Monday, July 17, 2017

Trekking the terraces in Sapa

Sapa was simply gorgeous.  Located in Vietnam's far North, it's a long trip from Hanoi to get there, but worth it. Home to a large, colorful and active population of hill tribes like the Black Hmong and the Red Dzao, the Sapa area is famous for its fascinating cultural diversity. It's also famous for the spectacular rice paddy terraces carved into Sapa's mountainsides over centuries. Rice is farmed here like it was 1000 years ago: with hand tools and water buffalos.

The rail station was in Lao Cai, right next the Chinese border.  From there it was a long, twisty drive through the mountains to our homestay in Ta Van Village, a Hmong tribal enclave 25 km past Sapa. 

A few Asian Water Buffalo making their way along the road to Ta Van village, guess we will slow down.
The kids call them grass-fed, reproducing rice tractors
We stayed at a lovely home stay called Lucky Daisy Buffalo House.  We had our own cabin that had an incredible view of the rice paddies.  Our bathroom was outside and we walked up the road to the bamboo bar for meals.  Dinner was served family style with other hotel guests.  It all was fantastic. 

We arrived early off the overnight train and met a few curious onlooker.  Our hotel let us hang out in an upstairs area until our room was ready.  A couple of us caught a few Zs, the rest read.


Above Scott and Whit check out our awesome cabin, even with an upstairs and lots of cool local decorations.

chillin on the deck of the Bamboo Bar

Everywhere you go in Sapa the local tribal women find you, chat and hang out.  Here's the entourage outside the bamboo Bar.  They are always offering their local hand made goods.  Sometimes it gets to be too much selling but generally they are the so lovely and kind.  Zaylie was a great customer, always in need of one of their hand knit bracelets, which they'd sell for about 5000 VN Dong (25 cents).


 Oh the kids are so adorable.  Here some lads walk up the path near our cabin and most most women have a nugget on their back.  I swear I never heard one cry.


It rained a lot, in fact every day we were there, and for most of the day.  It's so beautiful that we didn't care.  Our first day we just walked around checking out the area of the village Ta Van where we were staying.  It didn't take long for our party of 6 to double in size with these local women and girls walking with us.  They could walk for miles just asking a few questions, smiling a lot and ready to be helpful should we need it. And then at the end of the walk, perhaps "you want to buy something?"

                                                          Rice paddies everywhere

Nothing else is like that green 

                                                       Z checking out bugs
This is Mei, our guide for a serious trek, close to 7 hours, we did on day 2 in Ta Van. Her English is excellent, she knew the trails like the back of her hand, and she's funny and kind. She macheted bamboo walking sticks for us when it was obvious we needed them, she kicked steps into the sides of steep trails when we were slipping and took us on one of the most beautiful hikes we have ever been on.  Elevation, mud, waterfalls, water buffalos, so much rice, and breathtaking views. 

Clouds hover and come in and out of the valley 

This kid, cruising down the mud hill on a bamboo "sled" he made.  Note the foot holds, genius. 

Josephine and Gasper, sweet 20 somethings from Singapore joined us on the trek.  We are now friends forever on Facebook. 

I mean can you stand it?

                                                  No joke on the mud.  Our chaco sandals held up well except later in the  hike when the trail turned very steep and very muddy. It felt like you and your sandal were no longer connected.  Hiking boots were missed. Wish we could've rented Wellies.

Lach taking it in, he and Z were at the front of the pack almost the entire day 

Heres our crew of sherpas for the day.  They appeared at the beginning and never left us.  No joke I would start slipping on the trial and the 12 year old in yellow above would appear instantly, cute and steady as can be in her wellies, and give me her hand. 


Fin and Meg brought up the rear.  When we reached the summit here I said to Fin, you know what I'm going to start singing right? And without skipping a beat, "mom this is not 1930's Austria!"  I love that kid. 

These panos look better on on my phone- cant get them to wrap around here. 

Z made a friend

Ahh sweet Mei, she is 24, has 3 little boys, married at 18, and has never left Sapa.  She learned English entirely from working with tourists.  

Hmong tradition is for women not to cut their hair. Mei's traditional clothing is gorgeous, thick fabric.  She never de-layered once while the rest of us bucketed sweat in shorts and T-Shirts.

Co Captains of Trip of a Lifetime 

So Josephine fell off the trail and went down really far.  Not to worry her grandma Sherpa got her out with a little help from Scott. 


Building cairns

These pics above make my heart melt.  Z's little friend who was with her constantly and the grandma sherpa showed Z how to make all kinds of adornments out of firms and other foliage.  Simply adorable. 

Taking a break, no drying out however. 

Some seriously steep & slick trails

River cutting through the valley

We arrived in Mei's village, she snuggled her youngest babe and Josephine and Gasper sat down for a moment.  Within seconds they were swarmed by craft-toting villagers, and Gasper emerged with some very cool hand made shorts, a scarf and bracelets for all his buds in Singapore.  

A few water buffalo sharing the path in the village.
 Mei warned us not to touch the bull (the one with pale horns) as we passed. 

Playing in the river

We stopped for a late lunch after the summit at  Mei's brother's restaurant where she went to work making us spring rolls, tofu, veggies and rice.  While we drank lots of water and cold beer I caught this action. These sweet Hmong littles were watching a video of someone singing feliz  navidad completely entranced.  The power of the cell phone is EVERYWHERE. 

lunch & cool off time, food was delicious

Part of the final trek was on a road around the village, some paved some dirt.  Look closely at this pic.  These boys were having a blast pulling a brick at the end of the rope.  Kind of like walking a very small, rectangular dog. 

Stray dogs were plentiful throughout this trip.  Almost none had collars,  all females looked pregnant or nursing. 

The Rules 

chickens in rice paddy

I wish there was room in my bag to bring this painting home


We are in our van stuck behind a dump truck dropping off bricks and blocking the road both sides,  The motorbikes started queing up on both sides.  These dudes continued to play Clash of Clans in the rain no less.  Often the drivers themselves playing vids while in traffic, unbelievable. 

As we waited and contemplated getting out and moving the bricks off the road ourselves, these women appeared and tackled the job while the dudes who had been watching the truck finally clued in and got to work too.   

                             Post hike family massage.  Lach was so ticklish, not sure he could fully enjoy.

                                                          More rain but Z sure liked her new umbrella


Ninja dudes in new raincoats 

Random exercise equipment is everywhere in Asia.  Our kids decided a monsoon was a perfect time to get a work out in 

I really needed a headband so we bought one from this lovely Hmong woman.  She is 20 and the same height as Miss Z. 

traveling is tiring. 

We had to say goodbye to Sapa.  It will be missed but never forgotten. 

1 comment:

  1. There are just no words to describe the startling raw beauty of nature. That GREEN !! Just stunning. 7 hour troopers. Well worth the mud and sore muscles. Love to all. PS - I want a crown, Zaylie!!


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