Sarah J. Carlson

Contemporary Young Adult Author

Tag Archives: travel

Children from the Hmong hill tribes near Sapa, Vietnam


Please refer to this post for back story 😛 Professionally, I am a school psychologist, so I am interested in the lives of children around the world.

So women and girls both try to sell crafts to tourists.


Hoping tourists will give them candy for the new year.


Entering into a Hmong village/tourism area, where buses drop people off.


Hmong boys at the market in Sapa.


A girl and her friends hoping to sell bracelets to tourists.


Hmong boys following a group of three girls. It is tradition for boys to kidnap the girls they want to marry. I can’t say if that’s what these boys were up to 😛 That’s just what our guide told us.


Hmong girls doing laundry while men fish.


Kids carrying a bag of apples home from Sapa.


The yellow building on top of the hill is a school. In Vietnam, government buildings are yellow.


A picture from the front of a school. Ho Chi Minh loves the children.

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Portraits from hill tribes living in the hills near Sapa, Northern Vietnam


I visited Northern Vietnam during Tet, lunar new year, which was in February this year.

P1110026My favorite place was Sapa, a town nestled in the mountains 30 miles from the border with China. We took an overnight train ride from Hanoi to get there, followed by probably an hour bus ride. The area around Sapa is breath-taking.



Terraced rice fields have been cut into all the hillsides, farmed by the hill tribes in the region, including Hmong and Dao. The Hmong were trained and used as soldiers by the US during the Vietnam War (or the American War as all our Vietnamese tour guides called it). After the Vietnam War, thousands of Hmong refugees came to the United States, to places like Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Madison WI, LaCrosse WI, and cities in California. There are estimated to be 300,000 Hmong now living in the US.

These tribes were once nomadic, but the Vietnamese government has confined them to plots of land, where they now construct houses. Because of the climate, rice can only be planted and harvested once a year. In Southern Vietnam, they can have three harvests. Indigenous families still living in the hills around Sapa survive by sustenance farming and selling handicrafts to tourists, often a bit too…enthusiastically, let’s say. But it’s for their survival and the survival of their children. Our guide, who comes from the Red Dao tribe and still lives in her hill village, said reproductive education is basically non-existent, so, without knowing how to prevent pregnancy, families can grow too large to support.The Vietnamese government has built schools for the hill tribes and expects children to go, but farming and other more survival-based activities can often take priority over education.

Sadly, the villages we went to almost felt like a zoo maybe? Or a museum? Like it the tribes were on display for tourist reasons. Though it perhaps wasn’t as bad as the Long Neck tribes on display in Thailand–which is a completely different, terrible story.

Here’s an example of what seemed to me to be a typical house from a hill tribe village:

P1110703The terraced rice paddies and tribal villages:


For this post, I’ve focused on portraits of the women who hike miles in and out of Sapa every day to sell the things they made to tourists. On our hike to their village, we were followed by a group of women who were very nice and would help you (unnecessarily) on rocky parts of the path, ask you questions using the English they’ve picked up from other tourists, and give you little animals or flowers they’ve made from blades of grass. When you get to their village, they become…pushy, let’s say…in trying to get you to buy their crafts for really quite cheap prices (like $1). It can get tricky because if you buy from one, then the others also want you to buy, too, especially if they come from different families. What makes it even harder is that you know it’s about feeding their families and likely an outcome of having their traditional ways of life changed by modern influence and tourism.

Women wearing black outfits are Black Hmong; different Hmong groups have different colors: black, blue, green, white, flower. (I cannot guarantee I have all the colors of the Hmong tribes correct). Woman wearing red scarves on their heads are Red Dao.


A Black Hmong woman who dyes textiles using indigo. She uses beeswax on the fabric before dying to create patterns on the cloth, then embroiders the fabric. I bought a bag from her. It took her three weeks to make. Cost: $25.


A young family hiking to Sapa with their baby.


Our Red Dao guide, who was AMAZING. Such a nice woman and provided insight into the culture of the Hmong and Dao peoples and the history/politics affecting their lives. Also, tourists heading into Cat Cat Village, a Hmong village tourist town.


It takes years for a family to save enough money to buy a motorbike.


Our guide showing us the indigo plant, used to dye textiles


Red Dao and Hmong women hoping to sell their crafts to tourists in Sapa. They hiked miles from their hill villages to get there.


Hmong women following us from Sapa as we hike with our guide toward some of the hill tribe villages.

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Though I will say things seemed better for these people than what I saw in Cambodia, which will be another series of posts.

