Sapa is a beautiful town in the mountains of Northern Vietnam. Here the landscape is incredible with terraced rice fields set into the hillsides. Vietnam’s tallest mountain, Mt. Fan Si Pan, is the town’s backdrop. The rice that is grown here is harvested once a year in September, when the green stalks turn to gold. Most of the rice that is exported to other countries comes from the South of Vietnam, because of warmer weather, the South can grow three crops a year.
What makes Sapa unique is its five different indigenous groups living in the surrounding villages. About 50 percent of the population is Black H’mong and about 25% is Dao. The other groups include the Yao, Tay, Zay, and XaPho. Many of these beautiful people still wear their colorful traditional clothing.
While trekking with my new friend, Giang, who is Black H’mong, I learned many things about her culture. The H’mong are mostly farmers and each village has its own dialect of the H’mong language. Giang said that if someone is H’mong and lives in the village next door, she usually is unable to understand them. Families live together to help with the farm. If a woman marries, she lives with her husband’s family. The H’mong also naturally dye their clothes in indigo. Giang showed me how when I rubbed the leaves of the indigo plant in my hand, they turned a deep purple. Tourists also support the indigenous people by buying their handicrafts.
Every Sunday, in a town called Bac Ha, about 80 km from Sapa, there’s an amazing market. Here many people from villages in the hills gather to sell food and livestock. One of the largest groups at the market are the Flower H’mong. The women of the Flower H’mong have the most incredible outfits. I enjoyed watching them shop for colorful new skirts and leg wraps. As I sat next to them with a bowl of Vietnamese soup called pho, I felt dressed rather boring in comparison.