Sapa - Among the H'mong

Trip Start Dec 04, 2007
Trip End Feb 26, 2008

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Friday, January 4, 2008

The arrived from Hanoi on the overnight train, around 5 AM at the rail head in a town called Lao Cai. It is located at the Chinese/Vietnamese border. The whole of Lao Cai was shrouded in a dark grey haze. The locals call it fog, but it was smog. They apparently burn the fields after harvest and before planting. They also burn wood fire in the morning in their homes, and burn the film plastic bags the blow around on the wind here. My lungs began to shut down. I was hacking and coughing for two days after my first visit to Lao Cai. As luck would have it. I would eventually return twice more , once on a trek to a village market and river float, and again to leave on the night train again. The three day visit to Sapa would be rough on my respiratory system. We tried to get out of town quickly, but we selected a driver to our hotel, but, as luck would have it he had an empty van. Therefore as all the full vans pulled out for the 60 minute accent into the mountain town of Sapa. We sat in the van for another hour awaiting the next trainload of tourists to be dumped in Lao Cai

Once on the road we climbed out above the grey haze and the air got a lot better. We were in mountainous country. This area is home to many Vietnamese minority populations. We have stepped up to a $25.00 a night hotel called Sapa Summit. I liked it,as it was higher than most in town and we had a great room on the top floor with a wonderful view of the valley enshrouded in "fog" below. 

We walked through Sapa Town the first afternoon, looking at the small lake in the middle of town, the market, and the old french colonial buildings. The French had built over 300 building in this hill town during their occupation of Indochina. Later, the Chinese invaded and destroyed most of them. The Chinese and the Vietnamese have had a troubled history in this area. 

The second day we hired a driver and a guide who took us on  long hike through three villages on minority populations. We drove outside of Sapa and parked along side the road. Then we hiked down into a valley which was terraced into rice paddies on both sides, We descended into the valley and crossed the valley floor, encountering Black H'mong and Red Dao people as we walked along. We crossed a swinging bridge, and saw the red Dao village, where we had lurch in a small village cafe. We walked all day, probably over 15 km, traversing the far side of the valley, up and down  ravines, and through bamboo forests.
The few women, kids and one old woman walked with us. The constant chatter was "Where you from?" "You buy something from me?, What's your name? You have babies?, etc, etc. 
 The constant sales pitch, diminished somewhat mid day, only to intensify at the end of our long march. All in all it was a great day among the Hmong and Red DOA People. e got a glimpse of village life, and the working paddies that had been constructed over generations of families of workers. Here in the mountains, they are only able to harvest one crop of rice per year. They manufacture cloth and embroidered goods to supplement their income. 
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