View English version View Vietnamese version
  • Office Tour

    Office Tour

  • Christmas  New Year Promotion. Save 30%

    Christmas New Year Promotion. Save 30%

  • Travel Arround the world with Ecosea

    Travel Arround the world with Ecosea

Top Hotels
Saigon Halong Hotel
Ha Long city, Halong Road, Bai Chay, Quang Ninh, Vietnam
Price from: 1.100.000 VND ~ $55.00
Sapphire Hotel
32A-34 Bui Thi Xuan Street, District 1 - Ben Thanh Market, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Price from: 1.040.000 VND ~ $52.00
Golden Halong
Hung Thang Tourism Area, Bai Chay Ward, Halong, Quang Ninh, Vietnam
Price from: 640.000 VND ~ $32.00
Tuan Chau Island Resort
Tuan Chau Island, Halong, Quang Ninh, Vietnam
Price from: 1.740.000 VND ~ $87.00
Top Cruises
Oriental Sails Halong Bay
Halong bay, Halong city, Quang Ninh
Price from: 1.900.000 VND ~ $95.00
La Marguerite Cruise Mekong
Saigon Harbour
Price from: 27.200.000 VND ~ $1,360.00
Indochina Sails Halong Bay
Ha Long Bay, Halong City
Price from: 2.860.000 VND ~ $143.00
Dragon Pearl Junk Halong Bay
Halong bay, Halong city, Quang Ninh
Price from: 2.240.000 VND ~ $112.00
Top Tours
Buon Ma Thuot - Lake lake & Watter fall 3days
Buon Me Thuật - Don Village, Ride Elephant ,watter fall, Bao Dai Emperor’s house , Wateter fall, ethnological museum, Khai Doan Pagoda
Price from: 3.960.000 VND ~ $198.00
Home Host Tour
Hanoi, Family of local people leave in Hanoi
Price from: 13.000.000.000 VND ~ $650,000.00
Phoenix Cruises 2 days
Halong Bay, Halong city, white sandy Beach, Amazing cave, Kayaking in Halong Bay
Price from: 1.980.000 VND ~ $99.00
Emeraude Cruise 2 days 1 night
Halong Bay, Halong city, white sandy Beach, Amazing cave, Kayaking in Halong Bay
Price from: 2.440.000 VND ~ $122.00

Muong Te

MUONG TE

023 pop 43,900 elevation 900m

Muong Te is one of Vietnam’s most remote outposts. It’s 98km northwest of Lai Chau along the scenic Da River, towards the junction of the borders of Vietnam, China and Laos. The majority of the population here is ethnic Thai, though they have assimilated and are nearly indistinguishable from the Vietnamese. Other minority groups found in the area include the Lahu (Khau Xung), Xi la and Ha Nhi.

Apart from a small Sunday market and some nearby villages, there is not much to see or do in Muong Te. There are also few visitors, which, for some, makes it more of an appealing place to be. The only accommodation available in town is the shabby People’s Committee Guesthouse, which also has a small restaurant.

Even if you’re not planning to visit, you might take the Muong Te turn-off along Hwy 12 (about 7km outside of Lai Chau). Almost immediately you’ll reach a rickety wooden suspension bridge worth a look or ven a crossing for Indiana Jones wannabes though crossing on anything much heaier than a motorbike looks like a decided risk. If you continue for about 8km beyond this bridge, you’ll see a peculiar historical relic: an ancient poem carved in stone by 15th-century Emperor Le Loi, who had succeeded in expelling the Chinese from the region. The poem was left as a warning for any other potential invaders not to mess with Le Loi. The translation form Chinese reads;

Hey! The humble, coward and frantic rebels, I come here to counter-attack for the sake of the border inhabitants. There existed the betrayed subjects since the beginning of the human’s history. The land is no longer dangerous. The plant’s figures, the whisper of the wind, and even the singing of the songbirds startle the mean enemy. The nation is now integrated and this carved poem – and amulet for Eastern peace of the country.

While the ethnic Vietnamese and ethnic Chinese live mainly in urban centers and coastal areas, the remaining people, an estimated 10% of Vietnam’s total population, live primarily in the high country. While several of these groupings represent about a million people, others are feared to have dwindled to as few as 100.

 The most prominent of these communities reside in the northwest, in the plush mountain territory along Lao and Chinese borders, while most of the tribes in the central highlands and the south can be quite difficult to distinguish, at least for foreign visitors, from other Vietnamese.

