste of the people and the buzz of traffic... Everything seems so familiar and so friendly... I whisper to myself, 'home'.