In Sa Pa, ecological tourism under the aegis of women

In North Vietnam, in remote villages, live ethnic minorities who, to flee persecution, have mostly taken refuge in the mountains.

Despite all the injustices that were aimed at their extermination, these tribes knew how to keep the essence of their culture against all odds.

These ethnic minorities: Thai, Muong, Nung, Tay, Hmong, Dao, or Lolo are in some cases under classified according to the dominant color of their traditional clothing.

So among the Hmong, we have black, red, white, or variegated Hmong.

Not only did they succeed in the tour de force of keeping their traditions intact, but they managed to revolutionize tourism in this part of the world.

Among the Black Hmong, this tourism revolution is being led by women.

Once in Sa Pa city in northern Vietnam, women dressed in sublime clothes and finery, offer ecological and off-road treks to visit their villages.

Women like EM. This nickname, which means “the little one” was given to her at school because she was so small.

Em is married and has two children. A girl named Xi and a boy named Vang.

She opened the doors of her house and allowed us to discover her beautiful Hau Thao village. From Sapa, a magnificent road, revealing sumptuous landscapes, rice fields with geometric figures, leads us to the village in the mountains.

 Our journey is dotted with beautiful encounters: children who sell us handmade bracelets, women who make hemp fabrics dyed in indigo, a long artisanal process that has not changed since the old days and which produces colored fabrics that will be used to make their clothes.

The black Hmong produce their clothing. Be it for specific events like weddings or lunar New Year’s Eve celebrations.

During our walk that led us to Hau Thao, we saw almost only female tour guides.

 We have to admit that they manage tourism and the stock exchange, and are an important driving force in the economy.

Em tells us how this process came about on her side. Tourism was initially unknown in the region. One day, they saw Vietnamese guides disembarking with “tall” people, they were afraid and went into hiding. A legitimate reaction considering the persecutions they had experienced.

Fortunately, at school, the teacher made them understand that they were tourists who came to admire their beautiful region and that far from being a threat, these visits could be a springboard for them and help them to escape marginalization.

He advised them to take this opportunity to discover new things, learn new languages, and sell them products.

Following his advice,EM and her friends started interacting with tourists by offering them bracelets, she learned English, which she speaks fluently, from their contacts.

To earn more income, she worked with an agency, but the commissions she received were low compared to the service she provided.

To do without intermediaries, the women decided to organize themselves to offer solidarity tourism.

This mini-revolution has changed the situation; they can enjoy the fruits of their labor without having to pay the agency’s fees, which has a considerable impact on their economic situation, and improves the living conditions of the community.

This fair and equitable tourism will allow EM to realize the big dreams she has for her two children.

“I would like my children to be able to go to school so that they can have a better future.” Primary school is practically free, but for college and university, the costs are expensive.

“I don’t want my daughter to marry young, like I did, or have to work in the rice fields. This work is hard; I don’t want it for my children.”

Even though the marriage to her husband was far from being forced, EM would like to see her children explore other horizons, other possibilities and avoid the hard work in the fields.

This dream comes at a high cost, and to be financially responsible, EM decided that she would have two children and no more.

Unfortunately, tourism is a haphazard activity that cannot guarantee income for EM and her family. “The ideal situation would be to have reservations made in advance so that we don’t have to look for tourists at the train station.” EM tells me.

Em has a Facebook page and is very professional.

Spending a few days in this tribe with EM and her family is an unprecedented experience that allowed us to discover her tribe and its values, such as solidarity and especially to get to know these strong, hard-working women who hold the reins of their community.

An experience that I recommend without hesitation.

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