Laos – Travelling up north, to Nong Khiaw

Get beneath the surface - The InsideVietnam Blog

Our IAT tour leader, Tara, took a trip around northern Laos recently and brought back some great photos with her! Below is her post from the region – enjoy!


Not too many travellers make it up to Nong Khiaw and get to see the stunning mountainous landscapes of the north of Laos. But they should!

Nong Khiaw region provides some amazing hiking experiences as well as leisurely walks along the terraced rice paddy fields.

Cruising along the Nam Ou river will reward you with breathtaking scenery and warm-hearted encounters with friendly villagers.


About one hour upstream from Nong Khiaw, you will find the sleepy town of Muang Ngoi. It’s a place where daily routine revolves around community life, chickens and cows are an ubiquitous part of streetlife and kids play with whatever they can find.

                                                                   -Find that chicken 😉
And friendly foreigners are welcomed to participate in local life.
We recently met three British girls, spending part of their…

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I must say that one of the biggest and most unexpected perks of teaching in Vietnam is that I actually get to become friends with my students. I don’t know how I ever would have learned so much about Vietnamese culture and Vietnamese people if I didn’t have this job. In America it is sort of taboo for teachers and students to be friends but here that is not the case. One evening over a nice meal of exotic shellfish one of my adult students invited me to come on a charity trip with him.

Well… why not? I’m in.

The blanket cost of the trip was 700,000 VND ($32.75). We were going to do charity work in a remote Vietnamese province called Yên Bái. Our first destination was a small township called Mù Cang Chải. It is located near the Chinese and Laotian borders and is a solid 11 hour bus ride away from Hanoi. We would be visiting the H’mong people. The H’mong are the ethnic minority group in Vietnam. To be clear, these people are not Vietnamese, rather they are an ethnicity/culture without a country. Vietnamese is their 2nd language.

The history of the H’mong is blurry but it is widely accepted (among people who actually care about this obscure culture) that their heritage can be traced back to a town in northern China called Zhuolu. Since then however, they have migrated south to inhabit the mountainous highlands that span the northern Chinese borders of Vietnam, Laos and Thailand. It is here that they have lived for the past few centuries. Involved in almost all of the many conflicts that the region has seen over the years, subjected to military actions bordering on genocidal at the hand of multiple governments, the H’mong are now an obscure, dying culture. The H’mong language is spoken only by a relative few now. They were actually responsible for a plot to overthrow the Laotian government in 2007… allegedly. Interesting stuff.

In Vietnam people often laugh when you mention the H’mong. This is because the word “H’mong” sounds a lot like the words “show ass” in Vietnamese. They swear it’s nothing related to racism though; they insist that it’s funny and harmless. Idk man. You can be the judge.

ANYWAY, I boarded the bus feeling pretty good that I was the only white person on the trip. It was a good indicator as to the authenticity of the experience I was about to have. Hardly any of my fellow travelers spoke English either. 9 hours later however, I was feeling pretty terrible about everything… about life. Buses in Southeast Asia are not made for somebody my size. And the infrastructure outside of the major cities is terrible. We were driving overnight and I was doing my best to sleep but it was tough with our bus driver trying to break some sort of land speed record on the winding, bumpy mountain roads. It didn’t help that I had to twist and mangle my long white-person legs into terrible positions to fit into my seat in the first place. Still though, I managed to achieve sleep at a couple points during the voyage but I would be rudely awakened when our bus sped over a bump so big that I actually lifted off the seat. It was a little traumatizing.

We stopped in small mountain towns during the night to get some food, stretch out, and pee in the bushes. At one point I was pretty sure our driver was peeing in a graveyard but apparently it was just a headstone vender’s yard. Anyway, I spent about 20,000 VND ($0.93) on food along the way.

We made it to Mù Cang Chải a little bit before sunrise. This town would serve as our ‘base camp.’ We watched the marketplace transform from an empty shell to a bustling place of commerce as the sun rose. The province is apparently known for having amazing pork so I tried it. It cost another 10,000 VND ($0.47). It was very good.

Once we had all been fed we re-boarded the bus. I was careful to get there first and snag the seat closest to the door. I needed the legroom. The bus climbed higher into the mountains and eventually dropped us off on the side of the road near a bridge made of wooden planks and rope that went over a river. It swayed in the wind as we crossed it.

This video picks up right about there:

The trek up the mountain was pretty substantial. Especially carrying a muddy burlap sack full of what I can only assume were bricks. I started strong but it wasn’t long before the hike went from pleasant to grueling. I was separated from the herd as I struggled and panted my way through the muddy mountain trails. I was on a mission though. Motorbikes zipped up and down the mountain all the while but I gritted my teeth and kept moving. It wouldn’t have been bad but for the muddy sack of… something, that I was carrying. Eventually though one of the H’mong men on a motorbike saw my poor state and offered me a ride up the mountain. Don’t mind if I do.

