Sapa and the Black H’mong
Traveling in Vietnam was such an amazing experience. For being there only 8 days, I felt that I got good exposure to the culture. I learned many things about Vietnam, from their eating habits (like eating dogs!), the “American” (Vietnam) war, and their communist government. The dominant ethnicity in Vietnam are the Viet people, but they also have many ethnic minorities. One of the 54 minorities is the H’mong who live in and around the beautiful mountain village of Sapa. H,mong people live in many places around the world and there is even a community of H’mong living in Burlington today. The H’mong lived in western China before they migrated to countries like Vietnam, Laos and Thailand.
We took a night train to Sapa and it was pretty uncomfortable night as you can imagine. When we got to our hotel we were swarmed by beautiful women trying to sell us their crafts. Their clothes were amazing indigo dyed tunics with hand embroidery and leg wraps. After we got settled at our hotel we met our guide and started off on our trek. Our guides name was Sun and she was a Black H’mong. We were really excited that we got a H’mong guide so we could learn more about their culture.
We walked through the village of Kat Kat and saw many beautiful crafts and people. When we entered the village we had to buy a ticket and we asked Sun if the villagers get money from tourists coming to their village and invading their space, and she said no it all goes to the Vietnamese government. This made me so sad because the only way the H’mong can make money is selling their crafts and this is why they are so pushy for you to buy things. Most of the shop owners in Sapa are Viet rather than H’mong, so buying directly from the women is really the only way to support them.
The next day we woke up early to go on our second longer trek. Along the way we were helped by four H’mong women. The first part of our hike was very slippery and muddy and they helped us out a lot. Walking through the terraced rice patties was amazing. It was great being able to talk to them and get to know them. Sun told us about how H’mong people used to get married: a man would kidnap the women he wanted to marry and then she would be forced to marry him! Fortunately this practice is changing, but they still have a patriarchal society.
After seeing the beautiful views and people I couldn’t help but feel lucky to be having this experience. At the end of the trip I also felt like I want to do something to help. Buying a craft from a women isn’t going to bring her and her family out of poverty. They live in such a beautiful place but most would gladly trade it for a life in America. Sun told us that the women living in the villages do most of the work while the men go to bars and get drunk. I’m sure that’s not the case in all families but it’s still a problem. The women of the H’mong community are so strong they raise many children, make crafts, farm and take care of the house.