Vietnam is a destination many experienced travelers dream about. It’s as exotic as anywhere and has so much history, both of the ‘American War,’ and of the many times the country has been occupied and invaded by neighbors. Siobhan McGeady wrote a story titled “Northwest Vietnam: Friendly People and Breathtaking Landscapes,” on GoNOMAD that captured some of this country’s allure.
It’s possible to find deals if you search air fare consolidators. One good tip is to try and find airlines that are mostly used by native Vietnamese. Enlist the help of a Vietnamese person in the US and you might find a fantastic airfare deal! Here is a section of Siobhan’s story.
Northwest Vietnam has a ruggedness and a primitive infrastructure which offers a real thrill for those who want to discover the unknown. Even Sapa, which has been brought to the fore in terms of tourism, is still a very beautiful place with hidden enclaves and a rich tapestry of peoples just outside the town itself.
Planning a trip in these remote areas of Vietnam as a solo traveller might not be the wisest decision, primarily due to the need for special permits in the less well-discovered areas.
I decided to take an organized tour with Gecko Travel, so all the necessary paperwork was looked after by our tour leader and local guide, who also played an invaluable role when it came to holding conversations with the tribal communities we came across. I say came across, as we traveled by minibus from Hanoi out into the mountains so we had a chance to stop whenever and wherever we wished.
The country has 54 ethnic groups, giving Vietnam the richest and most complex ethnic makeup of Southeast Asia. The majority of the ethnic minorities live in the hilly regions of the Northwest, with other tribes being scattered in the central highlands and the South. However, the Northwest is the best place to start, as traditional dress in the central and southern parts has been displaced by a more casual approach.
The plush mountain territories along the Lao and Chinese borders we were to visit are home to the most prominent tribal communities. Several of these communities have as many as a million people while others have dwindled to as few as 100. Most of the communities share a rural agricultural lifestyle – a prominent focus of our tour as we travelled in harvest season at the beginning of October.
Little is known about the origins of the tribes, some of whom inhabited this area before the ancestors of the Viet arrived from Southern China around 4-5,000 years ago. At some date the Viet finally emerged as a distinct group after absorbing smaller communities settling on the Red River Delta, until they became the dominant culture; while other indigenous groups, chose to keep their independence and maintain their place in the highlands.
The country itself is rich in folklore and legend and one story which accounts for this fundamental split between lowlanders and the montagnards (or hill tribes) has a rather more romantic leaning, based on the marriage of the Dragon King of the South to the beautiful Northern Princess Au Co.