Thursday, April 30, 2009

Vietnam: Sapa Valley and our “Soft Trek”

We took an overnight train from Hanoi to Sapa Valley in the far north of Vietnam. We arrived at 5:30 am to pouring rain, and experienced a couple downpours during our 3 days there even though it is not rainy season. Our base was in Sapa, a town tucked in the mountains. Women in colorful dresses from the Black Hmong people would walk through town selling handicrafts.

During our 3 days we went to several different villages of the Black and Red Hmong people and of the Dzao. Because this was a “soft” trek, a van took us to the edge of the village and we would then walk for a couple hours. It is always a question whether tourists are worth the disruption. How would we feel if strangers walked through our town taking pictures? The quid-pro-quo was their desire to sell us souvenirs. At one village about 15 women were following us with their baskets on their back.

The scenery for these 3 days was like walking through a calendar – stunning beyond description. Mountains, karsts, rice paddies, water buffalo grazing along the road. At the edge of one village was a small cave with stalactites. Another village ended at a waterfall. On the second day we took a 3 hour van ride to a more remote town for the weekly Hmong market. There were very few tourists compared to the Hmong, so we received a few stares. In addition to clothing, chicks, and household items, we also discovered we could buy hashish (“no thank you”).

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