When I got to the top of the mountain, the villagers looked at me as if I were an alien. It was clear that not many white people had been there before me. But once they got over my foreign-ness they were some of the most hospitable and kind people you could ever have the pleasure to meet.


Children peaked out from their classrooms at me. The H’mong primary school was the centerpiece of this town. The classrooms looked identical to the classrooms I am used to back in Hanoi, the capital city. This out-of-place throwback sat in silence atop a remote ridge in a far flung province. There was no electricity so the rooms were dark and the tile floors were covered in dirt.

The children nervously stared at me from around the corner. Some of them wore the traditional H’mong robes, while others of them wore second-hand clothes which had no doubt been delivered to them by a charity outlet similar to the one that I was working with. I showed them some “magic” tricks that I can do with my fingers and then they began to warm up to me.

That afternoon I took a walk, just to explore. As I wandered, I was joined by 3 other people that had come on the trip with me. They spoke almost no English but they still invited me to join their ‘posse’, which I thought was nice. We walked down a randomly selected dirt road a little ways until we were invited into a middle-aged woman’s home. She gave us some small Vietnamese snacks and invited us to sit.

One of the Vietnamese girls in my new posse seemed to be having quite a stimulating conversation with the H’mong woman. With no hope of understanding what they were saying, I sat and ate my snacks, just taking it all in. As I ate though, the H’mong woman started to sound more and more distraught. The person sitting next to me spoke some rough English so I asked if they could clue me in on what was happening in this conversation.

“Her husband is very bad,” my translation began. The woman was saying that she was very poor and that she did not belong there. She was not H’mong; she was Vietnamese. She was born in a different part of Vietnam. She was only living there because of a marriage (which I think must not have been her choice). Now, with 2 children, she was powerless to escape her circumstances. Her voice began to crack. She continued to talk about her husband but soon she broke down and wept. At that point the remaining 2 people ushered me out the door, following close behind me. I think it would have been rude for us to continue eavesdropping on their heart-to-heart.

That night we ate a giant dinner together with the village. The teachers in the village’s school invited me to take shots with them… a lot of shots. After each shot we would shake hands, as is tradition. The H’mong teachers were very enthused to meet me after finding out that I too was a teacher. In my (translated) conversation with them they told me that they had left Yên Bái for university but had since returned in order to help their village.

After dinner there was a giant bonfire. People of all ages, children to adults, laughed, sang, and danced around it for hours. But the most interesting part of the night came after most of the village was asleep.

Some of the men (who had been drinking with us) brought out a traditional H’mong instrument to perform a special, cultural dance around what remained of the fire. It was very odd indeed. I wasn’t really sure what I was seeing. Later research revealed that this instrument is called a “Qeej”. Don’t ask me how to pronounce that. Below is a picture of a traditional qeej. You blow into the top end of the dark, wooden shaft (I couldn’t think of non-sexual way to explain it) and point the curved ends out in front of you so that the sound can be heard clearly.


The dance performed by the men is something that was just so strange that I find myself unable to clearly describe it to you. Since returning to Hanoi I have done my best to find videos of this type of dance on the internet but I have been unable to find anything that quite compares to what they did. 2 men jumped around the fire. The first man was playing the qeej and the second man trailed him, playing something slightly smaller and more obscure. The men would take a long leap and land on one foot. They would pause there, balancing on one foot, swaying for a moment, before swinging their next foot forward for their next leap. The moved around the fire quickly and violently. It was just about the strangest thing I have ever encountered.

The next day we hiked down the other side of the mountain to deliver supplies to another village. It was a gorgeous hike. The far North of Vietnam has a rugged beauty. It was cold up in the highlands in the winter but as the hot sun peaked out from over the ridges on the horizon it warmed my bones in such a way that I almost didn’t mind all the giant spiders. Here are some photographs from our descent to the next village.

As before, the centerpiece of this town was also the primary school. The children lined up while the token fat guy on the trip shimmied into a Santa costume behind the school. Then Vietnamese Santa made his entrance and proceeded to distribute a care package to each child waiting eagerly in line. The mothers, dressed in traditional H’mong garb, furrowed their brows skeptically as they watched the scene unfold before them.

By the time mid-day came, it was time to start our trek back. We waded through a river and climbed a small cliff to get back to the main road. It was there that the buses unceremoniously picked us up. The ride home was much more pleasant with my roomy seat by the door.

The total cost of this trip amounted to 730,000 VND ($34.15).

Author: Peter Campbell (

Map of Mù Cang Chải   click for a larger map

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Circus Problems and the Colonizer-Colonized Convergence in Late Colonial Burma

Le Minh Khai's SEAsian History Blog (+ More)

I recently came across some images from the 1930s that were advertising “giraffe-necked women.” Apparently in the 1930s there were Padaung women from Burma who were put on display at various circuses in Europe and America.




