zizi-preparing-food-wedding

Black Hmong Wedding: Traditions in Sapa

One on the most happiest and interesting celebrations in every culture it’s a wedding. For H’mong people it’s the same, but there a lot of similitudes and differences between a Black Hmong wedding and an occidental wedding. So if you are lucky (and you are staying in a local homestay) probably you can discover more about this celebration in the Hmong culture.

For example, they celebrate two ceremonies. First, the groom have to go to bride’s house and aks parents for permission. Once he had permission, they celebrate together at her village (he have to wear the traditional custome of her village). During this ceremony, they drink and eat until the groom it’s enough drunk. When this happens, the girlfriend leaves her village with the groom and their friends, to go to his village (where wed takes place). There are more things, if you want to discover everything… keep reading.

 

Content

  1. A black Hmong can marry anyone?
  2. Traditions before the wedding
    1. Chicken over the head ceremony
  3. Food and drink
  4. Hmong wedding rules
  5. When Hmong husband dies
  6. Polygamy
  7. Divorces
  8. A real experience in a Black Hmong wedding

A Black Hmong can marry anyone?

Most of the Hmong clan groups are exogamous: that means that they need to marry someone from other social group. As far as we know, Black Hmong are able to marry with people of their own clan group only if they have a different family name. So, if they fall in love, they don’t need to find a marriage partner from another clan. For example, a Thung Xiong may not marry Lee Xiong. However, they are allowed to marry blood relatives from their mother side (Neejtsa), for example the children of a brother and sister can marry because they would be from different clans.

After the wedding, the bride will join the groom family. Becoming one more of the groom’s village and family, leaving behind hers.

In adition to this information, every day there are more Hmong girls that marry common Vietnamese or foreign men. But it’s not usual, because usually they marry when they are so young: between thirteen and twenty years old.

 

Traditions before the wedding

Traditionally, when a boy wants to marry a girl, he will make his intentions clear, and will “zij” (“snatch”) her during day light or night at any opportunity that is appropriate. This is traditionally only a symbolic kidnapping. There are so many rules or steps to follow before to “zij” a Black Hmong girl.

Before “zij”, the boy must first give a gift to the girl whom he wants to marry. This is the way her that he is really interested in be more than friends. There are some villages where before the “zij”, the boy also have to make a gith to the parents of the girl to get their approval before. The gifts for the family usually are pork, chicken or sticky rice. After a couple of days, the boy can then “zij” the girl. If the boy has never given a gift to the girl, she is allowed to refuse and go back home with any family member who comes to save her. Usually, the parents are not notified at the time of the “zij”, but an envoy from the boy’s clan is sent to inform them about the location of their daughter and her safety (fi xov). This envoy tells the girl’s family the boy’s background and asks what the girl’s background is. For example, the envoy may tell the girl’s family that the groom is from a Stripe Hmong family from Cat Cat Village, Sapa; the bride’s parents reply that they are Moob Leej/Mong Leng from Nong Het, Lao Chai Village, Sapa. In this moment, the parents can’t refuse about the wedding. But if the boy follow all the steps, love will succed. Before the new couple enters the groom’s house, the father performs a blessing ritual, asking the ancestors to accept her into the household (Lwm qaib). The head of the household moves the chicken in a circular motion around the couple’s head. The girl is not allowed to visit anyone’s house for three days after this.

After three days or more, the parents of the groom prepare the first wedding feast for the newlywed couple (hu plig nyab tshiab thaum puv peb tag kis). The wedding is usually a two-day process. The couple returns to the house of the bride’s family at the end of the first wedding feast and spends the night in preparation for the next day. On the second day, the family of the bride prepares a second wedding feast at their home, where the couple will be married (Noj tshoob). Hmong marriage customs differ slightly based on cultural subdivisions within the global Hmong community, but all require the exchange of a bride price from the groom’s family to the bride’s family.

Nowadays, this tradition it’s not celebrated commonly. Sometimes the couple know each other for a long time and they had already felt in love. So this step it’s usually avoided.

Before the bride and the groom visit the bride’s family, she must wear the groom’s traditional clan’s clothes. For example: a Hmong Leng girl married to a Stripe Hmong boy must wear the stripe clothes to visit his family. After the wedding, the bride will be given farewell presents and sets of new clothes by her parents. Also she will be wearing her birth family’s side traditional clothes. Example: the bride visits her parents by wearing stripe traditional clothes but when she is going back to the groom’s place she must wear her Hmong Leng outfits. She will also be given food for the journey. When departing, the bride’s family members would offer drinks (normally beer) to the groom until he can no longer drink. An example of this is, an older brother or uncle of the bride would offer the drink and before doing so, he would say a couple of words to his soon to be brother-in law/son-in law that since he now has their sister/daughter, he must promise to treat her well and never hit her, etc. Finishing the drink is proof of the groom keeping his promise. Most of the time, the groom would bring his brothers to come help him to drink. However, the groom would never leave without being drunk. When the couple leaves the bride’s house and return to the husband’s house, another party is held to thank the negotiator(s), the groomsman and bride’s maid (tiam mej koob).

On the second day, the family of the bride prepares a second wedding feast at their home, where the couple will be married (Noj tshoob). Hmong marriage customs differ slightly based on cultural subdivisions within the global Hmong community, but all require the exchange of a bride price from the groom’s family to the bride’s family.

Family sharing happy water shots

Lwm sub/Lwm qaib (Chicken Over The Head ceremony)

As we explained before, this is ritual required for bride and groom before entering the groom’s house. The “lwm qaib” or “lwm sub” takes place when the groom brings a girl to his house to celebrate the wedding and the ritual is done before they enter the house. They should stand next to each other right outside the main door (qhov rooj tag) facing inward.

An elder uses a live rooster to wave above the bride and groom over and around their heads three times then down toward the feet. If a rooster is not available, there are are acceptable alternatives as an a small burning log (hlav hluav taws) or a branch of green leaves.

While waving the rooster, say the following:

“Ov! kuv lwm tub ___(npe) thiab nyab ___(npe) no kuv tsis lwm plig tub plig kiv, plig niam plig txiv, plig nyiaj plig kub. Kuv lwm no kuv lwm nkawd kaum ob haiv mob kaum ob haiv nkeeg, kev lwj siab ntsim plawv. Kuv lwm kua muag iab kua muag daw, lwm luag ncauj luag nplaig, ntaub ntsoj ntawv ntsuag, ntaub ploj ntawv tuag. Yam twg yam tsis zoo kuv lwm ntawm hau poob ntawm tes, lwm ntawm tes poob ntawm taw poob lis nthav mus rau dej tshoob lawm zaj zeg zaj qho kom ntsej tsis hnov muag tsis pom.
Kom tub thiab nyab no los ua neej mas kom ntshiab li dej huv li txhuv, qas txhiab tsis muaj mob qas pua tsis muaj nkeeg, los ua neej mas kom huaj txhaij tsav vam tu tub ki los puv vaj, ua qoob loo los puv tsev, nyiaj txiag los puv nas ov.”

 

All of these words are just to rid the couple of all evil things and spirits. Sometimes, more can be added and some can be left out as one desires.

By the end, the chicken should have gone at least three times around the head and the body down near the feet. The chicken is then let go alive. Then, the couple goes into the house silently. When they are inside and the door is closed everybody may welcome the bride with kind words as she is being sent off into the bedroom immediately.

To finish the ceremony, then the groom kneel to the parents, spirits and relatives accordingly.

