An encounter with the ethnic tribes of the Ha Giang province, Vietnam - Hmong and Tay community.

Updated: May 14, 2019

A 6-hour bus journey from Hanoi, Vietnam transported me to the extreme Northern region of Vietnam, the Ha Giang province. Sharing the border with China, the Ha Giang region is also known as the ‘Roof of Vietnam’ - characterized by beautiful limestone Karst’s, winding roads and rich grasslands. It’s also the homeland of many Ethnic minority groups and hill tribes such as the Dao, H’mong, Tay and Nung.

An overview of the mountain region of Ha Giang

Mountain men aiding the government in building better roads

When I began my journey through the dramatic mountain and forest landscapes, I was overwhelmed by the imposing and picturesque scenery, as well as the unique daily life and traditional culture of the ethnic minority people of this land. One distinctive feature of highland ethnic minority groups in Vietnam is that they are colorfully attired whether at home, in the farm, or traveling.

A grandmother and her grandchild walking back home.

Little is known about the history of ethnic minorities in Vietnam. It is widely believed that many of the groups like the Hmong (Meo), Zao, Nung, Lan, Giay, and Lolo, are descendants of the ancient migrants from southern China who settled in the northern border regions. Others, like the Tay, Muong, and Thai are believed to be related to the lowland natives of Malay stock who were forced into the highlands by successive invasions of Mongoloids from China.

Two little girls playing on the road.

Two siblings are left by themselves on the street.

A group of children playing games and were thrilled to be photographed.

The H'Mong ethnic group in Ha Giang, Vietnam.

The H'Mong also called the Mong is the largest ethnic group of seventeen ethnics community in Dong Van karst plateau Geo park. They are believed to have originated from China and then migrated to Vietnam more than 300 years ago. Women are commonly found carrying a bamboo basket on their back, braced by a wire tied around their forehead filled with farming products while hanging a three-month-old baby at the breast.

Their main permanence is in the mountainous provinces including Ha Giang, Tuyen Quang, Lao Cai, Yen Bai, etc, and comprises of two main sub-groups: White Mong and Flower Mong. The Mong people are famous for traditional farming called Milpa (A small cultivated field) which includes the planting of rice, maize, and other crops. They are also extremely skillful in the production of handicrafts such as weaving, knitting, forging & casting and devising wooden items of furniture.

A glimpse of an entrance of the house of the Ethnic people.

A mother and daughter chewing the cane.

A mother and her child on their way to work.

The H’Mong house is made from the earthen wall, it usually has no window but the house apparently is always cool in summer and warm in winter. The traditional clothing of the Mong women is very unique. A suit of women clothes consists of a skirt, a blouse, a shirt parceled at the breast couple with a brassiere, a belt, leggings, and a turban winded around the head. The skirt is usually in the form of a truncated cone with a series of creases that can spread widely. They tend to use decorative patterns on the dress that includes butterflies, snakes, flower, harrow teeth, pig feet and so on to go with the harmony of color.

A glimpse of the house and woman hanging clothes.

Another Hmong woman washing her clothes.

A young girl contributing to the family by working.

The traditional culture of the Mong people is quite abundant with customs, ceremonies, rites, and beliefs. One of the things that surprised me the most was that not all of the members of the ethnic group understand or communicate in Vietnamese.

The Tay ethnic minority people in Ha Giang, Vietnam.

Tay is the second large ethnic minority in Ha Giang, account for 25 percent total population of the province. Tay villages are usually at mountain foot and include about 15 to 20 houses. They live in a house of stilt, thatch-roofed huts using palm leaves or grass. Among their clan, the elderly kinsfolk seemed to play a crucial role in the upbringing of the younger ones. Kids are trained to imbibe the mountainous lifestyle at a very early age which help them become self sufficient and fearless.

An ethnic woman with her basket to collect farming items.

Taking a break after a long hard day of work.

Their handicraft skill is quite developed such as knitting,  making wooden furniture, pottery. Besides that, fabric weaving of Tay is quite well known, especially, particular blankets, brocade turbans with a rich pattern are what people love. Tay ethnic usually wear cotton clothes that are dyed and, silver necklace & silver rings at their wrists and ankles. I was told that the culture of Tay is very diversified with different type of ceremonies involving weddings, funerals, house warming celebration. The folkloric literature of the community is a rich treasure of legends, myths, ancient stories and folkloric songs.

Another woman going about her household chores.

An old couple on their way back home after selling at the market.

A woman chopping sugar canes.

Alcohol is a particular cultural spotlight of the Tay people, especially those living in Cao Bang. Locals use rice, corn, sweet potatoes, sugarcane, bananas, etc to make the alcohol yeast. Traditionally, inviting guests to a drink is a typical welcoming gesture of Tay hosts.

Women in market baking and selling traditions breads.

Obviously, it doesn’t take long to grasp that I was as foreign to them as they were to me. It was my interest in them that had me learn a thing or two about the community and in my humble findings, I could note how each group of ethnic people has developed their own identity, thus making the Vietnamese culture, long known for its variety, a well-blended combination of different cultures.

Photography Credits

Shilpa Srinivas @flohwithme

Travel Related Information:

Visa for Indians: On arrival

Purpose : Tourism

Commute : Car, Bike