Vietnam’s Ethnic Groups – Fascinating, Colorful, and Memorable

Vietnam’s Ethnic Groups – Fascinating, Colorful, and Memorable


Vietnam is rich in ethnic groups that have lived in the northern and central regions of the country for centuries. There are more than 50 unique ethnic tribes. On my recent visit, I was fortunate to travel extensively throughout the northern mountains near the China and Laos border. I encountered a few of the many ethnic groups, the Black Mong, Red Dao, and the Flower Mong. The photo collection features the Flower Mong and the Red Dao groups.


First of all, you have to really want to see these indigenous ethic tribes of people. They’re out in the rural villages far from the big cities of Hanoi and Lao Cai. We left early in the morning and drove for hours on 2-lane and sometimes 1-lane primitive roads to reach the small villages they inhabit. As usual, the journey was just as exciting and interesting as the destination!


I saw stunning rice terraces, cloud-shrouded mountains, small roadside vendors selling exotic fruits and vegetables, and overall, a unique culture and simple way of life in the rural countryside. It was well worth the bumpy and often harrowing experience of sharing the road with scooters flying around us carrying pigs, tires, familis-of-four and everything else, oversize trucks transporting crops, and other folks carrying on their daily routine…often in the middle of the road. (More about that in a later blogpost!)


The two main towns, Bac Ha, and SaPa, and the central gathering points for tourists venturing into the small villages. There are numerous low, medium, and high quality accommodations in each town. I strongly recommend working with a tour and travel agency to supervise and conduct the tour. In my case, I worked with Jewel Tours ( They were outstanding. They provided me a dedicated guide and driver to visit each of community and served as translator, confidante, and host during my stay.


As you’ll see in the images, the identifying mark of the tribe members are their clothing. The Red Dao wear red headwear and are adorned with lots of red in all their clothes. I visited a very small village with a single dirt road to enter and exit. While the Red Dao live and farm as they’ve done for centuries, there is an increasing dependency upon tourists for “gifts”. As soon as I got out of the vehicle, I was swarmed with villagers wanting to sell me trinkets, scarves, bracelets and other handicrafts. While that is entrepreneurial and admirable, there seemed to be a general dissatisfaction if you didn’t buy something. They were not really hostile, but somewhat unwelcoming. I know we created this environment…


The more robust and larger tribe, the Flower Mong also wear very colorful clothing – mostly unmatched – but beautiful in its own way. The central meeting point is the daily market where goods and services are bought and traded. It’s our version of the small-town Walmart or the local grocery store! It’s where you go to meet and mingle with people you haven’t seen lately. It is as much a social gathering as it is a place of commerce. Lucky me – the photo ops were abundant! I was able to observe them in their daily life. Although they were aware of my being there and photographing, they didn’t seem to care. They were more interested in chatting, eating, and generally socializing.

Visiting the ethnic tribes was one of the highlights of my trip to Vietnam. I could have easily skipped this part of my expedition to spend more time in the major tourist regions. I am SO happy I experienced this. Along with the elementary school visit (previous blog post), I have probably thought and talked about this highlight more than most others. Thanks Jewel Tours!




Regarding Jewel Tours and other tour companies, I have always been the type of adventure traveler that “I can do it myself”. I’m sure I could have set up the tour; however, I could never have seen and experienced the quality and depth of immersive experiences on my own. Plus, in a foreign country with little to no language skills, a tour company is almost essential. In the case of Jewel tours, they were exceptional from the start. I told them the areas I wanted to see, the experiences I wanted to enjoy, and the type of places I wanted to stay. They put together a far better experience than I could ever do. I very strongly recommend them – they are top-notch, professional and above all, want every person to have a memorable vacation.