 

Food and drink

The traditional Hmong wedding includes eating vast quantities of delicious local food, drinking non-stop, and hoisting uncounted toasts to the family of the bride and to the bride and groom. A wedding is one the best choices that you could have to enjoy the pleasures of the vietnamese cuisine, specially if you are in a small vilage.

Hmong Wedding food

 

As you can see there are a big variety of foods: from chicken to fruit. You have to take in mind that they are going to be eating five hours. And usually there a lot of people in this ceremonies. They are preparing everything before, so most of the food it’s included in plastic bags (it’s a way to put faster in every table). Every table have a big bowl of rice, the main food in Vietnam. And every table have the same food without distinctions.

At Black Hmong wedding, there are only one drink allowed: happy water (rice wine). It’s funny because they put the beverage into water bottles. You also can find differents varietys of soft drinks for the childs that assists to the ceremony. People it’s drinking and drinking until the lose the account of how many shots they had in their bodies. At the beginning you can drink at your own rhytm, but if someone offers you a toast both have to finish at the same time. In adition, if someone it’s to refill his/her shot you have to finish yours. They fill all the shots at the same time.

Price of a Black Hmong wedding

The bride price is compensation for the new family taking the other family’s daughter, as the girl’s parents are now short one person to help with house taks. The price of the girl it’s set by the parents, based in her value for them (if the girl that you love in the only one or the last girl, probably your love is going to be more expensive). The elders of both families negotiate the amount prior to the engagement and is usually paid in bars of silver or livestock. Today, it is also often settled in monetary terms. If the boy doesn’t have a dowry to give to the girl’s family, he lives in her house until he is able to marry her. The usual price of a Hmong bride today in a Hmong village prices osciles between 30.000.000 VND and 70.000.000 VND. In America, would just depend on the parents or the value of the bride up to $10,000 USD, but the maximum set by leading clan leaders is $5,000 USD.

 

Hmong wedding rules

During and after the wedding, there are many rules or superstitious beliefs that the couple must follow. Here are some of them:

  • When the groom’s wedding party is departing from the bride’s house, during that process, the bride must never look back for it is to be bad omen endured into her marriage.
  • During the wedding feast, there are to be no spicy dishes are hot sauces served for it will make the marriage bitter.
  • At some point during the wedding, an elder would come ask the bride if she has old gifts or mementos from past lovers. She need to desprend of these items.
  • The bride’s maid’s job is to make sure the bride does not run off with a man as, historically, many girls were forced to marry and would elope with their current or past lovers.
  • The price for a wife can be set at any price, it’s a decision of their parent.
  • Nowadays, some ritual such as “lwm qaib” and “hu plig” are no longer practiced. Some of them follow both traditional Hmong weddings and westernized weddings.

Black Hmong wedding lunch

When Hmong husband dies

When a husband dies, it is his clan’s responsibility to look after the widow and children. The widow is permitted to remarry, in which case she would have two choices:

  • Marry one of her husband’s younger brothers/ younger cousins (never the older brothers).
  • Marry anyone from an outside clan (besides her own).

If she chooses to marry an extended member from her deceased husband’s clan, her children will continue to be a part of that clan. If she chooses to remarry outside of her deceased husband’s clan, her children are not required to stay with the clan unless a member of the clan (usually the deceased husband’s brother or a male cousin of the same last name) is willing to take care of the children. If no one from the deceased husband’s clan is willing to raise the children, they will follow their mother into her second marriage.

Once the children go with their mother to be a part of their stepfather’s family, a spiritual ceremony may take place. The children can choose to belong to their stepfather’s clan (by accepting his surname, his family spirits, and relatives) or they can choose to remain with their original clan (the family, spirits, and relatives of their deceased father). Often, regardless of the wishes of the mother or children, the clan would keep the son(s).

 

There are polygamy marriages in Hmong tribes?

Polygamy is a form of marriage among the Hmong, it has been documented. It is not rare among those Hmong who have migrated to Western nations. Many older Hmong people have had multiple spouses but some Hmong families around the world tell their children not to marry multiple spouses in the modern day because polygamy does not work out well.

 

There are divorces in Hmong tribes?

Divorce was rare in traditional Hmong society, however it is becoming more prevalent in westernized Hmong communities. If a husband and wife decide to divorce, the couple’s clans will permit a divorce but will evaluate the situation fairly. If just the wife wants to divorce her husband without any firm grounds, the bride price must be returned to the husband’s family, as the wife will be the one choosing to leave the household. If just the husband wants to divorce his wife without any firm grounds, the husband will have to come up with some money to send the wife back to her family with all the daughters and the sons will stay with the husband, as the husband will be the one choosing to leave the household. By tradition, the man and the woman do not have equal custody of all the children. If it is determined the wife had committed adultery, the husband will receive custody of the sons, the bride price and an additional fine. However, if it is determined the husband had committed adultery or married a second wife and the wife can not continue being part of the family, she will have the option to leaving her husband without paying back the dowry. If the husband allows it, she can take her children with her. If a divorced man dies, custody of any male children passes to his clan group.

Woman working

Tourist experience in a Black Hmong wedding

Black Hmong people are a minoritary ethnics that live in small villages or communes in Sapa. Usually the live in the mountains, there are other ethnics that live nearest of thre rivers, etc. Located at north Vietnam mountains these are one of the pople that already mantains a lot of their old traditions. So that, if you have the opportunity to join them it’s one of the most interesting things that you can do in Sapa.

Everytime more this weddings have more similities with the western ceremonies. Brides use the white dress or Hmong people can marry foreign people. This is not already common, but looking information there are previous cases of this. This begins to be common because the Black Hmong people is coming out of their villages searching for tourist, to try sell their handmade products, convince them to take a trekking tour or stay with them at their homestays. But when love appears, frontiers dissappears.

Today, you are going to read about my real experience joining a Black Hmong wedding during my experience as a volunteer at Zizi Homestay. My name is David García Campos, I’m from and I’m 27 years old (at least at the moment that I’m writing this post). One day I decided to leave my country and work as a volunteer abroad, and now I’m a digital nomad discovering and writing about Hmong people and their traditions.

 

About this Black Hmong wedding

In this website, you are going to find more information about Black Hmong weddings. But this post is about what I had experienced yesterday. The wedding took place in Ban Pho Village, at Hai Thao commune. The protagonists were a young couple of 20 and 17 years old, who were being married because of their love and both pertains to the same Black Hmong tribe, but from different communes.

Black Hmong weddings takes place during two days. The first day the celebration it’s on the girl village, and it’s when the boy go to t ake her to his village. The groom comes around with some negotiators to try to achieve the marriage. Usually, in this ocassion, they are discussing about the price that the boy have to pay to the girl family. The parents of her are going to lose one member of their family, and this suppose more work for them. So that, to let her go new need money in exchange. That’s the tradition.

 

Black Hmong wedding preparations

This is the most important step in every wedding. In this case, both families need to aport things (food, stuff even furniture). I went with my Zizi, my hostess at hte homestay, and she apports a table, benchs and some stuff to allow the people eat: like sticks or bowls. She told me to help taking the table where the weddings were going to take place. But I was lucky and finally another guy did that. Although they were carried with a lof of things and stuff around that steep roads, and they are wearing slippers.

After the celeabration my luck was not the same, and I have to carry with the cube with stuff in one hand and a table in the other hand. That happened because all men drinked a lot of rice wine during the ceremony.

I’m not angry because if good for training, becuase the next weeks I’m not going to be near of any gym.Furthermore, I attracted the attention of all the woman and they wre saying how strong I am. That was really good for my self-esteem.

