Vietnam Day 3 – Sapa

Arrived at the station, which wasn’t actually in Sapa, but a lot further down the mountains.  Got crammed into a minibus with other hapless tourists, which took us all on a steep, winding route up to Sapa.  Though exhausted, the magnificent views all around on the way up woke us out of early-morning lethargy.  Eventually we arrived in Sapa town, and went to a hotel for a mediocre Vietnamese breakfast of beef noodles.  It rained for a while, which freshened the mountain air even further, and left a cloudy day, which we were later thankful for.

After breakfast we were met by our tourguide for the trip, Len.  Len is a Montagnard, one of many hill-tribe people who make good extra income from the clearly booming tourist trade.  She is, more specifically, one of the Black H’mong tribespeople.  She was very friendly, and led a group of us down a hill and through Sapa town, which is nestled in a beautiful valley and is quite close to China.  It is surrounded by cascading rice terraces, which pleasantly stayed in and around our sight for the duration of the trek, tripping beautifully down the mountains.  We were flanked on the way by some young tribespeople, and some older ones – all women and girls who were trying to make friends and sell their home-made, hand-dyed purses, bags and clothes whilst their husbands or fathers planted rice all day.  They were very friendly, and it was nice talking to them.  All of them wore identical navy blue traditional dress, with knee high grey socks tied with colourful ribbons, and were adorned with silver jewellery and huge hooped earrings.

The walk through the valley to Len’s village was tiring but the views breathtaking.  I chatted to other travellers on the way, including Jonathan (South African), Xavier and his wife (Spanish), and Leraz and Shiran (two Israeli girls).  These people were staying in the same homestay as myself, and we all got on splendidly as our walk progressed.  We encountered many beautiful scenes and saw farmers leading water buffalo around the rice fields, children playing with huge insects, lots of hill-tribe people and some lovely little villages.  Eventually, we arrived at Len’s village, and into her spacious wooden home.  Now we were exhausted, but Len suggested we go and help the farmers.  So, before we knew it, Leraz, Jonathan, and I were knee deep in sickeningly warm buffalo shit in the rice field, planting rice plants.  It was a good experience, but I kept getting it wrong.  It turns out that there is a certain knack to planting, and I don’t have it.  I kept planting the rice too deeply or much to shallow, or not in line with the other plants.  Len shouted at me that I’d never marry a local girl, as I’m useless to her if I can’t work the rice fields.  She also scolded me for being as slow as a water buffalo!  She was loving it though, and laughing her head off, as I hung my head in shame.

After half and hour, I’d had enough.  Farmers do this 12 hours a day.  My pampered Western life has left me ill-equipped to deal with the world of Vietnamese village agriculture.

In the evening, we gathered outside the house, but not before taking a dip in the lovely river.  The currents were strong, so we didn’t go far, but it was so refreshing to be down there.  I showered in the river, then headed to eat.  The food was delicious, and the beer plentiful.  I drank some ‘happy water’, had a good chat with the excellent company, then went to bed, satisfied after an extremely rewarding day.

Author: Neil

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