Countries Lolo Traditional Dress Traditional Dress & Textiles Traditional Textiles Tribes Vietnam

Lung Cu LoLo Ethnic Minority, Ha Giang, Vietnam

Lolo Lung Cu Village haute culture ethnic fashion costume vietnam

“No. No you can not see”, was the answer I was not willing to accept when investigating the location of the elusive Lolo people. The Lolo people (also known as the Yi people in China) are a very special 1 in 54 ethnic minorities from Vietnam living in the tiny remote village of  Lung Cu. Lolo people believe in folkloric stories, sharing tales of the past through dancing, festivals and playing music on sacred brass drums. They worship and celebrate legends, spirits and gods of nature. Lolo people have no distinguishable identifying features in the day time because they wear regular western clothes, but during  very special occasions a few times a year the women wear the most elaborate, vibrant and intricate costumes. 

There are 3 groups of LoLo ethnicities living in North Vietnam, the Flower LoLo of Meo Vac, the Lolo Noir of Bao Lac and the Red Lolo of Lung Cu. All 3 Lolo people follow similar cultural traditions and beliefs but have very different visual identities through the costumes that they wear. In this post I will focus on the Red Lolo of Lung Cu.

Lolo lung cu ethnic minority costume ha giant north vietnam

Any opportunity to dress up in Red Lolo costume and parade around the woods for a bit.

Looking for the Lolo 

Despite the amazing sartorial efforts of the Lolo women this is not the reason tourists visit Lung Cu. Lung Cu is on the boarder line of China’s Yunnan province and home the what the Vietnamese claim to be the world’s largest flying flag. It is a meaningful destination for Vietnamese nationals as it is the most Northern town on the Vietnam map. The government have recently paved a new 22 km road from Dong Van to Lung Cu, so patriotic locals can post photos of selfies giving China the middle finger (not really, but due to the latest political tensions kids will be kids). The local Vietnamese and Chinese army patrol this area throughout the day and want to see both your passport and Ha Giang permit on demand (see footnotes).

At the entrance to the tower is a shop where you can buy your admission ticket. I actually never made it up the tower because I spied some traditional costumes out of the corner of my eye and I discovered the owner of the shop was Lolo minority. I indicated to the owner that I was interested in meeting more Lolo people in order to photograph and research their famous costumes. He offered to show me how to wear the costume and take me to visit his family in the nearby Lolo village for 150.000 vnd.

Lolo lung cu village ha giang cultural costume

Lolo headwear is pleated multiple times in the center and folded back over the head.

LoLo Costume Details

Visiting the Lolo Village

There were both positive and negative aspects of this experience which I hope to aid anyone else interested in Lolo people, costume and culture to avoid. Trying on the costume was really fun, especially seeing how the complicated headdress was worn (see the video below), but visiting his family on this occasion felt slightly intrusive. The shop owner was a seemingly nice guy but it was became obvious all to late that he was pimping his mother without permission just to make a quick buck. On arrival to the house his mother and father were not too pleased about the unannounced arrangement and  looked pretty put out.

Now as a researcher at the time I didn’t know if this would be my only opportunity to see a authentic costume on a Lolo person. I have visited many families in the past that have mostly welcomed my interest and enthusiasm in the hard work and craftsmanship that goes into making their clothes. But it is important to remember to respect peoples space and that you are a guest in their home.  Many hill tribe people live extremely private lives, cut off from people in neighboring towns and cities, never mind meeting a foreigner.  The awkwardness eventually dispersed and I was able to take so photos and ask some questions without any animosity.

lung Cu lolo village ha giang vietnam

Lolo man returns home after harvesting corn, the dad was not too pleased to see tourists at his house.

lolo lung cu woman cultural costume

Lolo elder, the mother of the shop owner wears more simple version of the cultural costume.

Costumes at Cafe Cu Bac

Instead of visiting the shop owners house, what you could do is ask for directions to Cafe Cu Bac. Owned by a Lolo family with investment from a Japanese couple, Cafe Cu Bac is lovely little farm house coffee shop located in the heart of the Lolo village. The cafes aim is to bring tourists to the village and raise money for local families. We found it after walking around the village for a few minutes but it is sign posted from the road, followed by some very discreet blue arrows painted on the side of a building. I suggest you use google translate before you go. Write clearly on a big piece of paper that you are looking for directions to the Lolo village and Cafe Cu Bac. Once we arrived we ordered lots of drinks and with the help from my translator, a lot of waiting, perseverance, and excessive smiling the owner happily agreed to show me her costume, and let me film and photograph her wearing it for the website.

Seeing this outfit come together was one of the happiest moments of my travels so far, this is because there was a very sobering time when I thought “I’ve just motorbiked 400km and I’m not going to see any of them”. All the websites, books and people kept saying “No. No you cannot see”. Yet I knew if these resources had all seen then so could I. The costume was far beyond my expectation, being so outlandishly complicated, colorful and out of context in such a remote part of the world.