 

The way to the wedding

The ways in this villages are very different that the roads that we know. So that, you are not going to find a wedding car or people with high-heel shoes.

Hmong people walking

They homestay where I’m staying it’s just in the middle of the road. So, during the morning, we see a lot of people in their way to the celebration carrying with food, things for the celebration and wearing the Black Hmong costume for the wedding. The people were coming by walk or with motorbikes.

To arrive to the place there were two ways: a good road but a longer distance and a little hike to avoid many distance. Of course, we went doing hiking carrying with all the stuff. To come back we chose the good way, because the hike with the table was really complicated.

 

Black Hmong wedding customes

Black Hmong woman wedding

 

Most of the assistants were wearing the common and characteristic Black Hmong custome: black clothes. The Black H’mong women are famous for making cloth from hemp and dying it a deep indigo blue. They wear long blouses decorated with batik flowers over short trousers, and wrap long scarves around their legs. They wrap their long hair around their head and wear a blue turban. The men wear long jackets with shirts and a long waist coat embroidered at the collar, and a small hat. Today some H’mong wear Viet or western clothes. 

But is not strange to find people wearing western clothes. At the wedding the looks that result more impresive to me were a girl wearing a Frozen dress and that a lot of men were wearing trouser and shirts, like we usually dress in every european city. Also, you can find men wearing a suit. Of course, that’s not a problem if it’s black: their colour.

Friends of Black Hmong wife

Another curious thing it’s about the shoes that they wear for the ceremony. It’s really difficult to find someone that not wear slippers. But, as you can see on the previous photografy, I found a group of girls that were wearing  nice shoes. And before the wedding, at the homestay, I had noticed that there were another girl who wear high-heel shoes.

It’s crazy but the day that you will take a trekking and see how they can hike better than you and their slippers or sandals don’t slip as your amazing trekking boots, you aren’t going to believe it.

 

La ceremonia

When we had arrived to the place where took place, there were a lot of people already waiting. There were in a neighborhood of three houses. There were people waiting two of them, and all protagonists were at the home of the bride parents. Everyone it’s waiting because in this moment the groom and the parents to proceed with the wed.

People is waiting sitting in chairs. At this moment tables are not ready already. Personally, the waiting wasn’t too much for me. I was really enjoying seing this happy and lively Black Hmong village while I was enjoying the stunning views. I wasn’t able to speak with the people there because my Hmong language skills are null, but I was enjoying. During this time, the most curious thing that I noticed, were a big group of man sitting in the living room watching the TV together. This it’s really similar to a western waiting. But how crazy is that they can watch the TV in the middle of a lost commune in the North of Vietnam? For example there’s no TV at the homestay that I’m staying. It’s already a common thing in every Hmong house.

As I am a really curiose I continue my way to the bride house. Where everything was happening.

The first that I noticed, it’s that while most of the people are waiting a lot of people it’s working to preparate everything. There’s a lot of movement, speacially in the kitchen, where there’s a lot of people cooking all the food that the assistents are goig to enjoy later.

Kitchen before wedding

This was the first time where I found more man than woman working in something. But there were the womans the responsibles of put the food in every table.

Man drinking tea and smoking

Outside the bride’s home there is the focus where all the people it’s waiting for the couple and to begin the ceremony. There was a table where a lot of man were drinking and smoking with a big pipe, something really common around Vietnam.

In this case, the groom were together with his father and the father of his girlfriends to try to achieve the wedding approval and get her to his home. Yesterday, this wasn’t hard to achieve becuase when I arrived all were drinking rice wine together, the sign that the bargain it’s finished and he’s going to marry his bride. In this first part of  the wedding, he have to wear the original custome of the village of his future wife. In this case they were a couple from a long time, and they don’t have to do “Zij”, this is like a “kidnapping” of  the girl to try to convince to marry him. So, it seems that love will be going to succeed.

Family drinking together

Meanwhile all this thing was happening, there’s another important thing happening at this time.

Picture of couple and box for money

Near the principal door of the door there’s a table with you can see everything related with the wedding. In this case there was a picture of the couple together, this is one of the signs that showed me that the wedding was already approved. Under this picture there were two boxes, this is where all the assistants deposit a letter wishing to the couple best and include money for them. Usually, as they told me, the average ammount it’s between 50.000 VND – 100.000 VND. I’m not really and don’t know what’s the factor to pay more or less. They also told me, that if you pay more probably you can join them drinking rice wine. Do you want to know if this it’s true?

Picture and video of couple

There are already more similitudes between Black Hmong weddings and western weddings. And one of them it’s the audiovisual content, all of us know that all the asiatic people loves to take pictures. As you can see in the picture above, the bride it’s wearing a white dress like in our traditional weddings. And, like most of the weddings here, they have a complete photographic report to show to their family and friends their love. The video it’s playing while the people it’s waiting. One of the differences, it’s that their photographic report it’s made before the wedding and not after. So if you are walking around Hanoi during the weekends, you are going to find a lot of couples taking photographies.

Before the ceremony begins, all the women begun to put the tables, all the bowls and sticks in their site and to put the food in the tables. Without their work the ceremony can’t be ready to begin. For me was curious because I wasn’t to notice which was the moment to begin to preparate everything. I think my inexistent knowledge about Hmong language was the responsible of that.

Putting food on the table

Another thing that you have to take in mind it’s that you don’t have to expect any luxure. Thre are no professionals waiters or catering in these ceremonies. They serve the food in big bowls, to share with all the other people; plastic tuppers or even plastic bags. To put the food on the table women use sticks or their hands. But there’s something true, the food it’s still delicious.The only thing that affect their flavour it’s when it begins to be cold.

Table with stunning views

That’s the table where I had lunch in this special occasion for the Black Hmong of Ban Pho Village. We were eating at the same time that we were enjoying the stunning views, it’s a thing that I will allways remember.

Before the ceremony begun, I was lucky and I had found more tourists: a couple and a guy from Israel. They were staying in a homestay that was at the same place that the wedding was. So they dind’t know nothing about the wedding, so it was a great surprise for them. In fact, they had to leave very early the wedding because they have to take a train to continue their travel. But for was amazing, because Black Hmong people seat us together and I had the choice to speak in english with someone for a while. They were totally inmersed in the ceremony, they had to gave to the couple the letter with the money and the girl was wearing the Black Hmong custome. We had noticed that their sking was turning blue, that was because the custome was new and it’s usual with the indigo (at least until the 5th washing).

 

During the ceremony, it’s curious to see how the women and men sit separate of each other. There are no tables with couples or mixed. And it’s also incredible how they are making toast during all the ceremony. It’s incredible the quantity of rice wine that Black Hmong people can drink.

The food was really tasty and amazing. There was good variety. You can find a good bowl of rice, the most famous food in Vietnam, barbeque, roast meat, fish, chicken and things that I never saw or tasted before. And, of course, a bowl with chili sauce to dip all that you want. Here, people was diping also the vegetables.

If there’s a thing that have to be always that’s the rice wine or “Happy Water”. It’s really funny to see how the fill the water bottles with this. So take care if you want to drink water in a Hmong wedding. That’s why I think they chose really well the name of the drink. There are also soft drinks, but only children or people who drunk a lof of “Happy Water” are drinking that.

Also if you don’t want to drink you have to drink. That’s what the tradition says and nobody can scape of this:

When you sit on a table you have to know that the only moment when you are able to drink slowly or at your rhytm it’s during the lunch. If you are far from the families or friends, it’s better to avoid a big number of toast in a really short period of time.

