Ciarán & Elaine's Travelog

Monday, July 02, 2007

Sapa - day 1

4 hours after getting off the boat from Halong we boarded the overnight train to Sapa, an area in the North West which is renowned for being one of the most beautiful places in Vietnam. Sapa is a small town in the middle of some of the highest mountains in the country and is surrounded by small villages of minority tribes. It was our last place to visit in Vietnam and we weren't disappointed.

We arrived at the station at 6am and immediately noticed how much cooler it was up here - at least 10° less than Hanoi - such a relief! As we drove higher into the mountains from the train station our breath was taken away by the stunning scenery, thousands of terraced rice paddies being overshadowed by towering mountains and deep valleys. It reminded us so much of the Sacred Valley in Peru, just much greener.

After checking into our hotel we met our guide for the next two days, a young 19 year old girl called Mu who is from the Black H'mong Tribe. Mu has never been to school but is so intelligent and articulate, speaking 3 languages but only recently learning how to read and write. Between the two days of the tour she gave us a little insight into what it's like to be from a minority tribe. She doesn't consider herself Vietnamese but H'Mong and has never danced or been to a bar because if anyone else from her tribe saw her she'd get a bad name. She's got great ambition though and is determined to open up her own tour company within the next couple of years.

We set off for Cat Cat village where the people mainly wear traditional tribal clothes which has been woven from hemp and dyed from indigo leaves. Each family has a couple of rice terraces for themselves which they use for food but they grow cardamon to earn money, although it takes 6 years for each crop to mature they can get up to US$6 per kilo which is a huge amount of money here. It's a hard life but everyone had a smile and a wave and were very welcoming. The children were having a great time running around like little ragamuffins.

They live a very basic life, how we'd imagine Ireland 150 - 200 years ago, no electricity with everyone living in an old wooden house consisting of just one room as kitchen, bedrooms and living area. The typical family home will house not only the mother, father and children but also the married children and their children, sometimes up to 15 people in a tiny little place. Most people are married by 16 (usually arranged and always to someone in their tribe) and by 20 have a couple of their own kids. The women usually work in Sapa, selling woven goods and silver to the tourists while the men work in the forests and rice fields.

It was a great experience to visit some H'mong people in their home and to see how such a simple life can still be so happy. Further down through Cat Cat we reached a lovely waterfall where we had a break before jumping on the back of motorbikes to race up the hill before the rain came.

In the afternoon the rain poured down but as we only had two days in Sapa we decided that we should fit in as much as possible. We donned the most hideous poncho's (although I like to think I looked better in mine than Ciaran.....) and headed up Ham Rong mountain which is another big tourist attraction because of the views of Fan Si Pan the tallest mountain in Vietnam and also to see the town through the clouds. It was worth getting wet, we had a lovely afternoon wandering around but were glad when we got back to the hotel and dried off.


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