A Day to Visit the Ethnic Minority Groups of Sapa

Trip Start Feb 17, 2013
Trip End Mar 21, 2013

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Friday, March 15, 2013

What a nice hotel this is!  The Sapa Elegance Hotel is not quite what the name implies but it is off to a good start.  The room is very nice, spotlessly clean, very modern inside and out.  One more day here.  The Internet is a little spotty but you can't have everything at once in this country.  It is Vietnam after all.

We met our guide at 8:00 for a walking tour to the little Hmong village of Cat Cat.  It is about 1k downhill -- and then we went downhill from there.  Getting back up was beginning to bother our minds.  Thuan took us to places that most tourists wouldn't think, or dare, to go.  First, the school (downhill).  Here we were invited to go into the classrooms.  This was a primary school, grades 1 - 5, so the little angels were studying hard and the teacher was standing at the front with a pointer.  There wasn't a little Billy sitting in the corner so I guess they were off to a good day.  Maybe 20 or so in the classroom, two to a desk.

Then we were off to the "commune center," which would read as community building to us.  This is the preschool and kindergarten center for the village. They were all having their classroom time while we were there.  One class was doing individual learning.  Each tyke would come up, one at a time, and look at a book and then recite, with his/her arms crossed.  Very serious work!  The teachers live right in the school or daycare center in conditions that would make a homeless center appealing.  If I understood Thuan correctly, they have to do this out of University for a period of time before they can get transferred to a big city.  But, by that time the women are over 30 years of age they are not desirable for marriage.  Teachers get the shit end of the stick in every country!

Finally, after about 3 kilometers straight down by my recollection, we got to a parking lot where our trusty driver, Anh, was waiting with the car.  I had to explain the American phrase "a sight for sore eyes" to them.  It would have been Easter before we got back up the mountain if we had to walk!

We were back in town by 10:30 am.  We walked to the market and checked out the price of carp, chicken feet, and cheap t-shirts.  Dayna negotiated a few high finance transactions and we were off for a quick lunch of pho in one of the better establishments on the Main Street.  At 1:30, the "boys" will pick us up for a car ride to the beginning of our afternoon trek to visit to another ethnic village.  Thus goes another day in Vietnam

We are back from our afternoon adventure, resting in our "room with a view," only there is no view at all.  The fog has rolled in and visibility is about 200 feet.  This is Sapa in the early spring.  Reminds us of tule fog in Sacramento or San Francisco fog.

Right on schedule, Anh and Thuan showed up in our Toyota Innova, ready to hit the trail.  We bumped and dodged potholes for about 10 kilometers, mostly downhill.  Where we stopped would be called a trailhead in the US, then we headed off on foot.  But, not alone!  For this trailhead was populated by about a dozen Hmong ladies, all with trade goods and in a selling mood.  Thuan and I had our own harem.  One tall one and about a dozen pint sized ladies of questionable age.  These gals are built for endurance and persistence, not beauty or speed.  They were relentless.  I had been warned on Trip Advisor that they would be there and, like a good case of diarrhea, you can't get rid of them. After about 2K they finally gave up, reminding us about all of the free pictures we had taken of them.  I assured them that I would e-mail them copies and we pressed on.  But, we had laughed with them and with our guide, and Dayna and I had great conversations with them.  They didn't lack for patience.  One of my new best friends finally told me her age.  She asked my age, which I informed her would be bad manners in America.  I told her if she told me hers I would forgive her.  She almost spoke English better than Thuan.  I figured her to be about 60, maybe 65.  She was forty -- she thought.  It's a tough life in the mountains of Vietnam.  I thought of that famous picture of the lady and her baby during the Dust Bowl.

Our goal was a 7K hike to see about three villages, two Hmong and one Red Dao village.  Since it was mostly level or downhill, it was one of the nicest afternoons we have spent.  The fog was not as bad down low.  These people are so poor and what money that is allocated by the government is mostly gone by the time it works its way down to the villages.  I could tell you so much more but this is going to be on a public website so I dare not.  We have made too many friends here that have to stay and put up with this "bullshit," a term used frequently by our guide.

When we got to the Red Dao village, the hard sell ended.  We met a very pleasant lady that ran her own shop and was busy working with her treadle sewing machine.  We decided to spend a little hard earned cash for some irresistible sewn goods. Today she is happy -- and so are we.  It has been a great day.

Installment #3 of our day:  The sun is setting and the fog is getting thicker. Sounds like time for dinner.  And we are on a mission tonight.  Last night we ate Italian, and for the rest of our visit to Vietnam we are going to be eating local due to our schedule and the hotel location.  Except for one night on a boat in Halong Bay, we are back to the Hanoi Skylark Hotel for the rest of our visit.  So, tonight it will be pure American, a hamburger!  We did find a little place that had the idea right and that will have to suffice until we can get to Salt City Burger in Utah.

After dinner we took a walk through the city square which is home to a passel of Hmong ladies.  Dayna found what she was looking for!  Our visit is complete.

Tomorrow we have a drive of 370K (250+ miles) to get back to Hanoi.  Out the door at 7:30!

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