Our second excursion from our Hanoi base at the Winter Hostel was four night/ three day trip to the mountains of Sapa. The first night would be spent in an AC bus which picked us up from a place near to the hostel. We settled in for the night, and woke up at 6am the next morning in the Sapa bus depot.
Initially there was some confusion, as we wondered around the bus park with our tour ticket, looking for someone who might have the faintest idea where where we should go. Eventually, a bleary eyed girl showed up from our hotel, and feelings of annoyance turned to relief, and then to guilt that this poor girl had had her sleep disturbed in order to collect us.
We dumped our bags and had some breakfast, before being picked up by our guide. The first day of the tour was a trip to the craft village, which was down the hill from Sapa. There were some spectacular views along the way.
Our guide pointed out the hemp plants that were growing all around the village. We were assured that the locals were not all pot-heads. Indeed, the potency of these mountain herbs may have been a disappointment for those used to the purpose-bred strains produced in European hydroponic environments.
However, they were very useful for producing hemp twine, which the Hmong people use to make their clothing. The vendors would use any spare moment to hand-spin this hemp, while they roamed around trying to find buyers for the contents of the woven baskets that they carried on their backs.
In the village, we were shown the production method by which the intricately patterned scarfs were produced. They took the hemp cloth, applied honey in star, coil and linear motifs, and then applied the dye (made from a local plant extract-called indigo), which would only soak into the cloth where there was no honey. The results were very impressive.
We walked through the various shops and vendors down to the waterfall, where the children were trying to catch something.
Then it was time to head back up the hill. Confidently, we walked past the tuk-tuks and motorbikes offering lifts to the top. Zane, our guide, took pity on us half way up, and stopped for a rest. She was from a Black Hmong tribe, as we could tell from here clothes and the way she kept her hair up with a comb.
Soon enough we were walking through the market in Sapa.
We freshened up in the room, before heading out to explore the town. We had a few beers looking out onto the street, from where we were approached by several vendors, who were all fairly persistent. We walked up to where the neon lit catholic church overlooked the town square, and watched various clumps of children playing. Then it was time for sleep, ahead of the next day’s hike to the homestay.
The landscape looks like a 1:1 ratio Ordinance Survey map with contour lines to demonstrate elevation.
The rice harvest had mostly been collected, so the colour was a brownish green.
We had been warned that it might be cold in the mountains, but we were sweating, and even the local pigs were cooling off in a muddy puddle – heaven.
We stopped off for some lunch and some rest. Zane took the time to do some embroidery – the mountain people never stop.
The children that we met along the way were usually trying to sell us woven bracelets.
There were also people from other tribes populating the area. This lady was Red Hmong.
Our homestay offered refreshingly rustic accommodation. There were corn seeds (which would used to plant next season’s crop) hung up in the barn where we would be staying.
There were mosquito nets over the beds, running water, a fridge with beers in (should we choose to sign one out in the beer log book), a table in the porch overlooking the valley, and most importantly no Wifi!
The group consisted of eleven people from seven different countries – Luka and Ziva from Slovenia; Sandra and Shirley from Holland; Perach and Linoy from Isreal; the English idiots (that’s us); Sandy from the Southern part of Vietnam; Celestine and Gerrard from Singapore; and Zhen from Malaysia. After a couple of shots of the local fire water and a beer or two, we decided to play what I know as ‘The Rizla Game’. Amazingly (for a bunch of hobos in South East Asia), no-one had any Rizlas, so we had to improvise with some scraps of paper. Basically, each person is assigned a famous personality. Everyone else knows who you are. You have to work out who you are by asking ‘Yes/No’ answer questions. The challenge was to pick names that were famous in all of our countries – a true test of global star status. Many of the established favourites were trotted out – Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, Albert Einstein – but who would make it from the younger (living) generation? Annoyingly, Justin Bieber was known by everyone, but Beyonce and our very own Adele eclipsed him, only requiring a first name to label their stars, and the players in the game. Then someone found a guitar in the barn. It was a bit knackered, but I managed to bash out a few tunes from my limited covers repertoire, and our new friends were ready to sing the choruses that they knew. So this is the top travel tip – if you want to have a good time with people, turn the wifi off! We had a memorable night.
Next day, I was up early to catch the morning light.
I had a little wonder around. It was only 6am, but the farmers had already started the day, as had these ducklings.
The water was stored up in the terraces. Their purpose is to hold the water on the hillside, and stop it from flowing away.
We freshened up, played some cards, had some breakfast, and were ready to go.
Zane took us to a waterfall via an ‘undulating’ route, which she was able to negotiate in bath slippers. Here is a picture of part of the group, taken on the way – (left to right) Perach, Luka, Ziva, Sandra, Shirly and Linoy on this photo. Celestine, Zhen, Sandy and Gerrard who were on their way up the hill when this shot was taken, and I am behind the camera.
It was a clear sunny day, in a beautiful place with some really great people, but nothing lasts. We said our goodbyes, as the group split up in stages, and headed back to Hanoi.
We had a few more days there wondering the parks and streets, and trying to resist the bia hoi. We were ready for the next stage of our trip. As we rode out of of town, we admired the mural that ran the length of the main road to the airport, but on closer inspection realised it was a mosaic. That’s a lot of work.