This post was written by Connor Balough
Vietnam is a nation of fascinating cultures and people. The country is filled with unique foods, different languages or dialects, and dozens of ethnic groups that make up this wonderful country. But one of the most exciting ethnic groups are the hill tribes of Vietnam, the Hmong Nation.
The Hmongs are an ethnic group who farm the mountainous hills that straddle along the borders of Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and China. They are a historically nomadic people, moving through these treacherous mountains. They might most famously be known from the Hollywood hit with Marlon Brando, Apocalypse Now, where Brando plays the captivating Colonel Kurtz who has run off to make himself a king among his Hmong warriors armed by the CIA to fight Viet Cong. And while the American CIA did attempt to arm Hmong minorities during the Vietnam War to open a new front against North Vietnam, the truth is that these are a peaceful people who integrate very well into the melting pot that Vietnam is made of.
We started our journey in the town of Ha Giang, which is what the province where many of Vietnam’s Hmongs reside at is known as, though Ha Giang City in the south western most part of the province is almost entirely made of Viet ethnic people. Outside of the city though is another story.
The first thing you will begin to encounter is the unique style of farming and agriculture in which the Hmong people live by. They plant rice, millet and wheat along the mountains of their homeland. To do this, they build types of terraces in the hills. The terraces create designs that look beautiful driving in the far out distance.
The practice is called Terracing. a terrace is a piece of sloped plane that has been cut into a series of successively receding flat surfaces or platforms, which resemble steps, for the purposes of more effective farming . This type of landscaping, therefore, is called terracing. Graduated terrace steps are commonly used to farm on hilly or mountainous terrain. Terraced fields decrease both erosion and surface runoff, and may be used to support growing crops that require irrigation, such as rice. The Hmong have been practicing Terracing for thousands of years.
Driving through the valleys of Ha Giang you’ll find towns both modern and primitive. Not everyone is Hmong. Some are ethnic Viets, or another ethnic subgroup of the Hmong.
In the evening of the second day in Hmong country we came across this community building a house together.
Deep in the mountains of Ha Giang province is a beautiful gorge and mountain top. The mountain overlook is called Điểm tham quan Mã Pì Lèng. It’s an amazing mountain overlooking the ravine and river below, in the heart of Hmong hill country. While driving up the road to get to the overlook, Điểm tham quan Mã Pì Lèn, a little Hmong boy comes running up the road all by himself. Mind you we are miles from any settlement or village and no homes in sight. My travel companion BiBo asks him where his parents are, and he silently points out into the mountains. He then stood there and we took his picture.
Eventually we made it finally to the overlook where Hmong sold spices and seasoning on the side of the road.
This was only a few days in Hmong hill country, in only one nation of 4 that they occupy still out of their original homelands. There are many Hmong communities across the world now though, in the western countries of Europe as well as the United States.
The Hmong have no signs of ceasing to live their traditional lives in favor of development, but with cultures around the world rapidly developing and giving up traditional ways of living, perhaps in twenty years all we’ll have left of the Hmong ethnic hill tribes are pictures like these.