Discovering Vietnam ethnic groups through an adventurous 4X4 north Vietnam tour is a great exciting trip.From the colourful tribes in the lush forests near the Laotian border to the Tay wearing the characteristic indigo costume on the north mountains, you will experience authentic people and wonderful places full of all the colours of deep Asia.
Visiting Vietnam without visiting its ethnic groups is like going to Italy but missing Rome. Vietnam has 54 ethnic minorities, which makes it the Indochina country with the richest anthropological heritage.
The natives still keep their traditions and folklore, having been preserved unaltered by the relative isolation of Vietnam after the war. This is the reason why a trip to discover Vietnamese ethnic groups can result in a particularly interesting experience.
What are the ethnic minorities of Vietnam? Tay, Thai, H'Mong, Dao are the most important and numerous. Most peasants, they are famous for their long indigo hand-made costume and their terraced paddy fields.
Vietnamese ethnic groups have some common features. They often live on stilt houses that protect them from floods and insects. They practice slash-and-burn agriculture by farming mostly rice. Their artisans are very skilful and able to produce valued hand-made textiles and dresses.
Being most ethnic groups located in north Vietnam, they are often visited through a classical north Vietnam tour. Travellers that prefer a deeper visit can opt for a more detailed northeast Vietnam loop tour or a northwest Vietnam loop tour.
We suggest that you should choose the formula 4X4 wheel tours, as they combine the best possible comforts with the going deepest into the wildness. Other options are possible, like the very hazardous motorbike tours, or the more comfortable (but less adventurous) bus tours.
The best season to visit North Vietnam is winter (from October to May), as the weather is dry and not too cold ( 17°-22°). December and January can be very cold on the mountains in the far North.
Any anthropological tour of Vietnam cannot but start from Hanoi Museum of Ethnology where tourists can get an overview and first imagination before the trip as traditional village houses, tribal art artefacts and everyday objects collected across the country are displayed in its exhibition.
Ha Giang is the northernmost province of Vietnam. You will be impressed by its impressive limestone formations and its high granite peaks that stand out of the mists lingering on its thick forests. Ha Giang hosts many ethnic groups and ethnic minorities, like Hmong, Tay. Dong Van and Meo Vac are two market towns where every Sunday two picturesque and colourful markets take place. All the people of the province flock there in great confusion. Meo Vac is a mountain pass (1500 metres over sea), from which is possible to enjoy a stunning view on the underlying valleys. Not far, there is a yearly gathering where locals go to find a partner or exchange partners ( the so-called love market, “khau Vai”).
Ba Be lake has been a Natural park since 1992. It is the largest and highest fresh water lake in the world. It is surrounded by evergreen forests that are famous for their huge variety of flora and fauna. Several Tay communities live in the areas around its shore, where it is possible to visit a typical Tay village.
Ban Gioc is the impressive waterfall on the Quay Son, a jade-blue river at the border with China, 360 km from Hanoi. We reach them crossing pastoral landscapes and rice fields dotted with pastel-coloured small houses.
Lang Son has several ethnic groups living in this province that stretches along the border with China, like Dzao, Tho, Nung. In Lang Son there are two beautiful caves, Tam Thanh and Nhi Thanh. The first has a pond inside and a window opening with a breath-taking view on the paddies below; the second is crossed by a river that has been defined “a dramatic sight” and has inspired many Vietnamese poets.
Mai Chau, one of the most popular place in Vietnam, is an idyllic valley hemmed by green rolling hills about 150 km from Hanoi. It looks like a huge patchwork because of its rice fields dotted with the traditional Thai stilt houses. Its inhabitants are mostly White Thai, distantly related to the other Thai groups in Laos and Thailand.
Son La placed halfway from Hanoi to Dien Bien Phu along the Laotian border, Son La is one of the most ethnically diverse Vietnamese regions, with more than 30 different minorities, some of which are among the most colourful ethnic groups of Vietnam. Moc Chau is a wide plateau surrounded by wild forests and blue jagged mountains. The local ethnic communities are very hospitable and welcoming. It is possible to wander through the local villages and sleep in their traditional split houses.
Dien Ben Phu located in the stunning scenery of the heavily-forested Muong Thanh Valley, this small town is the place where the Vietnamese army defeated the French colonialists in 1954. Some museums and war memorials recall this epic battle.
Yen Bai offers majestic landscapes of intensively farmed valleys hemmed by rugged mountains covered with thick forests feature this province cut across by the Red River. The region is famous for its caves (the tiger cave) and its temples (Dong Cuong, Dai Cai, Thac Ba). A festival takes place in the Dong Cuong temple every year, when many traditional folk games are played.
Sapa situated in the far North, the region of Sapa is inhabited mainly by ethnic minorities like Hmong, Dao, Xa Pho, Day and Tay. A land of amazing natural sceneries and wonderful people wearing colourful costumes, Sapa is famous for its terraced rice field, its beautiful orchids and its scenic mountains that are the highest in Vietnam. Cat Cat, Ta Van, Giang Ta Chai, Ban Ho, Ta Phin are nice, small villages where it is possible to visit the ethnic group living there and sleep in a traditional split house.