Photographer's Note


After traveling half the earth and zigzagging in China for a week, I finally arrived Sa Pa.

The H’mong minority people used to make their living by selling handicrafts to travelers, during the non-rice-season months: silver jewelry, big heavy earrings and neck rings, pants, jackets, pouches, bags, little mouth instruments… For some reason, they did ask me to buy their merchandises. Instead, they offered me the gentlest smiles, and asked where I was from. I am from Hue, some 1,000 km away from Sapa.

Looking at the little girl: isn’t her smile transmitting to me the warm message, “Welcome Home”? Yes, I felt being at home while talking to them.


Once a quiet French hill resort near the Chinese border, the town of Sapa now draws tourists from around the world. Visitors admire dramatic mountain scenery, trek to remote H’mong and Yao villages to see women create batik and embroidered goods and bargain for made-for-tourist handicrafts in a lively marketplace.
Sapa’s response to this international presence is still evolving. At first the Kinh shop-owners saw most of the profits, buying embroidered textiles from H’mong and Yao traders and re-cutting them into pillows, bags and vests for the tourist trade. More recently, Yao and H’mong women from villages near Sapa have begun to design tourist goods themselves, often using synthetic dyes to achieve bright but non-traditional colors. They sell these goods directly to tourists on the street, greeting them with cries of "Chapeau? Hat? Jacket? Pantalon joli, buy pretty trousers from me. Very cheap!"

Nearly every H’mong woman owns a pleated skirt, which she makes by hand. Personal taste and local tradition determine whether the seamstress chooses embroidery, appliqué or the batik dyeing process to decorate her creation, which may take more than a month to complete. Whatever method she selects, her designs always reflect the world around her. The finished skirt demonstrates a woman's character as well as her decorative skills.

According to the H’mong legend, once upon a time, the earth was very large and the sun was very small. In order for the sun to shine on all of the earth, the planet had to shrivel up, producing mountains, hills and river valleys. The H’mong, who inhabit the steep, high mountains of northern Vietnam, believe their pleated skirts reflect this ridged landscape.

For H’mong women, Sapa is a swirl of intense economic and social exchanges. Turning some of their profits from the sale of handicrafts back into their businesses, the women buy clothing scraps for their next round of wares. Eager to improve their sales, they study design trends in the shops and take careful note of what tourists are buying.

(Source: American Museum of Natural History)


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Additional Photos by Ngy Thanh (ngythanh) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 471 W: 125 N: 2332] (8458)
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