When everyone finish to eat, everyone it’s thirsty and it’s when the “Happy Water” begins to be empty. You have to take in mind that when anyone in your table finish his/her rice wine shot, they are going to begin a round to fullfill every shot in the table. If yours are not empty you have to drink it in one time, and when you finish you have another available. So, my advice it’s that you have to turn on the cruise speed and be drinking slowly without stop. Because too many “Happy Water” in one gulp it’s not good for anyone.

Woman drinking till late

When the time pass it’s incredible to see how man are leaving because they can’t drink anymore and how women continue drinking. In the picture above you can see my drinking friends that resist to be the last people there. There is not any secret to survive, but if you eat after each rice wine probably you are going to be able to resist to the happiness. So, eat although you are not hungry.

There’s an international thing, but at the beginning I wasn’t feeling really integrated. But when they drunk they began to speak english and drink with me. And the woman begin to ask me to take pictures with them, that’s the same thing that happens to me in Hanoi. So I think that I’m water, and I can adapt to every situation. It’s good because Black Hmong people have a good english level, so I can learn a lot about them.

The ceremony really finish when the couple and friends leaves to go to the groom village. He took a nap becuase he can’t drink anymore and when he and his friends are better they leave. Another special moment, it’s also when the leader of the clan it’s too drunk and have to leave. I was there to see this moments, but we continue drinking.

If you follow my tips and advices you probably will survive to a Black Hmong wedding, and tell your story to the rest of the world. If you hear them and let the wice rine be in your body. You are not going to be when are you going to finish.

Sleeping after ceremony

Black Hmong wedding it’s a ceremony that begin at 9.30am approximately and finish at 2.30pm. This is not accurate and depend of every ceremony. I left the place later, because my friends were drinking and speaking with me. But this is the story of my beset days working as a volunteer in Vietnam.

Hoang A Tuong Palace front view

Hoang a Tuong Palace: a place for Hmong King

History of Hoàng A Tưởng Palace

Hoàng A Tưởng Palace (Hoang A Tuong Palace for us) was built in 1914 and completed in 1921. Hoàng Yến Chao was from the ethnic Tày group, he was the father of Hoàng A Tưởng. He decided to build this Palace for himself. Is a bizarre palace constructed in a kind of ‘oriental baroque’ style on the northern edge of Bac Ha. After nearly 100 years of existence, it is still standing between the majestic land known as the “White Highland” and the Sun.

These Tay ethnic minority men were reportedly regarded as “kings” of the Bac Ha region and ruled a region where 70% of the population were H’Mong people before 1945.

During his reign from 1905 – 1953, with the protection of France, Hoàng Yến Chao owned much of the fertile land in this area, and had the full right to exploit the surrounding forests and native products. He established a tax regime that required all of the people to pay tax on the products that they grew or made. He also had a monopoly on the sale of salt, drugs, food and other consumer goods, considered essential necessities in the region. During his long reign, he accumulated a huge amount of assets. Based on economic strength, in 1914 he decided to build this Palace to represent his wealth and power.
Hoang A Tuong Palace Bac Ha history
Entrance to the courtyard of the Hoang A Tuong palace

 

Hoang Yen Tchao family history

Hoang Yen Tchao had three wives and total of seven children, including two sons and five daughters. His first wife was of the Tay ethnic. She met Mr. TChao when he was just a regular civilian and they were married out of love for one another. She bore him three children, two sons and a daughter. The eldest son was Hoang A Tien and the second one was Hoang A Tuong. His second wife was the most miserable because she married him for his wealth and riches. She was only his second wife for a short time and then she got sick and died. She did not have any assets and nobody knew that she existed. She bore him two daughters and died while she was still very young.

Mr.TChao and his first wife

Mr.TChao and his first wife. Image from sapa-tourism.com

However, she didn’t die long before, Hoang yen TChao quickly took over as his third wife. She was of the Chinese descent. She went to Bac Ha to do business, with the sharp beauty of Chinese girls, her appearance caught the “eye” of the ” Hmong King”. She was a business woman and was very independent. She also had a successful business in which she was doing very well. She was married to Mr. Tchao for a short time and bore him two daughters. She did not like living in Mr. Tchao’s palace and so she moved to live outside of the palace. There she did business herself and did not rely on him for anything.

The third wife and her daughters. Image from sapa-tourism.com

Among Mr. Tchao’s children, Hoang A Tuong was revered as the most intelligent and was the dearest of Hoang Yen Tchao’s children. He was chosen as his father’s replacement to take over all the work. Mr Tchao was the “Hmong King ” but he didn’t name his palace after the eldest son, but his youngest son.

Leaving Bac Ha and the palace was short lived but the stories of their families still having lasting imprints on my mind. There is still so many mysteries around the palace.

 

Building Hoang A Tuong Palace

In order to prepare for the construction of this Palace, Hoàng Yến Chao had to plan very carefully. First he consulted with Chinese feng-shui experts to find the best location to build the Palace. The site was selected according to the Feng-shui theory of location. It was built on a large hill, facing south east, protected on both sides by mountains, the front has a spring and facing the mountain named “Mother is holding her baby”. Overall the topography in the area is beautiful, a charming “painting”, capturing the picturesque views and perfect Asian climate.

Hoang A Tuong had deliberately prepared materials for building the castle. Cement and steel were flown from the plains, while the bricks and tiles were manufactured on the spot with clay in the heart of the mountain range under the supervision of Chinese experts. The whole edifice was built of baked bricks and employed a binding agent with lime and beeswax. Workers were the best builders from prisons. Surrounding Hoang A Tuong Castle was the thick fence consisting of 3 gates (1 main gate and 2 auxiliary ones). Four side walls were crenellated fences and guarded by 2 platoons. In particular, behind the castle offered a solid and extremely secretive escaping tunnel.
Hoang a Tuong Palace tunnel stairs
The mansion was left uninhabited for many years as Hoang A Tuong had to live in exile in France after the region was liberated by revolutionary soldiers in the autumn of 1945. Nearly a century has gone by since its completion, the building remains intact and its Asian European-architecture still shines under sunshine.

The main two-storey mansion is surrounded by auxiliary houses on the left and the right, and has beautiful decorations on its façade and inside its rooms. Internal structure of the castle is fairly beautiful. Through the main entrance, a large yard inside is former home to organize main activities of the tribal mandarin’s family. Backcourt main building retains two floors with an area of 420m², which is often used for the meeting place of the family. Tourists setting foot in the castle have to walk up 17 stairs from both sides, then to the sheltered lounge. Additionally, the castle also has other construction items such as two auxiliary blocks on both sides. Each has two floors and is lower than the main building with an area of 300m². This is private space of Hoang Yen Chao’s wives and Hoang A Tuong’s wives. There are also two sub-blocks with simpler architecture used as accommodation for soldiers and servants.

The castle covers an area of 4,000m² in which the main building occupies 420m², Occupying a pivotal position overlooking the Bac Ha valley. In front of its arched doors are earthen banks. Its network of walls, bunkers, and battlements were reinforced by a mortar mixed with sugar molasses. In a distance, the white castle jutting out from the valley looks imposing and majestic. At present, this castle is put under a restoration scheme to better help tourists get insight into the changes of the local life.
Hoang A Tuong Castle in Sapa

Visiting this place you have an opportunity to learn about the live of a family of the ruling class and part of Bac Ha’s history in the past.

In adition to the palace, you can also visit Bac Ha traditional market.

