Mèo Vạc is a small mountain town on the highway that begins in the northern city of Hà Giang and loops through spectacular mountain scenery before returning to Hà Giang. This road and the sights along the road are a major tourist attraction in Vietnam. Many of the people living in and around Mèo Vạc are citizens of Vietnam, but ethnically not Vietnamese. The Hmong are an important group in this area, and there are a number of other ethnic groups who live and work in this part of northern Vietnam.
Laos is a multi-ethnic country with Lao people making up only slightly more than 50% of the population. After the Lao, the two largest ethnic groups are the Khmu accounting for about 11% of the population and the Hmong accounting for about 9%. Much of Laos is mountainous and this is where the Hmong people can be found – around Luang Prabang and in other highland areas, including in the eastern part of the country along the border with Vietnam. There are also Hmong living in the Vietnamese highlands. That border between Laos and Vietnam runs through some rugged, wild country that is sparsely populated. There are few main road (though no doubt there are un-mapped secondary roads and paths) and no urban areas of any size. I cannot help buy wonder how porous that Lao-Vietnamese border is. Although Hmong on both sides of the border are citizens of and have assimilated to some extent within their respective countries, they are nonetheless one people with a common language. Are Hmong people from the two countries who live in communities on either side of the border able to move relatively freely back and forth across the border? By freely here, I mean without passports, border stations, and border formalities. Or as a part of the state-building process, have Laos and Vietnam hardened their borders, making it difficult for ethnic minorities like the Hmong to move back and forth between the two nation states? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I am definitely curious.
A number of Hmong shops in Luang Prabang sell handicraft fabric and items like bags, pillow covers and decorative tapestries made in Hmong villages. Some of it is quite beautiful.