The Red Lolo costume consists of trousers, skirt, leg warmers, wrap skirt, belts and tassels, collared shirt, very long sleeved top pleated into the cuff, 3 turban head scarfs and jewelry. All pieces of the costume are embellished with a wide range of textile techniques such as batik, appliqué, intricate embroidered motifs and patterns, tassels, ribbons and buttons. Take a minute to watch this rare video of the Lolo lady dressing in her traditional cultural costume.

Lolo lung cu woman in ethnic costume outside cafe

Lolo lady wearing full cultural costume is the owner of Cafe Cuc Bac in Lung Cu Village

lolo lung cu costume from the back vietnam

Lolo Lung Cu cultural costume from the back

really big bike ride and haute culture lolo lung cu vietnam

My good friend James Thomas from the Really Big Bike Ride blog came along for the ride

All smiles were completely genuine in the making of this photo. The happiest I've ever been to see this costume.

All smiles were completely genuine in the making of this photo. The happiest I’ve ever been to finally see this costume.

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Getting There
Looking at a paper map you will see that there is no road to leading to Lung Cu, and reading various travel websites will only confuse you by saying there is a road, but it is only accessible by locals. Luckily I can say to anyone out there reading this blog that YOU CAN see the Lolo people, and THERE IS a brand new road leading to Lung Cu.

Fortunately for me, I bumped into Johnny Nam Tram, the same motorbike tour leader that I had previously booked on a motorbike tour in Ha Giang back in March. Johnny was guiding two super cool english girls (one of which had actually interviewed Dave Grohl) who had booked a tour with him after reading about my adventure on Haute Culture Blog.

Map from Dong Van to Lung Cu

Lung Cu Vietnam ha Giang

Scenery on the way to Lung Cu Village from Dong Van in Ha Giang province North Vietnam

Important Information
The Vietnamese army patrol this area throughout the day and want to see both your passport and Ha Giang permit (available for 220.00 vnd form the police station in Ha Giang city) on demand.

Where to Stay
Stay at one of the many hotels and guest houses in Dong Van. Going to Lung Cu is a day visit from Dong Van city. I didn’t see anywhere to stay in Lung Cu when I was there. Allow at least 1 hour traveling time in each direction.

Useful Resources

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  • John Moulds
    October 6, 2015 at 10:22 pm

    Love your story and photos about the Lo Lo of Lung Cu. Unfortunately I had to wait until I went to Meo Vac to get my photos of a little girl in traditional Lo Lo clothing. It cost me 200,000 Dong or $10 !!!
    There is something magical about the Vietnamese traditional clothing and there are so many different groups, that you could spend a lifetime trying to see them all. I have been fortunate to have visited more than most people.
    Great site Donna, you should be very proud of it and your achievements, regards, John…

    • donna
      October 7, 2015 at 12:06 am

      thanks John comments like that from enthusiasts like you make me feel proud. I also had to pay to see the costume in meo vac because it was a full moon and bad luck. I will post that article soon.

      • Bryan Mayell
        August 11, 2016 at 2:44 pm

        Doesn’t that kind of destroy the mysticism of the whole thing? Like, if the uniform isn’t something they would normally wear based on their superstition of the lunar cycle; and you’re paying them to wear it just for a photo. Makes it sounds like they’re jumping through hoops to get a few dollars from tourists.

        • donna
          August 12, 2016 at 11:28 am

          Hi Bryan, many ethic tribes save their tradition dress for special occasions thus not to get I damaged. Most live in extremely rural areas with little opportunity to earn money. I find personally in my work it is a welcome gesture to pay a little money for somebodies time to show me how their clothes and textiles are worn and made. It makes them feel that their time is appreciated. No body jumped through hoops. The younger women in my photos don’t believe in the same superstitions as their grand parents.

        • John Moulds.
          August 12, 2016 at 12:22 pm

          Hi Bryan, the traditional clothing that these Lo Lo people wear take over a year to sow by hand. It is very time-consuming and labour intensive to make. Nowadays they only wear them on special occasions like weddings. They ask for a few dollars and who cares, to see the enjoyment they get just to put on the clothes and the delight they have when they get your reaction is far greater than the piddling amount of money it costs. I have been to Meo Vac 5 times and only the last time did I manage to have a girl dress up for me. In Lung Cu I had no luck and was nearly devoured by a mongrel dog! I have a photo of a Lo Lo girl on my site, below. Cheers Bryan, regards, John…

  • Lauren E
    October 26, 2015 at 8:40 pm

    This post was amazing! I saw it originally as a guest post but had to make sure I didn’t miss anything 😉 You’re a wonderful explorer!

    • donna
      October 26, 2015 at 10:48 pm

      Thanks Lauren that so wonderful to hear, I’m glad you enjoyed the post. subscribe to the newsletter and keep in touch there loads more to come!

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