Lao Chai Village

Lao Chai Village: discover Hmong culture

Lao Chai village, home to the black H’mong people, is located about 6 km from Sapa town. Just follow the main road for about 8 km, and then you’ll see a path down the valley to the right which will lead you to Lao Chai Village. The village is backed by high mountain ranges and situated near Muong Hoa river. Here you will enjoy the best panoramic view of rice terraces and streams and explore three large villages with over 100 families of the Black H’mong ethnic. Ethnic people in Vietnam are very hospitable and friendly. Going around this village, you will easily make friends and have chance to learn about local culture and customs.

Lao Chai almost lies in the middle of rice and corn terraces, so you also have a good chance to trace along with narrow but fabulous path on the fields to contemplate the whole zone of terraces. Best time to visit it’s from September to next April on which the village is so attractive with the most wonderful rice terraced fields.

Lao Chai Village
Lao Chai Village terrace padies after harvesting

How to go to Lao Chai Village

As you can see, Lao Chai is not too far from Sapa, so you can take a one day trail on your own. If you feel confident, of course.

There’s another good point to visit during this trip, Ta Phin Village.

You may go by car or motorbike to get to the villages but it shall be more stunning if you spend time trekking following the path along with the mountain side to go there. A trek is always the best recommendation to explore Sapa’s ethnic villages and their very culture and customs.

Lao Cai or Sapa and the Northwest of Vietnam in narrow sense often is developed it tourism industry with a form of community-based tourism, so then trekking to Lao Chai village learning about the local’s life and exploring the beauty of the very nature in the village are some of the most interesting and appreciated activities when coming to the upland town. By the way, it is very nice when from a high position on the main road, you can get great panorama of the whole village looming in high mountains along with the most beautiful river.

The trip must be very interesting when you mix with groups of H’Mong people on their ways to the village or to the terraces for work and though they intend to make some business, they do not force you to buy their products but chat with you friendly and share their experience and life. The children in villages love seeing the strangers coming to their homes, they are always happy for such small gifts. You do not forget to take some used comics or newspapers, magazines as gifts for them. However, absolutely do not give them money. It is a kind of unwritten rule.
Lao Chai, Mu Cang Chai, terrace padies
Children in Lao Chai road

Lao Chay Map

Lao Chai Village map

Lao Chai map by CBT Vietnam

 

Local ethnics in Lao Chai Village

 

The Giay

Only 2% of Sapa’s population comes from the Giay ethnic group, and so it can be tough to discover much about this fascinating community that immigrated to Vietnam from China only two centuries ago. A majority of Vietnam’s Giay group live in more northern provinces in the country where a stilted house (the traditional-style home) is common even now. In the sunny and fertile Lao Chai village, though, Giay homes have adapted to be closer to be only one story, usually with a simple interior in a dirt floor.
Distinct from the H’mong communities they live alongside, the Giay wear relatively simple clothing that boasts splashy, vibrant colours but less ornamentation than H’mong textiles. Thanks to their geographic roots, a whole host of Giay cultural elements feel distinctly Chinese, with the group’s clothing and cuisine borrowing flavours from Vietnam’s northern cousin. In Lao Chai, the Giay sustain their livelihoods and health in much the same way as the H’mong – by raising livestock and tending to endless rice terraces and mountain fields.

 

The Black H’mong

Making up a significant part of Sapa’s ethnic minority population, the H’mong community in Lao Chai is one of many scattered throughout the town’s verdant valleys. The Black H’mong are a distinct community within the larger H’mong ethnic group – so named after the deep indigo dye used in nearly all of their traditional clothing. Green, blue and purple is highlighted with splashes of red – and the Black H’mong’s uniquely vivid textiles have become a favourite element in souvenir shops and markets throughout all of Vietnam.

Black H’mong communities remain deeply traditional, with men and women often getting married as young as their mid-teens. It’s not unusual to meet a local H’mong villager of 25 that already has a handful of children. Instead, most families live off of the land and rely very little on income from selling textiles in local markets. Only when buying livestock or home goods will Black H’mong families need money. Most (if not all) of their food comes from their crops and animals.

The locals houses are built on the half side of the mountain to prevent from floods on the wet season. The H’mong here focus their cultivation in rice farming which is carried out on the lower land close to the bottom of the valley and sometimes they cultivate corn on the mountain slopes on terraces as the subsidiary food for life.

 

What to do in Lao Chai Village

With the form of community-based tourism, you will have a chance to experience handicraft manufacturing operations along with the travelling route, in which includes brocade weaving, traditional dyeing and more. Then you are highly recommended buying such products not only for their distinction and beauty but also the practical features with good benefits such as brocade scarves, embroidering cushions, especially ethnic instruments like “Khen”, “Dan moi” for beautiful souvenirs.
You can participate in the local’s routines by staying in their rudimental houses, communicating with such hospital and friendly ethics and mingling with their life which is definitely close with natural space and particularly enjoying their local dishes with exotic but yummy taste that always deserve at least a try. Thus, on your way to Lao Chai, you might receive simple but unforgettable experiences with preserved and precious traditional characteristics and customs of the local here and be obviously impressed with the ethnic’s hospitality and frankness despite the subsistence living.
Family in Lao Chai - Sapa
Black Hmong woman and baby, rice planting, Sapa Vietnam

 

Homestay with local Black Hmong Family

One of the best experiences when travelling to Sapa is a stay in the home of a local Black Hmong family. Thanks to CBT Vietnam training workshops many homes offer homestay experiences and authentic batik workshops. Within the network of trekking routes in the Sapa Region, Lao Chai does offer an excellent option to stay overnight and learn more about the Hmong culture.

You can find a list of homestays with local people.

Homestay with local family in Lao Chai

Cat Cat Village stunning views

Cat Cat Village: trek from Sapa&travel tips

:Cat Cat Village is a mountainous district of Lao Cai province, about 376 km from Hanoi. It is located in a beautiful valley about three kilometers from Sapa Town, at the bottom of the Muong Hoa Valley and near the stunning Cat Cat Waterfall. This is an age-old village of H’Mong ethnic group remaining unique customs and practices that are lots in other villages.

Cat Cat Village stunning views

How to go to Cat Cat Village

There’s nothing like a good hike to explore the surrounding villages, this is good because it is located only 3km south of Sapa. The hike to Cat Cat is downhill and easy on the legs. There are plenty of xe om (motorbike taxis) if you feel tired or lazy about finish the road. The trail offers beautiful views of terraced rice fields and you can see the village homes in the valley below. Along roads to the village, tourists can enjoy the ancient architectural beauty of small houses of local residents.

However, unless you’re with a tour or trekking guide, all the foreigners have to pay an entrance fee and you will need to buy them in advance and not at the door. The current price of the ticket is 70.000 VND. The Government set this tax in order to collect money to mantain the village. You will be disappointed if you arrive without a permit in hand. If you plan to hike this on your own, visit the Tourist Information Center near Sapa Square to pick one up first.
Road to Cat Cat Village from Sa Pa

History & Local People in Cat Cat Village

Cat Cat cultural village was formed in 19th century by the gathering of some families belonging to some ethnic groups living in mountainous areas of northern Vietnam, especially Black H’Mong. They lived next to each other along the mountain side and cultivated surrounding their home. Rice and corn are grown in terraced fields, while traditional handicrafts such as twisting flax and weaving fabric have been well-kept.

You will be impressed with the peacefully picturesque sceneries. You can see women sitting in front of the loom with colorful pieces of brocade, while children playing around with pets or even livestock. From the plain brocade, then women can carefully dye them with special leaves and embroider beautiful patterns of flower and animal on them. When these pieces of brocade are finished, they are dyed and embroidered with beautiful designs. A noteworthy is that H’mong women use plants and leaves to dye these brocade fabrics. And then they roll a round and smooth section of wood covered with wax on fabrics to polish them, making their colors durable.

