Discover the Legendary Traditions of The H'mong People in Vietnam

The Ta Phin commune is located in the mountainous district of Sapa, in the Lao Cai Province on the border of China. The commune center is set in a valley within walking distance of Sapa town, a popular tourist destination. The Hmong of Ta Phin grow rice and corn in their terraced fields and collect wood, orchids, and cardamom from the nearby forest. The higher land is a maze of narrow rice paddies alongside corn and vegetable fields, and the valley floors are dense with spectacular rice fields that supply the community with much of its resources.

Hmong terraced fields

Hmong terraced fields

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To supplement income, some women sell handcrafted goods to tourists in Sapa. They buy old skirts from Hmong women in other districts or embroidered remnants from Dao clothing, then re-dye and sew them into bags and hats. The Hmong women also sell shirts and other garments on the streets of Sapa for local business people to buy.

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It’s a common sight in the village to see the woman and girls sitting together, gossiping and laughing, heads down and focused on a piece of indigo-colored cloth. They make embroidery and brocade products which are then sold and traded amongst the villages and visitors. The locals are friendly and will readily invite tourists into their homes to show them how they live and what they own. On following them to their houses, you will discover how simply they live, so bear in mind that the purchase of a piece of merchandise would be a nice gesture; a tip, if you like, for the things they have shown you. In their homes, you will likely find the mothers and daughters cooking and sewing after long days of gossip and laughter in the rice paddies and cornfields. When not at home, they can be found far in the mountains of Sapa collecting wood.

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Since 1998, Ta Phin has been known as the “brocade village”, a place where tourists can find eye-catching handmade brocades made by ethnic people. Ranging from bags, scarves, purses, and skirts to backpacks and coats, these products are entirely unique: distinctively patterned and brightly colored.

Traditional skills and patterns of the Hmong in Taphin.

HEMP: Women are responsible for growing and processing hemp, an important element in the production of Hmong clothing. Hemp is usually planted in March and harvested in July, after which it is dried and the bark — the hemp fiber — stripped from the stem, before being pounded, boiled, spun and coated with wax ready to be strung on the loom.

Woman Hmong sewing

Woman Hmong sewing


INDIGO DYE: All clothing is dyed with indigo, which is often planted in ‘kitchen gardens’ near to the houses and harvested in late spring, at which time it is made into a paste and the base cloth alternatively dipped and dried continuously for a period of 30 days.

SEWING: Traditionally clothes are hand-sewn with white, pink or blue stitches along the hem. In a year, a woman will stitch a full set of clothes for each family member, and in the weeks before Tet she will be particularly busy with sewing, as the Hmong people wear their best clothes for the New Year celebrations.

SYMBOLS IN EMBROIDERY: Most collars today incorporate a ‘cu’, or snail design, formed by a curling black chain stitch, whereas the design of sleeves and belts are more varied. Among the motifs are the ‘khau li’ — the instrument used for winding hemp fibers — and chicken feet, both important symbols in Hmong rituals. Plants and flowers are also represented.

Clothing in customs and rituals.

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During the festival of Tet, boys and girls dress in their best clothes as it is considered a time for courtship. A traditional game of ‘con’ allows them to observe each other as a corn cob with chicken feathers attached is thrown between a row of boys and a row of girls. A boy may give a girl his ‘shao khua’ (the Hmong name for the feathered cob) as a proposal of marriage, and if she doesn’t return it, formally accepts his offer. For her marriage, a woman may prepare many sets of clothes.

Marriages sometimes happen by abduction, but mostly today, parents requiring a dowry often arrange them for their children. In this instance, a girl may receive cloth from the boys' family with which to prepare her clothing.

A woman will wear a Hmong skirt made by women from the other districts when she gives birth. Not only is the skirt said to be more comfortable, but symbolic in that it represents the clothing of their mutual ancestors whom she will one day rejoin. It is for this reason that she will be buried in the skirt.


Hmong women usually wear one or several large hoop earrings, known as ‘con de’, in each ear and one or more rings (‘po cu dang’) around their necks. Although once produced by the Hmong themselves, nowadays it is usually the people of Dao, or Giay ethnic groups in other villages, who produce these.

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Plan your trip checking out the H'mong Hill in our Tribes section.

Cover photo Sunday market, Bac Ha, Vietnam iStock.com/OscarEspinosa