Vietnam – Sapa, 19 December 2004

Another of those administrative confusions in the morning. At a little after 08 30, my guide for the day comes knocking on my door, asking me to check out of my hotel, even though I thought I had another night in Sapa. But well, I just did as I was told, and lugged my pack across the street to put in the locker room.

I’m glad I had my breakfast of pancakes with banana and chocolate, otherwise I would not have the energy for the long trek that was to follow. I didn’t think 16km was much when the guide briefed me, but boy, was I glad I packed light, or I would have died midway merely from all the walking and trekking.
The itinerary involved visiting 3 villages in the valley along the river that originated from the silver waterfalls, with minority people from the Hmong and the Zay. It doesn’t seem much on paper, but when considering that Sapa town is like 1500m above them, and this inovlved a circuituous downhill and slippery trek, that’s when things get much harder, as it involved trying to follow the guide, while not losing your footing, falling down the trecherous cliffs.
After a very long 2hr walk, which brought us from mid-mountain down to the valley and across the river as well, we finally reached the Hmong village of Lao Chai, where the people dress in dark clothing, with coloured seams. There, we stopped for a lunch of baguette with omelette and cheese, along with a platter of cucumbers and tomatoes. Dessert was one banana each.
After lunch, the trek continued. However, things were easier, either because of the energy boost, or the flat landscape and wider paths. The next two hours were of relative ease, leaving me the energy to take in my surroundings, and also the different people from the different tribes. Although I didn’t notice much about architectural differences in house-building between the Zay and Hmong people, their clothes definitely look different. The Zay people wear clothes that are Chinese in design, though the colour combination is very un-Chinese.
Lifestyle-wise, the minority still support themselves through agriculture with some animal husbandry, with extra income coming from selling handicraft to tourists. Animals running wild include pigs, chickens, dogs, cats and ducks.
The journey back to the main road was nothing short of torturous. When the guide first pointed to the house with the red roof as our final destination, I thought he was just kidding me, as it was no only high up in the mountain, but it was on the other side of the mountain! But well, it turns out that Vietnamese don’t really have a sense of humour, and he meant what he said, and that was indeed where we had to go. It was a torturous journey which involved climbing up steep, narrow slopes at 70 degrees with no aid whatsoever, and going back down similar slopes, that every dip and peak was a torture, as it’s hard to imagine having to go down, only to have to go up again. But well, trek I did, and all 16km of it, that at the end of it all, I had 5 nasty blisters. Tiring as it is, I’m glad I did it, as it is very beautiful in the valley, and you get a peek into the more real lives of the minority people, other than their roles as peddlars on the streets. Having said that, one must admire how fit these people are, for they trek this path every day of their lives, effortlessly carrying their heavy loads for sale in Sapa town.
Tonight wasn’t as dismal as last night, as I had the company of Cayla’s Israeli friends. They are a very hospitable bunch, inviting all to join and share with them. Shortly after, Cayla also joined us upon notice that I was dining at Hotel Royal. Amazing how efficient this whole Israeli network is! Late night entertainment involved watching cartoons on cartoon network.

Sapa Mountains.jpg

Mountainous Sapa

Red Dao Lady.jpg

Red Dao Lady

Valley of Sapa.jpg

Valley in Sapa

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