Exploring Vietnam’s Rich Tapestry of Myths and Legends

Vietnam, with its deep cultural roots and vivid imagination, boasts an extensive collection of myths and legends that permeate every aspect of its culture. The rich oral tradition, bolstered by animism, has given rise to a plethora of stories that range from explaining natural phenomena to sophisticated tales of moral and ethical life lessons.

Creation of the Vietnamese Landscape Through Myth

The mythical narratives often begin with the physical shaping of Vietnam’s landscape, linked closely to its people’s origin stories. For example, the formation of the iconic Ha Long Bay is often attributed to dragons sent by the gods to defend the land, who spat out jewels and jade that turned into the islets and islands creating a protective barrier against invaders. These tales not only entertain but also instill a sense of pride and belonging among the Vietnamese people.

The Symbolic Legend of Hoan Kiem Lake

One of the most enduring legends in Vietnamese culture is that of Hoan Kiem Lake, or “Lake of the Returned Sword,” which centers around the heroic figure Le Loi. After using a magical sword given by the gods to expel foreign invaders, Le Loi returned it to a giant turtle in the lake, symbolizing the restoration of peace. This legend emphasizes themes of responsibility and honor, and the lake itself is a focal point of cultural pride in Hanoi.

The Tale of Lac Long Quan and Au Co

The creation myth involving Lac Long Quan and Au Co is a foundational story explaining the origins of the Vietnamese people. Lac Long Quan, a dragon from the sea, and Au Co, a mountain fairy, symbolize the harmonious blend of various geographical and spiritual elements of Vietnam. Their union and subsequent separation, which created the distinct northern and southern regions of Vietnam, underline the diverse yet unified nature of the country.

Sentimentality and Emotion in Vietnamese Myths

Unlike the often moralistic and event-driven mythology found in Western cultures, Vietnamese myths place a significant emphasis on sentiment and emotion. Tales of star-crossed lovers and tragic heroes are prevalent, reflecting the community’s values around love, loyalty, and the consequences of human actions. These stories often serve to communicate social norms and expectations within the framework of Vietnamese society.

The Presence of Spirits and the Spiritual World

In Vietnamese mythology, the spiritual world is closely intertwined with the mundane. Spirits, fairies, and deities are not distant or aloof but interact directly with humans, influencing daily life and guiding the moral compass of the community. This closeness indicates a cultural perception of the universe as deeply interconnected, where every element has a spirit and every action has a spiritual dimension.

Urban Myths and Modern Narratives

Vietnam’s tradition of storytelling also adapts to modern contexts, producing contemporary myths and legends that reflect current societal values and challenges. These stories often feature common folk outsmarting or outmaneuvering authority figures, showcasing the cleverness and resilience of the Vietnamese people.


Vietnam’s myths and legends are not just relics of the past but are living elements of its cultural identity, continually evolving and adapting to embody the values, dreams, and aspirations of its people. They offer insight into the collective Vietnamese psyche, highlighting both the uniqueness of its cultural narrative and the universal themes that resonate with broader human experiences.