In addition to the brocade weaving craft, many residents in Cat Cat are good at manipulating gold and silver jewelry. These are very sophistique products, especially jewelry for women.
Young hmong people in cat cat village
Cat Cat Village local H'mong people

Local architecture in Cat Cat Village

The original architect of H’Mong people is interesting as well. The houses of local people are divided into three rooms roofed with wood planks. Walls of these houses are often made from sawn timber. There are three columns standing in round or square stones inside houses. Each house will have three doors including a main door in the middle room and two others in the rest. The main door is always closed and only opened when big events such as weddings, funerals, Tet holidays happened. Besides, in each house, there are indispensable parts like kitchen, altar, places for keeping and food, etc. Houses in the villages are separated with each other by the terraced fields. At the rear of houses there are green and luxuriant bamboos. The most interesting thing that you can see when visiting Cat Cat village is rice mortars using water power from streams to pounding rice.
House in Cat Cat Village
Cat Cat Village Sa Pa Vietnam
Cat Cat Village local Hmong house

Traditions and festivals in Cat Cat Village

Some traditional festivals and customs of local people are often held annually such as Gau Tao festival and customs of “Pulling Wife”. Tourists visiting Cat Cat at the beginning of a year can participate in Gau Tao festival, which aims to bless for people in the village. This is the biggest festival of the village in one year. The festival is an epitome of spiritual and cultural life of H’Mong people. Another special customs of H’Mong is “Pulling Wife“. According to this customs, if a boy in the village falls in love with a girl, he will hold a party and invite his friends participating. He and his friends will make a plan bringing (“pulling”) the girl to his house. He will keep the girl three days at his house, and then if the girl agrees to marry him, they will hold an official wedding. On the other hand, if the girl refuses his proposal, they will drink “a bowl of wine” and just make friend with each other.

 

What to do in Cat Cat Village?

Cat Cat Village gives tourists a chance to have a glimpse into the daily life of local ethnic people, as well as take part in traditional activities such as weaving fabric. It is also a good opportunity to purchase some traditional souvenirs and handicrafts right from the craftsmen. You will find a lot of people trying to sell their products, specially children.

  • Take photos of the splendidly picturesque view of the hills and the terraced rice fields.
  • Look through the houses of the ethnic minorities in the village and discover how people in this area live. You will often see a big family so in one household: can live until 10 members more or less!
  • Visit the school. Currently, the government has made an effort to discourage villagers and tourists in giving of candies. So try not to give candies to kids.
  • Shop. As you go down the village you will walk past a lot of stalls with ladies selling handicrafts.
  • Drink the home-made apple wine. The price of a glass it’s 10,000 VND (50 cents).
  • Talk to the villagers and learn how Hmong say “Look”: “Loke” and “Make”: “Meki“. A little tip is when you don’t want to buy anything you just have say: “I’m only loke Ioke”.
  • Visit Cat Cat Waterfall. As you hike to the bottom of the Muong Hoa Valley you will see the stunning waterfall. There is actually a hydroelectric station, built by the French, that people in Sapa use to generate electricity.
  • Discover the Bamboo Dance. You can go into a small theater to watch the talented locals showcase their traditional dance.
  • Taste the local food to remember the experience.
  • Hike. Cat Cat is an easy and interesting route for trekking. The hike through mountains will offer you the wonderful picture of rice paddies, the waterfall or even water buffaloes grazing leisurely.
  • Nowadays, in order to develop the tourism potential of Cat Cat village, Lao Cai Department of Culture, Sport and Tourism has implemented many tourism programs. Such as Cat Cat Village’s Culture Days, One day becoming a Dao farmer or One day becoming a H’Mong bridge.
Cat Cat Village hydroelectric station

Hydroelectric station

Cat Cat Waterfall Sa Pa Vietnam

Cat Cat Waterfall

bridge Vietnam Sa Pa Cat Cat Village

Hydroelectric station Vietnam Sa Pa Cat Cat Village

Bridge Cat Cat Waterfall
With these activities, Cat Cat village is one of attractive Sapa places to explore folk culture of ethnic minority and immerse you yourself in unspoiled nature.

 

3D2N-the-fansipan-trek-2

Animals and nature in Fansipan mountain

Wikipedia told us that Fansipan is dubbed “the Roof of Indochina” and has about 2,024 floral varieties and 327 faunal species. Wow, that’s a lot, really?

We are really interested to know more about the Fansipan nature and we want show some animals and flowers that you could find in a Fansipan trekking route.

 

Animals in Fansipan mountain

Snow Leopard

The Snow Leopard is a beautiful specie of wild cat that lives in Southeast Asia. The snow leopard has three main features:

The tail is extremely long: this helps to keep the cat balanced when walking and climbing through trees.

It’s coat is beautiful and the pattern is great for the cat to camouflage .

The leopard has “Canine teeth” that are the long teeth at either side of the jaws at the front. The upper canine teeth can be longer than 4 centimeters.

Snow Leopard Relaxed

Snow leopard teeth

 

Toads

A team of Australian and Vietnamese researchers discovered in 2014 a new species of frog in the high elevations of Mount Fansipan. The amphibian was named Botsford’s leaf-litter frog (Leptolalax botsfordi) as a tribute to Christopher Botsford for his role in amphibian biodiversity research in Asia.

This particular species is more vigorous than other Asian leaf-litter frogs, and has a distinct brownish-pink belly and huge white glands on its thighs.

Slender Litter Frog (Leptolalax gracilis)

 

Tigers

Tigers in Fansipan mountain

 

Bears

Bears in Fansipan mountain

Monkeys

Monkeys in Fansipan Mountain
Hares
Hare in Fansipan Mountain

Squirrels
Squirell in Fansipan mountain

Snakes

If you don’t want to find them, avoid grassy areas or reaching under rocks. It’s where they stablish their home.
snake on the road Fansipan mountain

Lizards
Lizards in Fansipan mountain

Plants in Fansipan mountain

The flora in Fansipan is so diverse with 1,680 species of plants, some in which are rare and able to be found only here. Hence, the mountain is an appealing natural attraction for any tourists, especially the ones who are interested in botany. Types of plants vary depending on altitude.

 

Adina

Adina is a plant of seven species of in the Rubiaceae family. It is native to Southeast Asia and is a shrub/small tree. This family is very rare and is one of the largest plant families, Some other familiar members of the family are Buttonbush, Coffee, Gardenia, Firebush and Ixora.
It flowers in July and struggles to survive in summer so it needs lots of water and a good shelter.
Haldina cordifolia in Fansipan mountain
Orchid
Orchid Fansipan mountain
Drhondodendron

drodohendrons in Fansipan mountain

Jackfruit tree
Jack fruit in Fansipan mountain
Cotton tree (bombax ceiba)
Cotton tree in Fansipan mountain
Pterocarya
Pterocarya collection in Fansipan mountain
Fokienia
Fokienia hodginsi in Fansipan mountain
Pine tree
limestone and pine tree in Fansipan mountain
Phyllostachy (Bamboo)
Bamboo Forest in Sapa mountain
Chrysanthemums

Chrysanthemum in Fansipan mountain

Yellow and red chrysanthemum

 

Now you are ready to enjoy Fansipan mountain nature and tell us if you saw any of this animals and plants during your trekking.

Bac-ha-market-feast-for-your-eyes

Bac Ha market – highland culture feature

Every Sunday, Bac Ha hosts the biggest fair near the mountainous highlands and the Chinese border. It is the largest and most colorful market in the area and attracts throngs of villagers from the surrounding hill tribes.

