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Vietnam Hmong people

Mesmerizing Vietnam – You Dutch, me Hmong

by Emiel Van Den Boomen

“Show me your hands!
They are all blue, how come?”

“Because you Dutch, me Hmong.”

Travel Sapa Vietnam

It took us 13 hours to arrive in the mountain village of Sapa. A long and remarkable overnight train ride from Hanoi. Trying to sleep while the train spared no pain to climb the steep mountains, meandering its way from valley to valley. Bugs and other insects grasping the opportunity to enter and hijack the train, invited by the original designers who deliberately forgot to put windows in it.

But as the train was climbing, the air got fresher. We quickly forgot the humid and stifling air of Hanoi and started to imagine the mountain tribes we would soon encounter. We were about to unwind, moving away from the strenuous way of living in Hanoi and where you have to run for your life when you cross the street (you don’t want to be hit by one of the zillion motorbikes).

Steel weels on the track squeak, screaming and resisting to stop after 13 hours. We arrived in Sapa, north-west from Hanoi. Far away from the Vietnam we just experienced and close to the Chinese border.

Travel Sapa Vietnam

Arriving in Sapa

We met mountain tribes. At first we saw them passing by quickly, not wanting to notice the group of travelers unboarding the train (we were definitely not the first to visit). Their red decorated hat caught our attention. This was a clear sign of a tribe that wanted to distinct itself from others through clothing. Here in the Netherlands we have some local villages where the way people dress sets them apart. We believe it is old-fashioned, but when you compare it, it is actually a persistent way of being proud.

In the center of Sapa they all gathered at the local market. People descended from the mountains, buying their necessary food and at the same time selling other food and handicraft. We felt happy to watch the colorful clothing, the gathering of Asian mountain life and the feeling of being on a different planet.

Strolling the streets of Sapa we also caught eye of people wearing indigo colored clothes. But not earlier as the next day, when we went out for a hiking trip into the mountains, we really learned about the indigo people.

Travel Sapa Vietnam

Vietnam Hmong people

Indigo Hmong people

The indigo people color themselves by creating an indigo world, the Hmong world. This is the Hmong tribe. A lot can be read about the history of the Hmong people in Vietnam. They are called the Black Hmong, all though I prefer indigo… They seem to have originally lived in China but moved southwards in the 18th century due to political unrest.

This is a different face of Vietnam. I guess every country owns a group of people that refuse (or better: withstand) the influences of modern life. Maybe it is because they live isolated, maybe they just want to protect what their parents and grandparents built.

Travel Sapa Vietnam

Travel Sapa Vietnam

When we met them back in 1999, many of them seemed to be happy to get in touch with….well, with what actually? With strangers? With money spenders? Or with people that could give them a glimpse into a different world?

To a certain extent we Dutchmen were not that different from them, the Hmong. We looked at each other with interest and eagerness. The only difference is that we, as Dutchmen, had to travel far, while they could just stay at home. Or at least their new home since the 18th century. Who’s the lucky one?

Travel Sapa Vietnam

I hope you have enjoyed my little series of travel stories about Vietnam. Please read all of them! Post 1 “Fusion in Religion” and Post 2 “Getting your ears done in Hoi-An”.

We say goodbye to Vietnam now. Mesmerizing, remembering great times, and, most importantly, wonderful people.

Travel Sapa Vietnam


1. Vietnam – Hoi An

2. Vietnam – Cao Dai religion in South of Vietnam

3. Vietnam – Temple of Literature in Hanoi

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Rondreis Vietnam - Better Places - Unieke Reiservaringen June 12, 2014 - 13:17

[…] In de bergen rond Sapa leven nog traditionele stammen, waaronder de Hmong. De mensen hier hebben blauwe handen. Emiel van den Boomen bezocht de stammen en kwam erachter waarom. Lees zijn verhaal hier. […]

Mathew Duong August 14, 2013 - 06:52

Amazing photos. You really had wonderful time in Vietnam. Thanks for sharing with us.

Emiel van den Boomen August 14, 2013 - 07:15

We did have a wonderful time Mathew. No idea if we ever make it back to Sapa and the Northern part of Vietnam, but I do hope so!

Emily July 24, 2011 - 03:35

Love the pics of people Emiel….

Cherszy July 21, 2011 - 01:30

I think Vietnam is one of those countries that has more or less preserved their culture. It’s like they’re not carried away by the fast-paced world. Although that might sound disadvantageous, I think that’s a wonderful way of living because it makes you cherish and live life more.

I have never visited Vietnam… and I’m still wondering why I haven’t despite the fact that I live quite near to them.

Emiel July 21, 2011 - 15:09

Hi Cherszy!
For some parts of Vietnam that’s true. But if you look at HCMC and Hanoi, they have grown like crazy. I think it is great that you can still find some preserved cultures in particular areas of that country. So after Deventer, Vietnam is on your list..


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