The Flowers H'Mong in Bac Ha


Coming from countries where two women would usually be horrified to show up at the same party wearing the same dress, it's hard to imagine a society where every woman has agreed to dress almost exactly alike from as far back as anyone can remember.

This being the case, there's no disputing that the Flower H'mong themselves constitute the main attraction in a visit to the region. Each girl makes her own outfit herself, and it takes about two weeks to make every 20cm of brocade — it's a display of patience designed to prepare them for marriage to Flower H'mong men, just in case they wind up being one of those guys we saw stumbling around, blind drunk on corn whiskey, at noon.

The dynamics of 'in-group identity' aside, the Flower H'mong garb has a practical purpose, at least nowadays. The Flower H'mong inhabit both sides of the Chinese and Vietnamese border. They are largely undocumented, and are permitted to circulate freely in their traditional stomping grounds. Their distinctive attire says,
I am a Flower H'mong. I was here before you put up your silly border. Don't tell me where I can and can't go.

As a result, in addition to the goods they craft themselves, the Flower H'mong do a steady business in Chinese goods brought over (tax free) from the other side, and even residents of Sapa will make a trip to Bac Ha just to pick up at little special something unavailable elsewhere, and at a good price.