With ten million followers and 20,000 pagodas, Buddhism is undoubtedly the largest established religion, however Vietnam has a rich and wide variety of religions based on imported faiths and popular beliefs, with several indigenous groups embracing animism, theism and ancestor worship. Catholicism, introduced by European missionaries, is the second largest religion, with about six million followers, and more than 6,000 churches.
Vietnam’s indigenous religions, including the Cao Dai and Hoa Hao sects, have their holy lands in the city of Tay Ninh and the provinces of Chau Doc and An Giang in the Mekong Delta. They peacefully coexist with one another and have contributed to the struggle against foreign aggression through the Vietnam Fatherland Front.
When joining Vietnam tours, visitors entering Buddhist pagodas are expected to remove their shoes and it is considered impolite to point feet, especially the soles, at people or statues of the Buddha. Donations to the upkeep of temples are not expected, but are received gratefully. Permission should be asked before taking photographs of people or in places of worship.
The most appropriate manner of greeting is a gentle handshake and a smile. Though occasionally rigid, Vietnamese officials – such as the police – appreciate being treated in a firm, yet diplomatic manner.
It is best to deal with misunderstandings with patience and good humour. Local people who offer assistance appreciate small gifts such as cigarette lighters, pens, foreign cigarettes, liquor, perfume and even shampoo. However, giving money to street beggars can lead to mob scenes as other beggars also attempt to impose upon such generosity.