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.
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.”