The Hmong, Yao, and Pathen with a population of 1.8 million live in the northern mountainous provinces, with a few groups living further south towards central Vietnam. The Hmong live in the highlands, while the Yao and Pa-then are concentrated mainly in the midlands.
Originally almost exclusively dry rice cultivations and shifting cultivators, nowadays they also cultivate wet-rice paddies on hill slopes. The Hmong and Pathen live in house built on the ground. Varying from place to place, Yao people live in houses built half on the ground and half on stilts. Textiles, embroidery, and batik are sophisticated. The Hmong metalwork is highly developed.
The kinship relationships of yao people are very close, marked through middle names that identify lineages. Among the Hmong and Pathen, people sharing the same lineage name are considered relatives and are not allowed to marry each other. The Yao, strongly influenced by Tao-ism and Confucianism, use characters of Chinese orgin to write ritual texts and poems.