Sapa area is very well known for its mountains and trekking trips, but there are more things to do apart from trekking. One of those things is the Sunday market in Bac Ha village. Bac Ha is located about 80km away from Sapa, 60km from Lao Cai, near the Chinese border, and is a small village famous for its market.  

Even if Bac Ha has stunning landscapes and mountains, it hasn’t become a trekking point as Sapa has, it is only famous for its market. During the week, Bac Ha is a peaceful village without tourism, however at Sundays noise and color fill the town, making it a must see for the tourists in the area.  

Bac Ha Market in Sapa

Bac Ha market is the most colorful market

Bac Ha market is the most colorful market in all Lao Cai province and is less touristic than the market in Sapa town. Every Sunday morning, ethnic minorities from the mountain area of Bac Ha, groups of Miao, Hmong, Dao Do, Tay and Giay minorities go to the village market. Here, the ethnic groups dress up with their traditional clothes and meet in the village to buy and sell all type of products, such as spices, tobacco, food, craft-work, clothing,… all kind of local area products. The market area is divided into 7 parts, each of the specialized on one product: 

  • textile area, where you can buy all kind of materials and fabric you need to make ethnic clothes. 
  • food market 
  • horse area 
  • farm animals area, where you can buy chicken, hen, pigs, buffaloes,… 
  • street restaurant area 
  • poultry area 
  • craft and blacksmith area  

For the locals, this market is not only a place to trade and make business, it is a place where they sit, meet and eat with friends that they only see on Sundays, show off their handcraft clothes, find a couple, … to socialize in general. Even if they sometimes have to walk a long way to get to the market, for them it is worth the walk, as the Sunday market is the biggest event of the week. 

Local clothes and Bac Ha Market

Location and timetable of Bac Ha market

It is a street market, even if it is said that a building is going to be built to host this growing market. You can find the market in the right side of the main street of the village, Ngoc Uyen street, in the south part of the village. 

The market only takes place on Sunday mornings and starts very early. It is opened from 6:00 am until 14:00. The best moment to visit it is around 9:00 because at around 12 many ethnic groups start picking up and leave.  

 

How to get to Bac Ha market

There are no many ways of getting to Bac Ha, as it is a small village in the mountains. However, there is a regular bus line that will take you from Lao Cai or from Hanoi to the village. This is the most economical way of going to Bac Ha, about 3$ the way, but it will take you 90 minutes to drive the 60km that separate Lao Cai from Bac Ha.  

Buses from Lao Cai leave at 6:30, 7:00, 12:00, 13:00 and 15:00 and from Bac Ha back to Lao Cai at 6:00, 7:00, 8:00, 12:10 and 13:00. The most recommendable option is to take the morning bus at 7:00 to Bac Ha and come back at 13:00. This way you will have enough time to see everything and even buy some souvenirs.  

If you decide to go from Hanoi to Bac Ha, you may want to take the train to Lao Cai and then the bus to Bac Ha. If you take this option, you should book in advance, as the train tickets for Sundays are very popular.  

The most comfortable way of going to Bac Ha is the mini bus service. Some agencies and hotels offer mini-bus or van services for tourists, with 5-12 seats, depending on the service, that for a little more money than the regular bus line, will take you to the market and back. For about 12$ round way, they will pick you up around 7:00 in Lao Cai and bring back at 12:00. This way it will take you 1 hour to get to the market, and they usually leave 3 hours later, after you have had enough time to visit the market.  

Another way of getting to Bac Ha is renting a motorbike and riding on your own. This will take you around 3 hours from Sapa, but it is a good way if you want to stop and admire the landscape along the way. Even if this option will be more expensive than the regular bus line, it will allow you travel on your own pace and enjoy the trip in a different way, even if the road may be challenging because of the curves and the heavy traffic.  

If you don’t want to ride a motorbike or go on a busy bus, there is always the option of taking a taxi, but this, of course, will be the most expensive way, because even if you take it in Lao Cai, it is 60km. 

Sapa scenery through photos of HmongSapa photogapher feature

Sapa scenery through photos of HmongSapa photogapher

Are you planing a trip to Sapa Vietnam? You need some real photo about Sapa scenery to make sure you doesn’t spend time for a misspend trip. This is everything you need.

Mother nature has created a majestic natural landscape in Sapa. But, Sapa people is more excellent when they make Sapa become more colourful and charming. So, no foreigners come to Vietnam without visiting Sapa.

Sapa is well-known as a place that the sky and ground are united as one.

Clouds are hovering on middle of mountain, above the head, covering the whole road, like you are touching the sky.

 

Sapa scenery almost is covered green of mountain, trees and rice terraces spreads for miles in all directions.

Sometimes, Sapa scenery is brilliant with yellow of ripening rice fields

If you come the center of Sapa or market of ethnic people, you will enjoy a picture with full color of nature which is created by hand of ethnic such as dress, hat, scarf, bag, etc.

If you stay in the ethnic people’s houses, you will have a chance to see the color of yellow corns which are hanging on the rooftop. That’s awsome, right?!

Sapa is kind of touristy now but you also can find a place with real life Hmong people if you go to the village. Ok, If you have decided to come to Sapa, please give Hmongsapa community some pictures of you in Sapa when you get there. Please comment below. We appreciate that.

Black Hmong feature

All you need to know about Sapa Vietnam

Sapa is a precious gift that Mother Nuture dedicated to Vietnam. Coming to here, you can write poem, take photos on most of your time but not feel bored, enjoy a community wine pot, learn to appreciate indigenous culture or just to escape city noise and relax.

 

Location and history of Sapa

Sapa is the capital of Sapa district in Lao Cai province, northwest Vietnam, 350km far north-west from Hanoi, lies at the altitude of 1600m. The climate is moderate and rainy in summer (May—August), and foggy and cold with occasional snowfalls in winter.

Sapa (or Chapa – the “sandy place”) appeared first in Vietnam national map in the late 1880s when the France disembarked in Highland Tonkin. In 1909, the first permanent French civilian resident arrived in Sapa. By 1920, there were a number of villas being built in this area by professionals. Going through many ups and downs, nowadays, Sapa is the prominent holiday destination, favored by both locals and foreign tourists.

One of the most beautiful terraced fields in the world

 

Ethnic minorities in Sapa

Sa Pa is a quiet mountain town and home to a great diversity of ethnic minority peoples. There is nowhere in Vietnam you easily meet the local ethnic minorities like in Sapa. There are five ethnic groups: Hmong, Yao, Tay, Zay and Xa Pho. Each with its own language, culture, and traditions. With Hmong people, their costume is primarily black color. With Yao people, their costume is primarily black – blue color with red scarf or hat. Tay costume is only color is black – blue, men and women wear a blouse, a round neck with two front pockets, and a large waistband wrapped around the waist. Giay clothes are simpler than other ethnic groups, are less embroidered and have only a little colorful cloth around the neck and lace. Xa Pho clothes have two main colors are black and red with a colorful headscarf.

Ethnic minorities groups are not live in center area but scattered on the valleys throughout Sapa district. They often gather in the town of Sapa to trade or sell their farming products such as rice, corn, fruits, as well as handicrafts and souvenis to tourists.

If you want to experience daily life of ethnic people, you should spend time visiting ethnic minorities’ villages. In their houses, you can observe their daily’s activities or even live homestay, in order to understand more about their culture. A trip to Sapa would definitely more meaningful with participatory activities, such as learning to make handicrafts or helping the local with farm work!

