Beautiful brightly-colored embroidered clothes of the Hmong people, silver headpieces of the Tay people, or easily spotted red turbans of the Dao women are just a glimpse of daily life in Sapa, home of various ethnic minorities in Vietnam.
The warm smiles of the people will lead you closer to their ethnic cultures. Minority people, however, only constitute 4% of the total population of Vietnam. Most of them live in the beautiful mountainous region of northwestern Vietnam, and are reachable by foot, bus or car.
Although it is possible, it would surely take lots of time to explore all the 54 ethnic groups in Vietnam. Here we list just a few, whose lifestyles, customs and traditions, are unforgettably unique and beautiful, and who live in villages with breathtakingly beautiful surroundings.
Many Hmong People can be seen in Sapa. Join our trekking tour with a local guide, and visit them in Cat Cat Village.
Have a closer look and recognize what differentiates their subgroups: their costumes. Leng Hmong people wear hemp indigo-dyed clothes, while Flowery Hmong people wear brightly-colored clothes with embroidered and decorative patterns. Seize the opportunity to distinguish some others!
It was in the 18th century during the reign of the Qing (1644–1911) dynasty that the Hmong people started to migrate from China to southeast countries like Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam, fleeing political pressure in China.
Black Hmong are known for their craftsmanship and traditionally dyed indigo clothes. Their hand-made items can easily be found at local markets such as the Bac Ha market and the Coc Ly market in Lao Cai Province.
If you plan to visit Sapa in January, you may have the chance to join the biggest local festival, the Gau Tao festival, in Cat Cat Village, where you can participate in several contests such as archery, pipe-dancing, martial dancing and horse racing.
Bright red turbans are one of the most easily-spotted distinguishing features of the Dao people’s traditional clothes, though they differ across subgroups with different decorations; for example turbans with silver coins, and others with yellow pompoms.
Known as Man or Yao in southwestern China, they are reported to have migrated to Laos, Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam even earlier than the Hmong people, beginning between the 12th and 13th centuries and continuing until the early 20th century.
Their culture has been strongly influenced by the Chinese, especially their writing system and religion. Having adapted to their environment, they cultivate paddy-fields, and have developed a reputation for pig- and horse-breeding.
Inhale the fresh and misty mountainous air, find a pair of their well-known hand-made brocade shoes, and enjoy their unique folk remedies involving medicinal leaves for treating sickness, at the Tet Nhay Festival, held on 1st and 2nd January in their home village, Ta Phin.
The Tay minority people are the second largest minority group in Vietnam, after the Viet people, but they represent less than 2% of the total population with approximately 1.7 million residents, who mainly inhabit southern part of Sapa, including Ban Ho, Nam Sai, and Thanh Pu villages.
The Tay people’s costumes look simpler than others, and consist of indigo-woven cotton fabric without patterns. Tay men usually wear baggy pants and blouses, while the women wear dresses or blouses with a blue belt and headgear.
Encounter them in their village and see how they live in houses which are built 2 meters above the ground to prevent dangerous animals from entering. And yes, you could even spend one or two nights there; we are ready to arrange accommodation for you.
You could also join in the Long Tong Festival, which literally means going down the rice paddy festival, usually held after lunar New Year, to pray for the next harvest.
The Xa Pho people are one of the smallest ethnic groups in Vietnam. It’s said they arrived in Vietnam around 200 to 300 years ago, from southern islands of Asia, like Malaysia and Indonesia.
The Xa Pho reside in My Son Village, located in a more remote location than other minority villages. They also work mostly on agriculture, planting dry-climate plants like maize, potato, and cassava, but also breeding cattle.
Capture the unique contrast of their indigo-reddish costumes (consisting of dark indigo cloth jackets and skirts decorated by embroidered designs and panels of reddish seeds in star shapes) and their green natural surroundings.
Their biggest festival is the village-cleaning festival, which is usually celebrated in the lunar February.
Travel Tips for Meeting Ethnic Groups in Vietnam
Plan a Visit to Sapa
Get a closer look and have a better encounter with Vietnam’s ethnic minorities by visiting their homes. As the region where some ethnic minorities reside, Sapa offers you an unforgettable mosaic of ethnic experience, which you can get in a relatively small area.
Prepare a good raincoat and trekking shoes if your visit is between May and August, as it often rains in the summer. By contrast, it’s foggy and cold with possible snowfall during winter, but a thick jacket is a must if you plan to spend the night, whatever the season.
The beauty of green landscapes and indigenous cultures is waiting to be explored. Cat Cat Village, Ta Phin Village and others, plus unique and colorful local markets, can be visited during a 2- to 3-day tour. Contact us should you need assistance or information about our tour program.
Sapa Travel Tips
Local people are welcoming and hospitable to foreigners. Most are already accustomed to meeting visitors.
Hire a Local Tour Guide
It is really important to have a legitimate tour guide to ensure your safety, and maximize your understanding and experience of the local life and culture, and of the uniqueness of the villages.
Design Your Route
Sometimes, nothing feels better than having it all planned and seeing it run smoothly. We are ready to help you plan your ideal visit to Sapa, from having nice encounters with local people, to bringing home a beautiful gift of embroidery from a local market.
Respect Their Culture
When in Rome do as the Romans do. These wise words are also applicable in Sapa. To avoid any misunderstanding, dress modestly, ask permissions when taking photos, and remove shoes before entering a house. Such simple gestures express respect to the culture of the local people.
Blend In (home-stay, cooking class, farming work, trekking)
Have a ‘total experience’ by blending in with local people, staying longer and getting to know them better.
We could help you to arrange a home-stay with a local, to learn local cuisine by cooking it at mealtimes; to spend a day working on a farm cultivating the land; to follow an individual trekking program; and much more.
Bear in mind that it’s important to plan in advance if you want to stay longer, for it is unreasonable to expect to find any hostel in a local village.
Clothing, Baggage and More Information
You might want to bring a jacket or other warm clothing, as the temperatures could drop to freezing at night. We can provide sleeping bags, mosquito nets, and food, should you want to spend the night in Sapa.
If you’re interested in trekking especially during the day, prepare according to the season when you’re traveling. Strong boots with ankle support are recommended, and loose clothing with long trousers could provide protection from thorns and leeches.
At Asia Highlights we offer tailor-made tours through Asia, where you can enjoy all highlights as well as amazing cultural experiences. To get started, send us an email.