Travelers come to Sapa to discover the cuture and the life of ethnic minority people, from the Red Dao, Tay, Mong, Giay, Ha Nhi, and other groups. The own unique cultural practices, as well as a few, sometime surprising, taboos make Sapa become a well – known travel destination in Northwest Vietnam.
Here are some pieces of advice that can help you fit right in with your gracious hosts when you visit these mountain villages and stilt houses in your Vietnam Tours.
When entering villages:
Many villages in Lao Cai have a ‘forbid forest’ on their land for spirit worship. A large tree or rock used for ceremonies will hold various sacred items. Villages carefully preserve these forests and any disrespectful acts in the area are strictly prohibited. Otherwise, many villages will set up a special gate at the entrance of village when they conduct traditional ceremonies of spirit worship or cleansing. For example, Ha Nhi villages put up a gate adorned with chicken heads and wings, wooden knives and swords, and other groups like the Tay, Thai, Giay, Lao, Bo Y and Xa Pho also set up village gates, sometimes holding a cow’s jawbone, indicating that a ceremony is in progress. During these times, strangers are not typically allowed into the villages. The tour guide, of course, can interpret all this for you to avoid any misunderstanding.
When visiting houses:
Do not enter the house if there is a bunch of leaves or woven greenery hanging in front of a door of stairway. If they hang this, this is generally a signal banning travelers from entering. Especially, Black Ha Nhi’s houses have two entrances, and visitors are only allowed pass through the first door. Thai people’s houses have separate stairways, one for women and the other one for men. Each house has an ancestor worship room with different decoration. Visitors should avoid placing any item near the altar or laying hands there.
Fire is used not only to cook, but also to welcome guests and worship the Fire God. As a result, taboos associated with fire include turning your back to the fire, and resting your foot on or moving the rocks used to hold the cooking pot, since the spirit is said to reside in those rocks. The Tay, Thai, Nung, Giay, Bo, Lao and Lu people avoid placing the handle of a pan on the fire parallel with the ceiling beams; only the bodies of the dead are placed in this direction inside the house. When adding wood to the fire, always put in the larger end of the wood first – reversing this is said to cause complications when the family’s daughter gives birth.
The door and main post are also considered sacred. Avoid sitting or leaning on the doorframe or main post, and don’t hang hats or jackets there. The Thai, Tay, Khang, La Ha and Phu La people will not bring fresh greens, tree branches or vegetables into the house through the primary door, but use the other entry instead. Whistling inside the house is not merely rude, but is considered a means of calling evil spirits and disasters.
When meeting someone, exhibit sincerity with a smile and a slight bow, easy gestures to get past the language barrier. When bidding farewell, a handshake and a firm smile are always understood. Avoid touching the head, particularly with children, because the soul residing in the head may flee and weaken the kids if frightened by a stranger.
Names such as Meo or Man to refer to Mong and Dao people are considered slurs and should never be used. Aggressive behavior or argument, particularly with the elderly, women and children, is never acceptable.
Seating position when eating is important. The Giay and Dao people reserve seats nearest the altar for the oldest person or most distinguished guest. Mong people dedicate that seat to the spirit of parents who have passed away. Thai, Tay and Muong place two small cups next to the window for the ancestors. Visitors should avoid sitting in the prominent seats or next to local elders unless specifically invited by the host. Never sit with your back to the altar or directly in front of it.
Before beginning a meal, travelers should wait for the host to complete the ceremonious invitation to the ancestors and everyone present.
Lay perpendicular to the ceiling beams, not parallel (the position of dead), avoid sleeping late into the morning, and never sleep under the altar or point your legs toward it
Hope these tips above can help you a lot in your Vietnam holidays.