Blue Hmong in Lao Cai province, North-west Vietnam

elsewhere in the region live Black, White and Flower/Striped Hmong

Images of Blue Hmong taken in and around Sapa, the hill station in the extreme north of Lao Cai province, Vietnam, adjacent to the Chinese border. Described by many as one of the most wonderful places in all of Asia, Sapa sits in the midst of stunning mountain scenery. The Hmong share the area with Dzao (Yao) and Giay minorities and ethnic Viets, but hold a large amount of autonomy as the local majority population.

At weekends, Sapa fills up with hilltribes from the surrounding villages, and a large amount of passing tourist traffic, for the weekly Market, a stunning experience that culminates in a Saturday evening of courting rituals and festivity that any hilltribe-phile would die to share!

The Hmong wear clothes largely made of hemp cloth, which they grow, weave and dye themselves. Much of the cloth is dyed and pressed until it has a metallic sheen.The outfit may include wide frilled skirts, leggings and chunky chains and jewellery.

The Hmong will happily sell you clothes, bags and jewellery at absurdly good prices, although the steady increase in Sapa's popularity is turning the more experienced hawkers into canny traders. Many of them speak English and are desperately cute so you're unlikely to leave empty-handed! They aren't however always crazy about being photographed, a polite request is essential, unless you shoot from a hotel window!

Sapa is a classic examples of those places travellers will tell you about, that started as wonderful secrets, but were too wonderful to keep secret. Some people will then go on to tell you that these places are 'ruined' or suchlike. Well maybe. It's a point of view. There are many. Maybe the whole world was a wonderful secret till mankind ruined it. A little extreme?

It is a great big world, getting smaller all the time. I'm sure what little hope we have comes from knowledge of others, humility and tolerance. I think it's great that many people from the west can travel and grow and learn. I think it's great that they can bring their money and their hope. O.K., it's a shame Laos is no longer dickhead-free, and Ko Phangan's a zoo, but Glastonbury's bigger and worse, and Edinburgh costs more, everything's changing. Now you can go to Thailand, and it's as safe and easy as Butlins, you can drive air-con all the way, and the locals will make damn sure you never run out of things to buy. So that's alright then...

My friend Mr. China's Son sees travel, all travel, as a cultural exchange. He's a wonderful man, very wise, and always full of hope, and he's right. Even at it's worse, it's still a cultural exchange, for better or for worse. The locals change, they would have changed anyway, it's a changing world, but they might have changed slower and better. Some travellers think no'one should change, and hilltribes who get roads and electricity and trade are lost forever. I very much disagree. These people are beautiful and timeless, but they need hospitals and schools and an end to grinding poverty.

The world is not a nature reserve to be preserved for spoiled middle-class western kids and others blessed with the privilege of travel. It is more often a cascade of down-trodden people looking for an end to their plight, and travelling is helping them in many ways. Much to my amazement, soon after posting this page, I was contacted by a charity worker who's work in Sapa has made him aware of paedophile rings targeting the Hmong girls, so there you are, it's a funny old world, too wonderful to keep secret.

By the way, there are still very few dick-heads in Northern Lebanon, Kazhakstan, Ghana, etc, etc...
If you want to take your tourist dollar somewhere it'll get spent wisely, mostly on schooling,
I implore you to visit Cambodia and eastern Indonesia,
you won't need to get too far off the tourist trail to be blessed with genuine hospitality
and fascination, you never did, and you never will!

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