While these advertisements suggest that the Padaung women were a big attraction, there were people at the time who were upset about these advertisements.

In 1937 the Burmese Women’s League passed a resolution that condemned British newspapers for carrying advertisements for the Bertram Mills Circus that featured the Padaung women.

What upset the Burmese Women’s League was not what would upset many people today; that the Padaung women were being put on display like zoo animals, but that these advertisements referred to the Paduang as “Burmese.”


The members of the Burmese Women’s League felt that by referring to the Padaung as “Burmese,” British newspapers were lowering the prestige of Burmese women.

As a report…

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Sapa & Bac Ha Sunday Market – Vietnam – November 2014

Miles away from home

Sapa came highly recommended by nearly everyone we spoke with.  I don’t think they have ever been there in the winter time.  However, before I get into our experience, lets back track to getting to Sapa. 

After doing some research online, we learned that the train is very expensive.  We found that the local bus from Hanoi goes up to Lau Cai for 200,000vnd each. From there you can catch a bus for 55,000vnd each to Sapa putting our total at 510,000.  However, we would also have to pay about 140,000vnd for a taxi to the bus station from our hotel bringing our total up to 650,000vnd.  Our hotel offered a tour bus that would take us up for 315,000vnd each and they pick us up from the hotel.  Funny how a local can seemingly get you a better price.  This also wasn’t the best price because we met a…

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Singing In The Lifeboats

It’s a funny and rather confusing mixture of contradictions in Meo Vac in Ha Giang Province, N.E Vietnam. The landscape is impressive but mad; huge rocky limestone karsts rising out of the mountains, rocks strewn all over the hillsides, and winding mountain roads reaching up into the low clouds, all of which would conspire to make it rather bleak and foreboding were it not for one other very important ingredient in the mix.

©ClareRowntreeXF18mmF2 RX-E1FUJIFILMMeo Vac

©ClareRowntreeXF18mmF2 RX-E1FUJIFILM

Everywhere you look, people seem to pop up from behind the rocks smiling.

©ClareRowntreeXF56mmF1.2 RX-E1FUJIFILM

Meo Vac is home to the green Hmong ethnic minority group of people, known for their hard work and tenacity. It’s quite incredible to see how they have manage to survive in the harsh terrain and often inclement weather, every inch of spare soil being planted with corn or manyon, just about the only crops which will grow up there.

©ClareRowntreeXF56mmF1.2 RX-E1FUJIFILM-3

©ClareRowntreeXF18mmF2 RX-E1FUJIFILM-2

Even more impressive is…

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H’mong woman, Sapa, Vietnam

josune aizpurua zaldua

She is a H’mong ethnic group woman and she lives in Sapa. She is 25, she has 3 children and she speaks vietnamese, her own ethnic group language and the english she learnt at school. She lives in a little village and she goes to Sapa downtown to sell bags, scarfs, jewelry and so on to tourists.


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Visit clay houses, eat pork hocks, and experience Yunnan culture

Yunnan Cultural Village provides the way of life and Chinese clay houses. Tourists can taste the green tea and pork hocks with buns at Baan Santichon surrounded by the mountains of Pai.

Pai is beautiful because of the mountain scenery, Pai River, the way of life, and mixed cultures from various tribes. About five kilometers from Pai, there is a village called Santichon or the Yunnan Cutural Village where Yunan tribesmen have moved to live. This village is one of the most popular attractions of Pai.

At the Yunnan cultural field, you can see a huge rock and a dragon creeping up a pole at the center of the field. Around the field, there are many souvenir shops, Yunnan Chinese restaurants, and clay houses. Tourists can try original Yunnan Chinese food and experience the Yunnan way of life.

Recommended Food

At Santichon village, you have to try authentic Yunnan Chinese food such as pork hocks, buns, steamed black chicken with Chinese herbs, fried shiitake mushroom, and Yunnan girl’s salad. These dishes come with boiled rice. For people who want to go back and have a meal in Pai, we recommend Baan Benjarong and Nong Best two restaurants that serve delicious food. At Baan Benjarong restaurant, a favorite is fried shrimp with tamarind sauce. Local food is provided at Nong Best restaurant such as Siam redtail catfish, tom yum and triple crisp & spicy salad.

Before Traveling

Yunnan Cultural Village provides reasonable cost home-stay resorts for tourists who want to experience Yunnan culture.

please follow my page by click this link below:  here is the link to google map

Map of Yunnan Culture Village

Map of  Yunnan Culture Village

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Handmade products

Each karen hill tribe dress is one of a kind, find a karen dress that fits your beautiful, unique self (5 photos)

via (58) Handmade products.

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