Trip Start Sep 30, 2013
88Trip End May 31, 2014
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On Friday we took the overnight train from Hanoi to Sapa for 4 nights.
Monday 5th May
The train dumped us at Lao Cai just a couple of miles short of the border with China. From there we were packed into a 16 seater minibus for the ascent to Sapa passing some incredible terraced paddy fields - this is a very popular area for post card producers.
The journey was easy and it is a pleasure to relax in the cool fresh air.
Our hostel provided us with a great breakfast and we hung about for a while reading and just hanging out.
In the afternoon I took the opportunity to buy new 'North Face' boots, trousers and a robust poncho. Whilst some of the North Face goods are clearly sub standard or maybe just fake, I thought the treking boots looked OK - perhaps smuggled out of the factory. Anyway I will be wearing a new pair of size 8s for the next few days treking so we will see.
Sitting in the top floor of our hostel in their `Blue Sky` restaurant (there are 4 bamboo tables) overlooking the Muong Hoa river valley I have a fantastic view of hill sides, forest, terraced fields of various crops and vegetables, muddy rice paddies, Sapa town with its barking dogs and beeping motor bikes...and mount Fansipan, the highest in Vietnam. You have to be quick though, for a minute later mist can role in and visibility is reduced to just a few yards.
Sapa was `established` by the French in 1922 and became a retreat from the heat of the lowlands, but is now a popular tourist destination for trekking and meeting the local hill tribe people. Recently the hill billies have cottoned onto charging 30 dollars for a few hours walking and an overnight stay. So much so that when we arrived in our minibus with 16 tourists we were mobbed at every stop by gaggles of brightly dressed ladies offering to look after us.
However we had a tip from Leo, whom we met on Mount Rinjani in Indonesia, to go with Mama Mu, so we got our hotel man to call her on the mobile and we were sorted.
Wednesday 7th May, 6pm
We are back in our hostel in Sapa having just returned from THE MOST INTERESTING couple of days with an overnight homestay.
We stayed with Mama Mu and her family. She was married at 15, her husband only 13. They have 6 children, 4 of whom live with her. The house has a good corrugated roof and a stone floor. The walls are of rough sawn timber. The house has no running water nor waste and they (including the entire hamlet of 300 people) have no sanitary facilities. This is the most primitive environment in which we have stayed.
They cook with wood over a fire pit with no chimney; the beams above the cooking area are black with tar. After dinner the 'happy water' is produced - this is the locally distilled rice spirit, and everyone has a good time.
Mu married at 15, her husband 13. She cannot read or write but has learned sufficient English in the last year to effectively guide and host tourists. She is a remarkable lady and the family are just really nice people. The babies (siblings or cousins, it doesn't seem to matter) are looked after by any younsters old enough to pick them up. Mum goes off to the paddy field and the 5 year old will have the job of carrying baby around the houses for the morning.
The next day after a leisurely breakfast of bamboo sprouts, mushrooms, eggs and rice we trekked in much clearer conditions so that we could actually see a view or two - and what tremendous views they were! Thin strips of paddy field, mostly full of watery mud, clung precariously to the mountain side. We saw one small strip being ploughed by 3 lads, each directing a water buffalo pulling a set of wooden spikes. They were breaking up the clods of mud and carefully navigating round each other ensuring not to damage the earth embankments forming the terraces.
In all we visited seven villages
- Sa Seng
- Hong Da
- Hau Thao
- Su Pan
- Guang Ta Chai
- Ta Van
- Lao Chai
There are six distinct ethnic groups in the area, each with its own dress code and language. Mu is from the largest group, H`mong, but we also met Dzao. Mu cannot understand Dzao people (i.e she does not speak their language) even though to our eyes they are as similar as Man U and Liverpool.
Thursday 8th May
We have a day off. We need a day off after a 2 day trek. Time to rest the legs, wash some clothes, have a shower and plan the next adventure. Today we spent time on the internet and visited the local museum, catholic church, meat and veg market. We watched a funeral procession pass by.
Friday 9th May
Today we did a 1 day trek with a local Hmong guide, also called Mu. We went North of Sapa through rice paddies and past lots of really rural and interesting stuff. Many people were out in the fields working, preparing for the new rice crop. Some paddies were being ploughed by buffalo, some by hand, some by petrol rotivator. Some had bright green rice seedlings growing ready to be transplanted, other were further advanced and had already been planted out. In these parts they only have one rice crop a year.
Mu herself is from the Black Hmong (there are also Striped, White and Green Hmong), and we met some Dzao (aka Yao) and some Green Giay people, whose women consider it attractive to shave their eyebrows. They all speak different languages and dress differently.
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