MESSAGE: Vietnam’s North *VIDEO*
Vietnam is a multi-ethnic country with over fifty distinct groups (54 are recognized by the Vietnamese government), each with its own language, lifestyle, and cultural heritage. About 12.7% of the Vietnamese population (more than 6 million people) claim minority tribe heritage.
Minority tribes, for the most part, live in the northern highland region. They live in relative independence and follow their own traditional customs and culture. For instance, religious practices among highland minorities tend to be rooted in animistic beliefs.
Be sure and check out this video of me and my Hmong guide Yia!
(Actually there are 3 videos featured in this post – so be sure and view them all!)
MEET (Cool Meet Ups) – The coolest place to meet up is on the over-night train to Sapa. It’s pretty much required these days for intrepid travelers and a great place to swap stories.
Supposedly the Vietnamese Prime Minister was on our train back from Sapa to Hanoi….but I don’t know about that. How would they control security if a lowly tourist like myself heard about the news through the grapevine? The train did leave on time though…
EAT (Tasty Eats) – Love Vietnamese food! Had a prawn coconut curry to die for in Nha Trang, some fresh fish with lemon grass wrapped in banana leaves in Hoi An and fresh spring rolls in Hanoi. Yum!
The spring rolls were sampled at an upstairs joint called Little Hanoi, where they presented a beautiful plate of fried catfish, pineapple, tomatoes, cucumber, rice noodles and mint leaves to be all rolled together.
Here’s a trick, use the bit of lettuce to “paint” your rice paper with vinegar sauce, it will help the paper stick together as you roll it. So fresh and tasty. Ask for it at your local Vietnamese café. Along with the weasel coffee – hahaha!
SEE (Must-see Sights) –Vietnam’s water puppets are a famous form of entertainment started in the 10th century. I’m sure it’s a revered art form, but I don’t know…it was a little dorky to me. (Just check out the video of the water puppets.)
During the show, one of the water puppets lost a wooden limb – clearly demonstrating for the children in the audience the pitfalls of swimming with a dragon. The missing leg bobbed about for several numbers before a hand from behind the screen emerged to snatch it up. If that won’t give a kid nightmares, I don’t know what will.
SHOP (Gotta Have) – Textiles of hill tribes. Love love love the Hmong textiles — especially the bright yellow and pink embroidered designs. I bought a lot – 2 purses, a dress, a textile, several belts…
I also bought a hemp indigo-dyed bees-wax-shined jacket called a “shao ti.” Hmong women traditionally wear this garment over their skirts and tops. The funny thing is, when I told my guide I wanted to by one, she had one of her relatives approach me on the side of the mountain we were climbing. This is such a strange place to shop! But I did my best…
ACTIVITY (Gotta Do) – Kayaking Ha Long Bay. I have mixed feelings about Ha Long Bay. It is one of the country’s most noteworthy tourist destinations and the majestic mountains rising steeply out of the water are breathtaking.
But the water itself is dirty – full of oil slicks and trash. It’s a shame that the government is allowing this beautiful and much visited area to be spoiled.
That said, I still went kayaking and venturing through a couple of caves was pretty fun. It was pitch black in the caves, with only my weak headlamp to light the way. I had a crazy (and drunk) Norwegian in my kayak and was in constant fear that we would tip in the ink-black waters. We made it through – mainly by bumping into the sides and dunking the rock outcroppings.
GIVE (Greatest Need) – The living conditions of highlanders continued to lag behind those of mainstream Vietnamese. Minorities that live in the mountainous regions are known by their generic name Montagnards. (Although the Vietnamese also disparagingly call them “moi,” meaning “savage.”)
My guide Hmong Yia, for instance, couldn’t read or write. Her first language is Hmong, her second is English (picked up from tourists), and her third is Vietnamese (which is spotty).
As we trekked through the northwest mountains, it was great to see so many schools that had recently been built (like in the last 3 years). We came across a school program that was celebrating the end of the year with dancing. It was great to see the Vietnamese government making an investment in the highland tribes.
Here’s just a taste — a video of Hmong school girls dancing! (Actually it looks a little more like marching, but their outfits are amazing!)
ENJOY (Extra Fun) – Trekking Sapa. Trekking in Sapa was definitely one of the highlights of my month-long trip to Vietnam. Just check out the video here (if you missed it above)!
For more insight on my 3-day journey with my Hmong guide Yia, check out my Travelated.com article ‘Hiking with the Hmong.”
Such Diversity in Vietnam!
Vietnam was always listed as one of my 5 favorite countries and it still is! With tons of diversity and activities to do – it’s a great holiday spot for the entire family. Go and check it out and tell me what you think!