During our stay in Hanoi we had visited some NW Vietnam tour companies because we wanted to book a private Northwest Vietnam mountain tour. Our desire to visit the NW mountains of Vietnam was only partly due to our love of nature.
Instead, we intended to visit some of Vietnam’s remaining ethnic minority groups such as the Black Hmong and the Red Dao. Combined, the minority groups comprise about 15% of the population in Vietnam.
The majority ethnic group is the Viet or Kinh and they make up the remaining 85%. Many of the most interesting ethnic minority groups live in the Northwest Mountains of Vietnam.
Our plan was to visit several NW mountain villages and conclude the tour with a trek in Sapa. Our instructions to the guide were simple. We wanted to stay off the beaten path and avoid tourist traps. Additionally, we wanted to do some improvisation for a unique experience. Fortunately, our guide was happy to comply and we departed from Hanoi straight away.
Northwest Mountain Tour Vietnam – Day one
Our first stop on the northwest mountain tour was a reservoir on the Da River named Ho Hoa Binh. The Da River originates in China and flows through NW Vietnam where it becomes a major tributary of the Red River and then empties into the Gulf of Tonkin. Construction of the Hoa Binh Dam was completed in 1994 and the reservoir was subsequently formed.
Our plan was to take a boat to one of the islands on the Ho Hoa Binh reservoir which was a popular picnic spot. After we set sail, it took about 1-2 hours to travel to the island. The karst limestone formations make for a very scenic landscape.
Upon arrival we moored the boat next to a group of Vietnamese university students who were majoring in economics. They were very friendly and prone to erupt in outbreaks of prolonged laughter.
Island Picnic NW Vietnam Mountain Tour
For lunch we would be having roasted fish, rice and an assortment of veggies. Unfortunately, this involved sitting cross legged on the ground. Thankfully, for me the pain turns to numbness after a few minutes.
Chopstick Factory – NW Vietnam Mountain Tour
Our next destination on the Northwest Vietnam mountain tour would be the Ma River and we would take a boat ride downstream to visit an ethnic minority village.
However, on the way to our port of embarkation we happened to drive by a chopstick factory and I insisted on stopping to investigate.
River Transport to Ethnic Minority Village
We would now be traveling by a classic variety of wooden boat a few kilometers down the river to visit our first ethnic minority village. However, the Vietnamese government has been pretty active in promoting economic development in rural minority areas. Therefore, the village had benefited from some recent economic development.
Ethnic Minority Village in NW Vietnam Mountains
About 30 minutes later we disembarked on the river bank a few hundred meters downhill from the ethnic minority village. We then went on a short mountain hike through the forest to reach the village.
Ethnic Minority Wedding Ceremony
There was a wedding celebration in progress when we arrived in the ethnic minority village. Unfortunately, the economic initiatives of the government meant that the locals no longer dress traditionally.
Fortunately, as we traveled further into the mountains we would encounter lots of traditional dress in some of the other villages.
Son La – NW Vietnam Mountains
Our next stop on the mountain circuit would be Son La. This would be very interesting because our driver had arranged for us to have dinner with a local family who were relatives of his.
It turns out that the host was the local police chief and also a member of the local communist party. At my girlfriend’s special request they would be serving a traditional dish just for her.
Than Uyen – NW Vietnam Local Market
On day two of our Northwest Vietnam mountain tour we visited another ethnic minority village called Than Uyen. This village was further into the mountains and more distant from Hanoi. Therefore, traditional dress was more commonly seen. We encountered this woman in the photo below while we were exploring the local market.
Scenic Northwest Vietnam Mountains
As we went further into the Northwest Vietnam Mountains we significantly gained in elevation. As a result, there were some fantastic mountain vistas along the way. This was especially true on the last leg of the journey as we approached the Sapa township.
Red Dao and Black Hmong Near Sapa Vietnam
In the NW mountains of Vietnam there are a lot of ethnic minority villages around the Sapa township. We procured a motorbike and embarked on a tour of Sapa and the surrounding area. Fortunately, were were able to get some nice ethnic minority photos. Once again the coercion skills of my girlfriend came in handy.
In contrast to Cambodia and Laos, Vietnam is relatively wealthy due to their more effective recovery from the Vietnam War. This results in the government being able to allocate a much larger portion of national resources to rural development initiatives. This improves the lives of locals but unfortunately the traditional lifestyles of the ethnic minority groups is slowly fading away.
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