The Hmong people in Sapa(called Hmongsapa)

Challenging trekkings in Sapa

Sapa is voted to be the best trekking spot in Vietnam, by both Vietnamese and foreigners. The whole district is dominated by the Hoang Lien Son mountain, which also includes Fansipan mountain – the highest peak in Vietnam and dubbed “the roof of Indochina”. This is not only a tough challenge to trekking enthusiasts but also an opportunity to witness the splendid mountainous vista.

The scenery of the Sapa region represents a harmonious relationship between the minority people and nature. You will see the paddy fields carpeting the rolling lower slopes of the Hoang Lien Mountains. This was created by ethnic people since thousand years ago.

Sapa is also a truly unique place for a rich variety of plants, birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and insects, some of them can only be found in northwestern Vietnam.

Sapa Vietnam – the best trekking spot in Vietnam

 

Thunderstruck local food in Sapa

Sapa’s specialties are another reason attracting more and more foreigners traveling to this town. A wide range of sub-tropical vegetables such as white cauliflower, red beet is planted here. There are dishes that you will enjoy – “lon cap nach”- pig carried under armpit, which is home pigs but are raised in the field or forest, “thang co” – horse meat or bamboo-tube rice. If you don’t enjoy strange dish, you can easily find Western restaurants, from Italian to French ones around the center of Sapa.

“Lon cap nach” in Sapa

Read more about scenery and people in Sapa Vietnam.

So if you are convinced to go to Sapa why not make a plan for it. Down below are some basic guide for you to have wonderful trip in Sapa:

Full Basic Guide for travel and stay in Sapa

Hmong People Hmong Culture in Sapa

Hmong People – Hmong Culture in Sapa

It is not very clear where the Hmong people came from. It is posible that their ancestors lived in Tibet and China. The Hmong people want to stay independent. Chinese authorities have tried to control them and want them to integreate but thís hás caused a big problem. Northern Thailand was the place were Hmong villages established at the end of the 19th century .
Many Hmong fled from Laos to Thailand and were resettled in the United States after 1975. 

The Hmong people in Laos, Vietnam and China has a large population,as well as the Hmong that live in the United States in Minnesota, California and Wisconsin. 

Hmong Subgroups 

The Hmong hill tribe has lots of subgroups. These vary in the different countries. The sub groups in Thailand are the Black Hmong, White Hmong and Striped Hmong. The Black Hmong are located in Nan, Chiang Rai, Tak, Phrae, Phetchabun and Phitsanulok. They are well known by their costume. The women wear their hair in a bun and wear dark blue and white pleated knee length skirts with embroidered borders. The men wear a black or dark blue jacket without collar and have wide sleeves and cuffs. Both women and men wear a lot of jewelry made of silver.

The Hmong people 

In the west of Nan we can find the Striped Hmong. They wear Black trousers with a dark jacket with embroidered collars and green, white and blue stripes on their long sleeves. You can find the White Hmong in Nan and Chiang Rai. Their women wear long loose dark blue trousers with plain long sleeved jackets with embroidered collar flaps and a turban. On holidays they wear a white skirt with stripes of embroidery down the front. 

Hmong Language 

The Hmong hill tribe people speaks a language from the Austro-Thai linguistic family of the Miao-Yao sub group. 

Hmong Religion 

The Hmong hill tribe people in Thailand believe in a mixture of animism and shamanism with ancestor worship. Villages have spirit shrines to protect them from evil. There are village and house spirits. The Hmong bury their dead and believe each person has three souls, when they die one goes to heaven, one goes to be reincarnated and the other remains in the grave with the corpse. 

Culture and lifestyle 

The Black Hmong are located in Nan, Chiang Rai, Tak, Phrae, northern Phetchabun and Phitsanulok. They are well known by their costume. Women wear their hair in a bun and wear dark blue and white pleated knee length skirts with embroidered borders. The men wear a black or dark blue jacket without collar and have wide sleeves and cuffs. Both women and men wear a lot of jewelry made of silver. The Striped Hmong can be found in the west of Nan. They wear Black trousers with a dark jacket with embroidered collars and green, white and blue stripes on their long sleeves.

One of the Hmong’s dance

One can find the White Hmong in Nan and Chiang Rai. Their women wear long loose dark blue trousers with plain long sleeved jackets with embroidered collar flaps and a turban. On special occasions they wear a white skirt with stripes of embroidery down the front. 

Cabbage, potatoes, tomatoes and strawberries have taken the place òf traditional rice growing and gardens — which were introduced as a substitute for opium growing. Hmong hill tribe are involved in several royal projects such as the Doi Inthanon Royal Project and the Huay Luek Development Centre near Chiang Dao which focus on crop substitution. 

There are many different tribes among the Hmong, they have diferent languages, cultures and ways of dressing, you can identify them by he colours fo their scarfs. 

Language: 

The spoken language belongs to the H’mong – Dao language family. The H’mong writing was Romanized in 1961 but is not widely used today. 

Beliefs: 

Many places are reserved for worshipping in a H’mong house – there’s a place for ancestors, for the house spirit, for the kitchen spirit, even the door spirit. There are different rituals which forbid people to walk into the H’mong house or their villages. For example, a green tree branch on the front door indicates that entrance is forbidden. 

Costume: 

The Black H’mong women are famous for making cloth from hemp and dying it a deep indigo blue. They wear long blouses decorated with batik flowers over short trousers, and wrap long scarves around their legs. They wrap their long hair around their head and wear a blue turban. The men wear long jackets with shirts and a long waist coat embroidered at the collar, and a small hat. Today some H’mong wear Viet or western clothes. 

Social organization:

H’mong women are respected in their community as being equal with H’mong men. Husbands and wives are very affectionate and do many of their tasks together like going to the market, working on the field and visiting relatives. In this way, they help each other to develop a strong community life. 

Festivals: 

Like the other minorities, the Black H’mong have lots of different festivals during the year. They ensure that there is always time for community activities, which play an important role in their life. One of the most important festivals is the New Year, which they celebrate for an entire month. It happens about one month earlier than Vietnamese Tet. During this time, boys play flutes and girls play an instrument made from two leaves. They all spend time together playing traditional games. 

Marriage: 

For the Black H’mong it is important that a girl knows how to embroider and work well in the field. These skills are more important than her beauty. Boys and girls are allowed to get to know each other before they get married. They go to the love market where they eat and sing songs together. After this time, the boy can propose marriage and if the girl agrees, she goes to live in his house. She is put in a small room and visited by the boy’s mother and sisters who give her food to persuade her to accept the marriage. 

The boy must give the bride’s family silver coins, pigs, chicken and rice wine for the wedding ceremony. The bride has some time to decide if she accepts the marriage – even after living with her husband for a few days, she can choose to break their agreement. If the boy doesn’t have a dowry to give to the girl’s family, he lives in her house until he is able to marry her. 

Funeral: 

When there is a death in the family, the deceased’s children fire a gun to let everyone in the area know. People in the village come to deceased’s house with anything they have – chicken, rice, a small pig or rice wine – to help the family. Everybody sings and eats until the deceased is wrapped in a mat and carried to a grave by one group, while a coffin, which has been kept in a cave somewhere near the grave, is carried by another. Both groups have to run very fast to meet at the grave to make the deceased forget the way home. If the deceased’s family is not able to supervise the funeral rituals, they can wait for a few years before organising a special one called ma kho. They invite people in the village to a place by the grave for the funeral for a celebration, at which they sing and dance. 

Have you ever seen the Hmong people in Sapa? What attracted you? Please comment below. Hmongsapa is very excited about that.