Vietnam & Cambodia travel blog


The Black Hmong


Bamboo is used for everything, houses,fences,food






All black clothes out to dry




I am writing this tonight when I am hungry, tired, cranky and stiff after about 8 hours in a van. We woke up early, wrote and had a delicious buffet breakfast in beautiful surroundings. We took an hour ride in a car down the side of the mountain to Sapa. The road is only partially paved (an overly generous description) with deep ruts, rocky bumps and hairpin turns. We had to go very slowly, avoiding motor scooters, people walking on the side of the narrow road, animals grazing and hanging out. We pulled over frequently for vans going the opposite direction with just barely enough room. I was fairly carsick by the time we got to the bottom and dreading the fact that we had to take the ride back up to the lodge, meet the van and the go back down again and proceed another 6 hrs back to Hanoi ( do I sound cranky?)

Our walk, though, was great. We met Gioi and visited a Black Hmong village beautifully situated in a valley. They are noticeably poorer. The houses are much smaller, wooden, and in need of repair and propping up. We visited one house, which was residence for an older matriarch, a middle aged woman and 2 younger women with babies on their backs. I assume husbands and school aged children lived there as well. It was dark, windowless,low ceilinged and musty. The small first room had a fire used for warmth and cooking. The middle room contained a wooden hand turned grist mill, which the matriarch demonstrated for us, and a large vat of indigo for dying clothes. Two closet sized rooms off the main room were for sleeping. A final area contained meager cooking supplies with a back door opening leading out to the small yard garden and animals. Noticeably absent was anything to sit on or any kind of decoration or comfort. The matriarch showed me her hand embroidered pouches, black with purple and green stitching that are the traditional handcraft. Of course I had to buy one , for the usurious price of $7.

Gioi is from this tribe, but lives in a different village. He told us his house is very similar to the one we visited. We were even more impressed with his drive to improve his life and how much he has accomplished. He is totally self taught and is always improving his vocabulary. He asked us about a number of words and then would repeat them to himself as we walked. I wonder what it feels like for him to meet so many people who have so much more than him, and take it for granted. What is it like for him to learn more and more about the world outside his village?

Many Black Hmong women dress in traditional garments. The clothes are dyed multiple times in indigo (growing wild on the paths) until they turn black. They are embroidered with very fine, precise stitching.

In addition to growing, rice and corn, each family has a small garden and small animals for future meals.

Many adorable mini black piglets play and sleep next to their mothers, Unaware of what their future holds. Baby chicks the size of a fist of fur run and topple every which way in large groups, equally, blissfully clueless.

Buildings are community projects with a large group of men and women working together, then breaking for a communal lunch. Wood is used, with prefab roofs. A mini Home Depot with building and garden supplies is right in the village. Bamboo is plentiful and used for fences, houses, terraces, and, many other things.

At lunchtime we saw groups of school children returning home for lunch, the girls chatting in pairs, the boys looking tougher and getting in to mischief. The same as children everywhere.

We had lunch in Sapa. The area is becoming a trekking and outdoor Mecca. A cable car was recently built, traversing two peaks. In his gentle way Gioi expressed frustration that the tourist boom does not benefit the minority people. The developers bring in people from the cities to build and staff. Since the minority people are not educated and do not speak any English they cannot get any work. The town is growing quickly and resembles any other mountain base town with rows of handicraft stores, backpacking supply stores and inexpensive restaurants. It has the look of a base mountain town anywhere. We did, of course, do a bit of obligatory shopping and bought some beautiful wall hangings for not much money.

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