There is a tendency to see all the peoples of Indochina Indochina as one homogonous group, but the truth couldn’t be further away. Vietnam alone has over 50 different ethnic minorities and the neighbouring countries also have a large number. Some of these minorities comprise as few as a hundred or so people; some are larger.
For centuries these minority people moved around the area of Indochina, attempting to find safe homes where they would be free to practice their own cultures and traditions. Not always accepted in the lands they chose, many of the minorities took to living in remote mountainous areas where they remain today. The various minorities share some customs, but in other ways retain their individuality, especially in that most have their own languages.
The ethnic minorities are very hospitable people and visitors are treated very well. It is possible to visit many groups in their villages and join with their daily lives. It is even possible to eat and sleep in family homes in the villages. Many visitors also like to buy the special ethnic costumes which the people wear.
In Vietnam , the majority of the ethnic minorities can be found in the mountainous north of the country. They lived here quietly and were regarded as mysterious or mythical creatures until the French forced their way into their lands during the colonisation of the area.
The Tay people are the largest minority in Vietnam and are related to China’s largest minority, the Zhuang. Like many of the minority peoples, they follow an animistic religion composed of ancestor and spirit worship. They mainly live in small villages at the foot of mountains where they mainly cultivate rice and vegetables. The Dao people (known in China as the Yao) are widespread across Indochina including Laos and Thailand. The Dao people usually live in houses made from wood or bamboo.
In neighbouring Laos, 31% of the population is made up from various ethnic minorities. Including the Hmong (related to the Miao of China), Yao (Mien), Dao, and Shan. Again these people can generally be found living in the hills and mountains – especially to the north. In south and central Laos can be found groups of Mon-Khmer tribes. Chinese and Thai minority groups also live here.
Cambodia has fewer ethnic minorities than its neighbours and the minorities there have, in the past, had very difficult times. Today the largest minority group is the Chinese who have been emigrating there since the 18th century, mainly from southern China. There is also the Cham, originally a Malay people who were the dominant ethnicity in Vietnam until the 15th century. Today around one million live in Cambodia where they follow the Islamic religion, unlike their counterparts in Vietnam who still follow a form of Hinduism.
Thailand too, has its share of ethnic minorities, especially in the north around Chiang Mai. Many ethnic Lao people live here and their villages are a popular attraction. Tours are organised, often using elephants for transport, allowing the visitor to experience a variety of different minority villages and lifestyles. But, the largest group in Thailand is the Chinese, mainly Chaozhou people, who emigrated here in the 1700s. Bangkok has one of the largest Chinatowns in the world and is a fascinating place to visit.
No matter where in Indochina you travel, the ethnic minority people can offer a deep insight to other cultures and ways of living. You can visit http://www.indochinaodysseytours.com to get more information about this.