The Hill Tribes

Bahnar - Dzao - Ede - H'mong - Jarai - Muong - Nung - Sedang - Tay - Thai

Where To Visit The Hill Tribes


Pop: 1.2 million
Bac Kan, Cao Bang, Lang Son, Thai Nguyen
rice, tobacco, herbs, spices
Belief system:
Tam Giao, animism
Cultural characteristics:
The Tay are the largest group among the hill tribes and live at low elevations and in valleys between Hanoi and the Chinese border. They traditionally live in wooden stilt houses, although a long history of interaction with the Vietnamese has seen a gradual shift to brick structures. They adhere closely to Vietnamese beliefs in Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism, but also worship genies and local spirits. Since they developed their own script in the 16th century, Tay literature and arts have become famous throughout Vietnam. Tay people wear distinctive indigo-blue and black clothes. They often wear head wraps of the same colours and can sometimes be seen carrying machete-like farming tools in belt sheaths. Don't give medicines - it erodes traditional healing practices and the medicine may not be correctly administered. Individual gifts create jealousy and create expectations, instead make donations to the local school, medical centre or community fund. No matter how poor they are, villagers are extremely hospitable; however, feeding a guest can result in food shortages. If you accept an invitation to share a meal, be sure to bring a generous contribution. Usually it is possible to chip in with a chicken or something simitar in a remote village. However, most guides will be able to offer help on what is appropriate
Haggle politely and always pay the agreed (and fair) price for goods and services.
Do not ask to buy a villager's personal household items or the jewellery or clothes they are wearing. Don't buy village treasures, such as altar pieces or totems.
Do not photograph without first asking permission - this includes children. Some hill tribes (particularly the Dzao people) believe the camera will capture their spirit. Don't photographaltars. If you take a picture, do it quickly and avoid using a flash. It is polite to send copies (ifpossible) - if you promise to do so, keep your word.
Travel in small, less disruptive groups. Stay, eat and travel with local businesses.
Try to book tours with responsible tourism outlets who employ hill-tribe people or contribute to community welfare. Note is aimed at visiting the hill tribes of northern Thailand, but it's still a useful resource on how to behave yourself in hill-tribe villages.