Forgotten minority groups, hidden cultures and age old traditions. Forget the bustling cities of Shanghai or Hanoi – delve deeper and discover diminishing tribes clinging on to their mythology and heritage as the western world edges ever closer. With the extraordinary growth of China’s economy and the remarkable turn around in Vietnam following political and economical reforms in 1986, it is easy for the common traveller to forget about the multitude of tribal villages and minority groups both countries are home to. Here is our guide to exploring the forgotten tribal villages of Vietnam & China.
1. H’mong Hill Village Tribe
The H’mong (Mong) people are an ethnic group originating from the mountainous regions of China, before migrating south into Vietnam and Laos in the 18th century. There are several sub-cultures within the H’mong people, with each group often named after the dominant colors or patterns of their traditional clothing, style of head-dress e.g. the Flower H’mong Hill Tribe, renowned for the bright coloured embroidery found on the dresses of the woman of the tribe. The various sub-cultures of the H’mong people each speak varying forms of the H’mong language. Other H’mong descendant tribes include; Black H’mong, Striped H’mong, Green H’mong and White H’mong.
2. Phu La
The people of the Phu La ethnic group live in the northern region of Vietnam and are spread out across several small villages in various provinces. It has been estimated that only 9,000 people of Phu La ethnicity remain in Vietnam, and whilst they have their own Phu La language, slowly more of the villagers are speaking Vietnamese only. The Phu La men wear unique clothing, often with an open shirt with glass beads and figures arranged into a cross shape, whilst the women wear square aprons that are decorated in colourful patterns and surrounded by glass beads, often in parallel lines. The economy of the Phu La people is primarily based on farming and rearing buffalo, horses and pigs, whilst selling or trading goods for other commodities with other ethnic groups nearby is an ancient barter practice still taking place today.
3. Black Tai (Tai Dam)
The Tai Dam people originate from the area near Dien Bien Phu in Vietnam, with their name stemming from the traditional clothing worn by then women; black skirts and head dresses. The Black Tai people are very polite, respectful and hospitable, and whilst the culture is centered towards males, children are taught at a young age to have extreme respect for those of higher social status, predominately the elderly. The Black Tai people have their own religious beliefs, primarily consisting of spirit worship and paying tributes to their ancestors. The fascinating religious beliefs, as well as the interesting social structures, make visiting the Black Tai people are very unique experience.
4. Xingmeng Mongolian Village
Whilst the Mongolian border is far away from the Yunnan Province of China and the village of Xingmeng, you are still able to find a large population of Mongolians that have settled in the region for over 700 years. When the cavalries of the Mongolian Empire, lead at the time for Kublai Khan, conquered there way across Asia & Europe some soldiers split from the army and remained in the Tonghai County of the Yunnan Province. Today, the descendants of those soldiers live in Xingmeng Village and make up over 90% of the local population. The Xingmeng people have held onto many ancestral traditions, such as traditional Mongolian costumes and celebrating the traditional festivals of Naadam Festival and Luban Day. Unlike the traditional nomadic customs of their ancestors in Mongolia, the Xingmeng people make a living by farming the land rather than grazing.
The Derung (sometimes called Dulong) people are an ethnic group located in the Derung Valley of the Yunnan Province in southwest China. The Derung people speak their own language of Derung, but have no formal writing language, rather sending messages and keeping records by making notches in logs of wood. The Derung people are well-known for the face tattoo’s that the women received at a early age, before the practice was banned by the newly formed Chinese government in 1949. Formerly, the women used to tattoo their faces when they reached the age of twelve or thirteen. The tattoos of some women resembled masculine moustaches. There are only a few dozen of these “face-tattooed women” left today. To see one of these ladies, is a true privilege, and to chat with one – a once-in-a-lifetime encounter.
Want to mingle and spend time with these fascinating minority groups, join our Tribal Heartlands of Vietnam & Cambodia small group tour.
This category of tours involves light trekking, walking, cycling, rafting or kayaking for a few hours each day with a small amount of inclines and declines. You will require a reasonable level of fitness and good health to participate. It is important to note that due to the nature of some of our trips, they may take place in remote areas (with basic facilities) and can involve long travelling days on various modes of transport.
Suggested preparation : At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake aerobic exercise (this may include jogging, cycling or fast walking) for 30 minutes, three times a week. It is also advised to walk on variable terrain and in variable weather conditions. For a cycling adventure, road cycling twice a week is recommended and for adventures which involve paddling and kayaking, it is important to gain confidence and rhythm rather than speed prior to departure.
This category of tours involve trekking, kayaking and cycling for period of 6 to 8 hours a day at a fairly consistent pace. Ideal for people looking to slightly increase the heart rate. For our moderately rated tours, you must have a good level of fitness and also be in good health. It is also important to be prepared for variable weather conditions. Altitude may also come into play. This category of tours may involve visiting remote areas where facilities can be quite basic. Accommodation may also involve camping, homestays or basic accommodation where facilities may not be considered of western standards. To enjoy this style of travel, it is suggested for travellers to have a reasonable level of fitness and health, a positive attitude, as well as a fairly active lifestyle. An open mind is also required.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake 45mins – 1 hour of aerobic exercise, three to four times a week. Some potential exercises that could be beneficial include hill walking with a backpack on over variable terrain and weather conditions, as well as running and cycling dependent on the activity you plan on undertaking.
This category of tours involves trekking, kayaking, cycling or other adventure activities in remote areas for up to 8 to 10 hours a day. It is important to note that with the remoteness of some regions comes a variety of other challenges such as variable weather conditions, accommodation as well as facilities. You must have an excellent level of fitness and good health to be able to partake in this category of tour. You must have confidence in your own ability and be in good physical condition. Includes extended periods of endurance.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 to 4 months of strenuous exercise, four times a week. When preparing for treks it would be beneficial to participate in hill walks with a weighted day pack (approximately 5-8 kg) once a week for aerobic fitness and strengthening of leg muscles. It is also important to do this on variable terrain to prepare for challenging adventures. When preparing for cycling adventures, regular bike riding (at least 4 to 5 times a week for 1-4 hours is essential). It is also important to cycle on uneven surfaces or even participate in other aerobic exercises such as running or swimming to build up strength and stamina. Altitude may also be a factor in these tours.
This category of tour often involves extreme trekking, cycling or other extreme adventure activities. It is important to expect remote and poorly defined tracks and to be prepared for variable weather conditions for 10 to 12 hours per day (may sometimes be more depending on weather and altitude). These adventures are suitable for travellers who have prior experience in strenuous travel and activities, are extremely fit and have excellent health. It is also important to note that some of the terrain on these adventures will involve trekking in snow, at high attitude levels and may require technical equipment.
Suggested preparation: It is important to note that physical fitness should be an ongoing activity, commencing around 5-6 months prior to departure, or even before if you have no prior fitness. Exercise should focus on building maximum endurance and stamina. Four to five hard sessions of 40-60 mins per week should be completed and can include exercises such as going to the gym, running, swimming or cycling to focus on building aerobic stamina. It could also be beneficial to prepare by hiking on rough terrain, in extreme weather conditions or partake in altitude training.