I came across the Kho Mu several times, by chance, while I was searching for other ethnic groups. In 2014, I met them while I was roaming through the valleys of Dien Bien Phu province in search of the Black Thai, and again in the Nghe An area while I was trying to find the O Du, Vietnam’s smallest ethnic group.
In my early expeditions, I only found Kho Mu villages surrounded by Thai villages, whose culture had strongly influenced the tribe’s traditions. However, during a new expedition in 2017, I discovered a more isolated village whose remote location had perhaps helped to preserve the Kho Mu culture. In this location, there were still resemblances with Thai architecture. But, the village seemed to have maintained its distinct Kho Mu identity. As for the costume, the skirt is similar to that of the Thai, but the jacket that accompanies it is very unique to the Kho Mu. On the front, the piece is decorated with silver coins. Like armor, the jacket is used to serve as protection, and is considered a lucky charm. I remember the villagers’ warm welcome and the surprise of witnessing women smoking small wooden pipes, usually a tradition that we only see in the Central Highlands of Vietnam.