Are There Still French In Vietnam?

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Throughout its eventful history, Vietnam is most known for the Vietnam War of the 60s and 70s, fought between the Americans and the communist Viet Cong. However, France had established a presence in Vietnam decades prior and influenced many aspects of Vietnamese Culture that can still be witnessed today.

Yes, there are still French remnants in Vietnam. Though less than one percent of the Vietnamese population speaks French fluently, the European country’s colonial influence is still present today. Tourists visiting Vietnam can see the French influence through architecture, cuisine, and language. 

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Are There Still French Remnants In Vietnam?

People unfamiliar with Vietnam’s tumultuous history are likely unaware of the French’s strong presence in Vietnam from the late eighteen hundreds to the mid-nineteen hundreds. 

The Vietnam War had such a profound impact on the country that it can overshadow previous historical events in the history books. 

Although only about seven thousand registered French citizens live in Vietnam at the moment, this number was significantly greater during the colonized years. The French have impacted the country so much that tourists visiting Vietnam can still witness it today.

Why Are There French Remnants In Vietnam?

It may surprise some to know that France played a major role in Vietnam’s history. The French colonized Vietnam in 1877 and some of its neighboring lands to form French Indochina. 

The French colonial rule was challenged towards the tail end of the second world war when Japan sought to occupy Vietnam. During this conflict, the Vietnamese revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh, named after the capital city, fought for Vietnam’s independence. 

Ho Chi Minh declared Vietnam’s independence in 1945. He continued the fight against the French, eventually driving them out of Vietnam in 1954. This conflict led to the foundations for the infamous Vietnam War

Can Tourists See French Architecture In Vietnam?

During their long time in Vietnam, the French constructed buildings that reminded them of their home. As a result, following their exit from Vietnam in the 1950s, they left behind much French architecture.

The three most famous places for French architecture in Vietnam are:

  • Ho Chi Minh City (the capital)
  • Dalat (a city most loved by the French for its cooler climate)
  • Hanoi

These cities house buildings that exemplify French architecture at the time (columns, arches, rounded symmetry, balconies, etc.). 

The rich Vietnamese upper class still constructs villas that resemble the French villas of the past. 

See French Architecture In Hanoi, Vietnam

Tourists who plan on spending time in Hanoi, hoping to see some French architecture should visit the Hanoi Opera House. 

The French built the Hanoi Opera House in 1911, which hosts numerous theatrical performances that tourists can enjoy. The Hanoi Opera House is also a popular site for taking photos. 

Hanoi Opera House
Yay Built in 1911, the 100-year-old Hanoi Opera House is a landmark of French Colonial Rule in the city’s Old Quarter.

Tourists can also make the trip to Hoa Lo Prison, which the French used during their time in Vietnam. The building is no longer used as a prison but as an exhibit displaying prison relics. The exhibition has many prison relics utilized during Vietnam’s struggle for independence. 

Visit French Colonial Villas In Dalat, Vietnam

The city of Dalat, located almost five thousand feet above sea level, has many French colonial mansions and villas from the early twentieth century. 

The rich French elite enjoyed spending time in the high hills of Dalat, as its cooler and drier climate was much more bearable for Europeans. 

Tourists visiting Dalat can go on tours to visit the various French villas in the French quarter. It is also possible to spend the night in some of the villas around Dalat. 

Find Numerous French Buildings In Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

Vietnam’s capital city, Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known as Saigon), also has many French colonial landmarks. 

The Notre Dame Cathedral is one of Vietnam’s most famous landmarks. This cathedral, with the same name as the famous Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France, is considered one of the most majestic cathedrals. Therefore, it is one of the main attractions for international and local tourists. 

Notre Dame Cathedral Vietnam
Yay Notre-Dame Cathedral in Ho Chi Minh city, Vietnam

The cathedral is currently subject to renovations, which should be done by 2023 if all goes well. Thus, the inside of the Notre Dame Cathedral is closed to visitors.

The famous Saigon Central Post Office is very close to the Notre Dame Cathedral. This post office is still in order; visitors are welcome to post letters to friends and family from this iconic colonial building.

Much like Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh also boasts an Opera House with classic French colonial architecture. The Ho Chi Minh Opera House, located in the city’s heart, is still used for theatrical shows and music concerts. Tourists hoping to get a look inside will need to purchase a ticket to a show.

Lastly, visitors can have their hunger for French architecture fully satisfied after seeing Ho Chi Minh City’s People’s Building. The building currently serves as the Ho Chi Minh City Hall. It is not open for visits, but tourists can capture the building’s beauty from the outside. 

How Common Is The French Language In Vietnam?

During the French rule in Vietnam, the French language was the official language. The language was therefore spoken and taught all over the country. However, following the French retreat from North Vietnam in the 1950s, the use of the French language drastically reduced. 

Today, less than one percent of Vietnamese people can speak French fluently. Moreover, much time has elapsed since Vietnam claimed independence from the French, so only a few French-speaking elderlies remain in Vietnam today. 

Due to the French language’s significant historical and cultural values in Vietnam, the Vietnamese government has been trying to reintroduce French in its schooling.

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Cultural Significance Of The French Language In Vietnam

The French Language has been a significant part of Vietnam’s history and present. Even today, the Vietnamese language still retains many French place names and loanwords. In addition, the Vietnamese adopted the Latin-based alphabet during the colonial years, replacing the Chinese script. 

In the early years of Vietnam’s colonization by the French, the French language was spoken primarily by the educated upper class. However, as time passed and French schools were built, the population commonly spoke the language.

The French language’s presence began to dwindle following the second world war as independence movements grew and rejected French. After the Vietnam War, the French language was removed from the schooling system.

Influence Of French Cuisine On Vietnam

Vietnamese cuisine is unique in that it blends Asian and French cuisine. The influence of French cuisine may not be obvious at first. Still, tourists with an attentive eye and palette will quickly notice the French influence.

The French colonials brought over many ingredients common in France that Vietnamese cooks incorporated into their dishes. Two staple dishes with significant French influence that visitors in Vietnam cannot miss are banh mi and pho. 

The banh mi is a tasty Vietnamese sandwich that uses French baguette. Customers can generally choose between chicken or grilled meat (the most popular choice). You will also find Vietnamese pate (another French influence), pickled vegetables, and coriander inside the sandwich. Banh mi is one of the most popular foods among tourists.

Though the French were the ones to introduce bread to the country, the Vietnamese used rice flour as opposed to wheat flour, giving it a unique taste. Nowadays, baguettes are sold at almost every corner of Vietnamese cities that the French heavily influenced. 

Pho is perhaps the most popular dish in Vietnam, as it is considered the national dish. This dish consists of rice noodle soup with various ingredients, including French meat broth. Tourists can find pho in various restaurants and on street food stalls.