The Kiem Mien (»Red Yiao«) from Sa Pa, Lào Cai Province, North Vietnam

At home in the mountains of North Vietnam, having emigrated from China in the 18th century, the Yao people probably originally came from Mongolia and Tibet. The Yao were rashly categorised into »Red Yao« and »White Yao« (also known as »Yao with white trousers«), questionable classifications from an ethnological perspective, as these are not names they call themselves.

However, as no other formal names for these groups have been established, this is how they are currently referred to. The red scarves piled high onto their heads  – edges frequently seamed with French centime coins – which look like huge pillows, earned the Red Yao their name. The Yao place great value on material possessions and their outward appearance, shaving their eyebrows and hairline to make their faces appear larger and rounder. The women traditionally wear long embroidered indigo or black coats and trousers belted with coloured sashes, half stockings and headscarves. The men wear a much more modestly decorated tunic jacket, and simple indigo-dyed trousers. The Yao are masterful embroiderers, but do not weave that much. Their designs are not sketched out in advance, but are drawn freehand from memory, as they are stitched. These decorative elements serve to embellish key areas, and adhere to well-balanced design principles.

Like their neighbours, the Hmong, the Yao from Lào Cai are also famous for their »love market«, which takes place every Saturday evening in the old colonial summer resort of Sa Pa. Since the 1990s, Sa Pa has attracted increasing numbers of tourists, who come here to buy textiles and souvenirs sold by the local population, who have also come here for the »dating market«. However, it isn’t only for singles – married people also come here to meet other partners. The Hmong have an old saying: »Married people can love many people, before or after they are married.«

Couples living arranged marriages are also allowed to have lovers, whom they meet up with once a year at the market in Sa Pa; an admirably mature and sensible approach to love, desire and long-term relationships.

Read more about the nations in Indochina 

Pictures, right side, from top to bottom

1. Red Yao from Phong Tho, Northern vietnam. 1922. This group sewed the silver ornaments directly on the tunics and uses nobibs like the yao from Sapa. 

2. May Chao and her mother at the sapa market. Northern vietnam. 

3. Red Yao, Sapa/Lao Cai 1925, From: The Yao, Jess G. Pourret,River Books Bangkok

4. Folk costume of the Yao woman at the woman´s museum in  Hanoi. 

5. The headwear looks like big fat cushions. make sense with the shaved eyebrowns and hairline. 

Pictures, left side, from top to bottom: 

6. At the market in  Sapa/Lao Cai/northern vietnam

7. The “Pan Hu”, the symbol of the anchestor of the yao on the back of the jackets and coats.

8. Here you can see the variations of the yao costumes. From: The Yao, Jess G. Pourret,River Books Bangkok 

9. In the main the yao from Sapa still wearing there old costumes. Specially against the cold the make today combinations with modern anoraks and shoes. Of course they are wearing modern outfits when the go to Hanoi or something else like this.  

10. Bad glasses – good work. The embroiderys from the yao woman are still excellent.