Hmong Wedding

Last year I spent twelve weeks working on a photography project with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF—That’s Doctors Without Borders for the Americans) in the Xamti settlement of Houaphanh Province, Laos. During that time, I met a wonderful Hmong/Lao translator named Noy. I was excited to find out that she was going to marry and that I was invited to the wedding. This was an event I wasn’t going to miss…

Photo Hmong Wedding

Noy (right) Wearing Her Silver Bridal Necklace

Several of the MSF crew and I drove to Nong Het which is about eight miles from the border with Vietnam. What we thought would be a short jaunt to Noy’s village turned out to be a 35 kilometer trek through several villages and some stunning mountain landscape. When we arrived, we were ushered into a dark hall for what was basically a meet and greet with close friends and relatives. We were served a snack of beef in ginger sauce and mustard greens with a dangerously hot pepper sauce, and also large bottles of Beer Lao.

Photo Hmong Wedding

A Lot Of Drinking, A Lot Of Eating, And A Lot Of Not Exactly Understanding What Was Being Said—Along With A Lot Of Smiling.

Photo Hmong Wedding

I Think I Count At Least Seven Nationalities Here… How Many Tribes? I Have No Idea!


After that came the Baci ceremony which first entails giving the bride and groom your best wishes while tying a string from the Pha Kwan ceremonial piece around the person’s wrist. That then spreads to the whole group and all the wedding party does the same.

Photo Hmong Wedding

The Couple Being Blessed By A Village Elder. The Pha Kwan Ceremonial Arrangement Can Be Seen To The Right.


At that point, the Pha Kwan ceremonial arrangement, a large ornate receptacle (for monetary gifts for the couple), and a portrait of the couple are moved to the archway near the entrance of the wedding. The couple and their families form two lines to greet friends and villagers.

Photo Hmong Wedding

Near The Bamboo Arch.


And… each person that comes into the wedding takes strings from the Pha Kwan and ties them to the bride’s and groom’s wrists and deposits their gift into the gold receptacle.

Photo Hmong Wedding

Giving Well Wishes As You Tie The String.


And believe me… they get a lot of well wishes! Look at Noy’s wrist!

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You Can Cut The Strings Off After Three Days Or Leave Them Until They Fall Off.


During this time an immense amount of food is being prepared.

Photo Hmong Wedding

One Of THREE Pots This Size Making Rice!

This fine young lady (I think she was probably about twelve) seemed to be single handedly keeping the dining area functioning smoothly (I photographed her later in the evening when she was at full speed, but she was gracious enough to stop and pose for me).

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Keeping Order In The Dining Area!


While the food is being prepared and the wedding couple is greeting guests, out come the cameras. Here are some wedding attendees.

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Local Hmong Girls In Their Finest.


The translator and the midwife:

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Noy And Rebecca! Noy And Rebecca! Noy And Rebecca!


And finally… the happy couple!

Photo Hmong Wedding

The Colors…


I want to thank Noy and her husband, their families, and their village for their amazing hospitality and allowing me the honor of attending a once-in-a-lifetime event. Thank you!

This entry was posted in Color Photography, Travel and tagged , .


  1. Rex Eacho February 7, 2014 at 4:32 am #

    Nice experience for you!

    • Jon Witsell February 8, 2014 at 2:04 am #

      Hey Rex!

      Yeah, unreal. What a beautiful people and place!

  2. Noy December 10, 2016 at 1:51 am #

    I read 2 round, it is wonderful record…I happy to read a little Hmong couple shot story record by you “Jon”, I’m totally love it.

    • Jon Witsell December 10, 2016 at 7:51 am #

      Hi Noy!

      It was my pleasure, I had a wonderful time in the village. It was an experience I’ll never forget!

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