Meet the minorities of Sapa

There are 54 ethnic groups in Vietnam

The resultant diversity in culture and history of these minorities has created one of the most complex human environments in South East Asia. The main ethnic group, the Kinh (Viet), accounts for approximately 87% of the population. The remaining 13%, 8.5 million people, occupy a variety of midland, upland and highland areas, though are mainly concentrated in the western part of the country where they inhabit two-thirds of the border areas.

The ethnic groups vary in size, ranging from over 1 million to less than 200 persons. The ten major groups account for about 85% of the ethnic population. Most minorities are found in equal or greater numbers in southern China, Laos, Cambodia, Northern Thailand and Myanmar.

Facts regarding the origin, distribution, subdivisions and cultural character of the minorities remain uncertain. The classification of ethnic groups varies, in a number of cases Vietnamese, Chinese, French and British designate the same people by different names. The distinction between ethnic groups is made on the basis of linguistic criteria.

The minorities are divided into three major language families: Austro-Asiatic, Austronesian and Sino-Tibetan. However, the 54 ethnic groups included many local groups of different denomination with a multitude of dialects. Also, minority groups who share the same language often have distinct thought and behaviour patterns. Thus, a system of classification based on language alone would be imprecise. Groups may be sub-divided by differences in dialect relationships geographical position, altitude of settlement, socio-political structure and traditional dress.