Vietnam has a very rich culture that has been shaped by many different civilizations throughout history. Through many long struggles, the Vietnamese have created their unique culture.
Vietnamese art shows a strong Chinese influence, but has the delicate Vietnamese twist. Ceramics are common in Vietnam as is silk weaving, and elaborately engraved furniture. A popular art form is wood block printing where a design or picture is carved into a block of wood, then painted. The paint is pressed onto a sheet of paper, and a beautiful picture appears. Mother-of-pearl inlay originated in Vietnam over 1,000 years ago. Pieces of colorful mother-of-pearl shells are inlayed in wooden bowls, boxes, furniture, or other things. Silk screen painting is also popular. Before photography, portraits and scenery would be painted onto pieces of white silk. Lacquerware, introduced by the Chinese is found all over Vietnam. Wooden objects are painted with black and a design, and coated over and over with a clear, glassy liquid. When the coats dry, there is a glossy layer over the object that protects it from the humid Vietnamese climate. Dragons, and turtles are two very important animals in the Vietnamese culture. There are many beautifully crafted sculptures of those and other important animals, people, and things all over the country. Many of these arts have been used in Vietnam for centuries.
Vietnamese music has a sad eerie quality to it and is quite mesmerizing. Often it takes the form of poetry that is sung. It is very interesting because the tones of music must rise and fall as the Vietnamese language does. There are three main types of Vietnamese music: folk, classical, and choral. Folk music includes children's, work, festival, and funeral songs, and is sometimes accompanied by instruments. Classical music, based on the Chinese opera, is played by a large orchestra. Choral music is sung by a chorus with instrumental accompaniment. Common Vietnamese instruments include bamboo flutes, xylophones, the 16 string zither, double trumpets, consisting of two attached bamboo tubes, skin drums and gongs, and bamboo flutes. The dan ban, and instrument unique to Vietnam, consists of a single copper string stretched across a large gourd, and makes a sound that easily fits in with the Vietnamese tongue. Parts of Vietnamese music, such as the use of the pentatonic scale, have been adapted from the Chinese. In large cities, the American and European influence is strong in the culture, and the music. Music such as rock and roll is popular among teens.
Vietnamese novels are uncommon. Novels became popular under the French rule. Before that, and the introduction of the Roman alphabet; poems, written with Chinese characters, were the form of literature. Poetry is still very common and popular in Vietnam. The most famous Vietnamese poem is Kim Van Kiew. Even some people who can't read, can recite that poem by heart. Folk tales, orally told from one generation to the next, are also widely used. They often involve sacred and mythological animals, and teach a lesson.
Architecture in Vietnam today is a mixture of French colonial manors, and Chinese pagodas and temples. Many traditional Vietnamese buildings were destroyed by nature or war. Many big buildings and cathedrals resemble French Gothic architecture. Other buildings have pointed roofs and curving eaves, like Chinese buildings. There are remains of ancient stone buildings built by previous inhabitants of Vietnam. In cities, many buildings contain stores on the bottom floors and homes on top. Homes are small. In rural and mountain areas, houses are larger, one or two room wooden dwellings
Throughout the lowlands of the country, people dress in loose pants or skirts with long sleeve shirts that can easily be rolled up. In cities jeans and T-shirts are common as well. Most people wear sandals or go barefoot. The ao dai is a traditional garment worn for special occasions. The women's ao dai consists of a long, decorated tunic extending down below the knees, and a black or white skirt or pair of loose pants underneath. The men's ao dai, not often worn, has a decorated tunic that only extends to a little below the waist. The mountain people wear traditional dress made on looms. The material often has a repeated pattern and is decorated with beads. Each mountain tribe has a different style of clothing, and wears different colors. Conical hats, made out of tightly woven straw or bamboo are worn by people all over Vietnam to protect them from the scalding sun, and heavy rains.