Vietnam – Been There

One market, but two different experiences

The heavily beaded skirts and jackets worn by the Flower H'mong are manufactured in China. Cheap Chinese imports also offer higher profits to anyone selling craftwork to tourists who prefer a bargain over quality.

Muong Hum market

Photo by Ton Koene

Vietnam – Been There

One market, but two different experiences

Sa Pa, high in the northern mountains of Vietnam, is full of visitors. International travelers, mostly young, in a rainbow of hi-tech clothing walk the main streets and browse the shops and market stalls.

Pim Verweij
Pim Verweij Travel Writer

Among the tourists in Sa Pa are the colorful handcrafted costumes of the people whose home they are here to see, the H’mong. In the central market hall, I see diligent locals behind hand-cranked sewing machines working on their handicrafts, every now and then holding up goods to potential customers as they pass by. It is as if time has stood still here for many years.

Around me, tourists are taking close-up photos of the local people. Most of them just continue doing their work, seeming not too bothered by the constant pointing of lenses. Only a few approach the foreigners, holding out handicraft purses, bracelets and pillowcases for them to look at and hopefully buy.

The H’mong in the market wear primarily black or dark blue outfits. “The women here wear their finest clothes when coming to the market, which for them is an important meeting place,” says Pang, a young H’mong tour guide. They make their own clothes from woven hemp fabric, colored with indigo. Additionally, the sleeves and belt are embellished with embroidery. Pointing at her own outfit, Pang says: “It can take up to two months before the embroidery of one costume is finished. Every family has its own traditional style.”

The arrival of a tourist bus in Ta Phin village is good news for groups of waiting Red Dao women...

The arrival of a tourist bus in Ta Phin village is good news for groups of waiting Red Dao women such as these, who will try to sell their handcrafts. They also encourage visitors to experience a home stay and their cultural traditions, such as wedding ceremonies. Photo by Ton Koene

Ton Koene

Ton Koene

Canon EOS 5D Mark III

Aperture
ƒ/4.5
Exposure
1/200
ISO
320
Focal
24/1 mm

The arrival of a tourist bus in Ta Phin village is good news for groups of waiting Red Dao women such as these, who will try to sell their handcrafts. They also encourage visitors to experience a home stay and their cultural traditions, such as wedding ceremonies.