Wife-snatching, Illegal Activity or the Desire for Love in Vietnam?

Wife-snatching, Illegal Activity or the Desire for Love in Vietnam?

If you are a couple facing obstacles preventing marriage-- perhaps because the girl’s parents refuse or the boy’s family cannot afford the wedding--wife-snatching is the solution to your problems.

For the Hmong people the wife-snatching tradition is an affirmation of love and the desire for a happy family: an elopement that does not involve running away. Love blossoms and the two promise that they will get together, and set a date when he will “snatch” her to become his wife.


It might sound appalling on the surface but it is actually an appealing tradition. Wife-snatching is a popular practice among the Hmong people on Vietnam’s northwest region in general and Lai Chau Province in particular.

The Hmong make up 90 percent the population of Mu Sang Commune, Phong Tho District, Lai Chau Province and the Dao ethnic people comprise the rest. In the past, when a Hmong man in Mu Sang wanted to get married, he had to meet the wedding challenges (dowry) posed by the bride-to-be’s family.

The wedding challenges could end up costing 120 kilograms of pork meat, 120 bowls of wine, 20 kilograms of rice along with VND1.5 million for the engagement and the wedding. Men are allowed to find their own partners and inform their parents about their wish to get married.


The potential groom’s family comes to the girl’s house to discuss the possibility of engagement. If the girl’s family accepts, both sides choose a good date for holding the engagement and wedding ceremonies.

The boy, with the help of uncles, aunts, friends and other relatives, makes a plan to snatch his wife as the first step to formalize their relationship.


A Wife Snatching Love Story 

Ma A Sung was born and grew up in the Sin Chai hamlet of Mu Sang Commune, while Hang Thi Xua grew uop in Mu Sang hamlet. The two were approaching the right age for getting married. They first met each other while he was tilling the fields and saw Xua looking for firewood near a mountain slope. Love blossomed and the two swore that they would get together and promised a date when he would “snatch” her to become his wife.

The plan to snatch Xua was kept secret. One day, while she was looking for wood as usual, Ma A Sung and his friends appeared, “snatch” Xua and took her to his house. Though Xua knew about the date, she was still in shock.

His family cooked a chicken in preparation for an offering, and it was only then that Xua was allowed to step into the house. Sung’s family also invited a neighbor for a meal and witness the wife-snatching process. The following day, this neighbor visited the girl’s family with two hens and bottle of wine, informing Xua’s family that she was now officially with Sung.


As per the traditions, three days after the girls is snatched (she’s not allowed to leave the house during those days), if she refuses to get married to the boy, she would offer him a bowl of wine, thank him for picking her and ask for his friendship. If she accepts the marriage, the guy’s family would start preparing for the wedding.

In the case of Xua, whose affection for Sung had already blossomed into love, the wedding proposal was accepted. Sung’s parents asked a neighbor to act as a match-maker, who came to Xua’s house and asked for details about the wedding challenges. The engagement was held right after Xua accepted the wedding proposal and a week later, the two were officially married.

The dowry, which was brought to Xua’ house the afternoon before the wedding, included VND600,000, 60 kilograms of pork meat, 60 bowls of wine and rice, not to mention the rooster. The bridal ceremony was held the following morning. She wore a red shirt, a flowery dress and green headscarf.


Like other ethnic communities, the Hmong people are monogamous. For them, wife snatching, when it is true to tradition, is an affirmation of love and desire for lifelong happiness.


Getting there: Take National Highway No.32 from Hanoi to Dien Bien (6 hours), travel another 170 km to Phong Tho. Another 27 km from Phong Tho hats you to Mu Sang.

Visitors can also take National Highway No.2 from Hanoi to Lao Cai (6hours), and travel another 68 km to Lai Chau Provinces.


Travel tip shared by Lanh Nguyen