If you would like to learn more about the Hmong history and people, here’s a great resource.

Pictures from the Great Ocean Road, Victoria, Australia


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So my husband and I recently visited Australia for an epic road trip of awesome. We flew into Melbourne, drove west to Peterborough to catch some of the Great Ocean Road and the Twelve Apostles, then drove many hours to Sydney. n the way there, we hit up Wilson’s Promontory and Montague Island to see fairy penguins. After Syndey, we drove over to the Blue Mountains THEN back to Melbourne. I believe we put like 3000 km on our rental car. Covered a sizable chunk of Oz too 😛 And we had a manual, so my husband had to drive 😛

This was one of the most beautiful coastal drives I’ve ever done. Though I will be honest, the Antrim Coast in Northern Ireland MAY be slighter better, which (obviously) is saying a lot!

What’s the most scenic drive you’ve ever done?

On safari in Australia


Lots of amazing animal encounters so far…. Thankfully none of the poisonous variety lol. Koalas, kangaroos, kookaburas, wombats, emus, parrot things, and one thing I forgot the name of but it looked liked a hedgehog. So many Australian animals start with K!  Oh, and cows. Lots of cows. Like more cows than people.

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All I have to say about this one is… NONE SHALL PASS!!!


UPDATE!!!! The hedgehog thing is called a Echidna. Thanks to a friend for helping me out!

Two months, five countries, four islands…. Now back to writing your perpetually-nearly-finished novel and building your social media empire, Sarah J. Carlson!!!


Yeah, so this is me right now.

Daily-Life-GIFs-13-Exhausted-Guy-CollapsesAs I said in my ridiculously long, hopefully attention-grabbing title, I’ve been doing a little bit of traveling. Not only have I been traveling, as the official resident of Southeast Asia, that has made me a tour guide of sorts for the four fabulous, wonderful, amazing people who spent thousands of dollars to come over to Singapore et al to spend time with me. So…Singapore, Ho Chi Mihn City (Viet Nam), Koh Lanta Island and Chiang Mai (Thailand), Siem Reap/Angkor Wat (Cambodia), Bintan Island and Bali (Indonesia). Also one minor motorbike accident and an ambulance ride to the Cambodian hospital (um… interesting, though I don’t remember most of it because I had a concussion). Let’s just say, this white girl ended up in a private room that housed other medical supplies while the waiting room was filled with locals on cots. So sad :,(  Cheap ambulance ride… 30 USD. Annnnnyway, I think that’s all the places I’ve been with my friends and family. Yeah, I’ve covered Indochina pretty well now, though there still is Laos and Myanmar….

It has been an exciting, expensive, and EXHAUSTING life that I’ve been blessed to live for the past two months. I can do without budget airlines for awhile. Air Asia, you kind of suck. Now it’s all coming to an end and it’s back to what I call homeostasis for one Sarah J.C. Singapore normal, if you will. Also that means I will get back to working on my novels, which is pretty exciting–particularly since I made a shocking discovery the week before my Southeast Asian Travel Extravaganza while doing what I really THOUGHT was a final revision. That realization…the reason why I didn’t particularly care for one of my characters. This launched a pretty major re-write that got interrupted by all that pesky travel 😛

panicSo anyway, now it’s back to it…. Finishing up that major re-haul of my novel and re-starting the whole blogging thing. Like for real, I mean. I have been lazily posting pictures so I can get a gold star or whatever and say I’m still blogging, but I mean to get back to the whole non-writers don’t understand/promoting my work/writing in general/on being the token Yank kind of thing. Oh and posting proper pictures from my real camera (not just uploading from my iPhone cuz it’s easy) with details on my travel-ventures. Oh, the motorbike accident was just a teaser! There were very dodgy ferry rides, near ship wreck on a longtail boat, elephants, lady boys, many temples, jungle exploration complete with leeches, cat poop coffee, stegosaurus carvings in the Tomb Raider temple, extremely depressing poverty, massive monitor lizards, very annoying tourists (NOT American!), shooting guns with the Vietnamese army, durian and so, so, so much more. Plenty of fresh creative fuel for writing. Not gonna lie, I seriously contemplated taking pictures of my bruised up face daily to document the healing process in order to describe it in my novel.

But really, here’s how I feel about the return to homeostasis and finally, FINALLY getting back to writing…

funny-gifs-i-get-excited-about-insurance-tooAnyway…how do you get restarted after a writing/blogging/life hiatus?

Side note: To see my iPhone adventure pics, click on my Photography category, or Samples of Southeast Asia