 The French dubbed the hill-tribe peoples ‘Montagnards’ (highlanders or mountain people) and this name is still used when speaking in French or English. The Vietnamese generally refer to them as moi, a derogatory term that means ‘savages’, which unfortunately reflects all-too-common popular attitudes. The present government, however, prefers to use the term ‘national minorities’. Some have lived in Vietnam for thousands of years, while others have migrated into the region over the past few centuries. The areas inhabited by each community are often delimited by altitude, with more recent arrivals settling at higher elevations.

 Historically, the highland areas were allowed to remain independent as long as their leaders recognized Vietnamese sovereignty and paid tribute and taxes. The 1980 Constitution abolished two such regions established in the northern mountains in 1959.

 Over the last century, the Montagnards have been pushed into increasingly smaller territories; under French rule, many found themselves dispossessed by French plantations that sprang up all over the highlands. Surrounded by plantations, denied access to their traditional hunting and agricultural grounds, many found themselves forced into plantation labor. Plantation owners also ‘imported’ lowlander Vietnamese laborers – further displacing the Montagnards.

 Attempts by the ethnic Vietnamese to subjugate the highlanders were met with active resistance (see the boxed text ‘Fulro’ in the Central Highlanders chapter). During the American War the Montagnards occupied the strategic position of what became known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Consequently, both the Communist and the USA actively recruited Montagnard fighters from the central highlands. Familiarity with the territory meant Montagnards were particularly adept at guerrilla war techniques. US officials estimate that around 200,000 Montagnards died during the American War. After the North Vietnamese took over, many who had fought beside the South Vietnamese and US forces were punished, imprisoned or executed. The Vietnamese government only recently lifted special restrictions against US tourists wanting to visit hill-tribe areas around the central highlands, out of paranoia that the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) could still be trying to recruit locals.

 Most hill-tribe communities share a rural, agricultural lifestyle with similar architecture and traditional rituals alongside a long history of intertribal warfare. Many are seminomadic, cultivating crops such as ‘dry’ rice and using slash-and-burn methods, which have taken a heavy toll on the environment. Because such practices destroy the ever-dwindling forests, the government has been trying to encourage the hill tribes to adopt more settled agriculture techniques, often at lower altitudes, with wet (paddy) rice and cash crops such as tea, coffee and cinnamon. Still, some see this as yet another attempt by the government to ‘inter-grate’ the Montagnards into mainstream society. Despite the allure of benefits like subsidized irrigation, better education and health care, a long history of independence coupled with a general distrust of the ethnic Vietnamese majority keeps many away from the lowlands.

 As in other parts of Asia, the culture of many of Vietnam’s ethnic minorities is gradually giving way to a variety of outside influences. Symbolic is the fact that few still dress in traditional

Clothing. Most who do are found in the remote villages of the far north, and even there it is often only the women who do so, while the men more typically have switched over to Vietnamese or Western-style clothes. While factors such as the introduction of the electricity, modern medicine and education do create advantages, unfortunately it has also contributed to the abandonment of many age-old traditions.

 A more recent, and perhaps equally threatening, outside influence is tourism. With further exposure to lowlanders, a developing trend towards commercialism, and growing numbers of visitors travelling to see hill-tribe regions, the situation will likely worsen. The influence of tourism, in Sapa for instance, has resulted in some children expecting handouts of money or sweets.

Montagnard-watching seems to be a favorite ‘sport’ of travellers on ‘snap-shot safari’. Please remember to treat the locals with respect. Some travellers seem to think that the hill-tribe people are running around in ‘costumes’ for the benefit of photographers – this, of course, is not the case.

 Vietnam’s minorities have substantial autonomy and, though the official national language is Vietnamese, children still learn their local language (see the Language chapter for useful phrases). Taxes are supposed to be paid, but Hanoi is far away and it seems that if they don’t interfere with the political agenda, the Montagnards can live as they please. Police officers and members of the army in minority areas are often members of local tribal groups, and the National Assembly in Hanoi has represent by a good number of ethnic minorities.

 While there may be no official discrimination system, cultural prejudice against hill-tribe people helps ensure they remain at the bottom of the educational and economic ladder. Despite improvements in rural schooling, there are few employment opportunities. Life expectancy is low and child mortality rates are high. Those who live closer to urban centers and the coast fare better, thanks to better access to medical and education facilities

Vietnam Guide Book

Related content