So Long Black Hmong

Trip Start Feb 26, 2010
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Trip End Feb 26, 2011


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Flag of Vietnam  ,
Thursday, June 24, 2010

We woke early and after a quick noodle soup set off for a tour of the markets. Another great market experience where we found more dog (and this time got some pictures although it has been prebutchered), lots of different foods and piles of chickens and fish heads etc. We then took in the lake and all the full pigs being smoked above barbeques again all very interesting.


We spent a couple of hours wandering around Sapa town and spent a lovely hour having lunch (bread and laughing cow) just watching the world go by in the main square. This is such an awesome place to people watch. Tourists do get 'pestered' a lot by the local tribeswomen trying to sell people things but at the end of the day they are some of the poorest people in Vietnam so we did what we shouldn't have done and rewarded some of them purely for persistence. Erica bought a bag off one of her favourite women and we bought some bracelets and other bits and bobs in exchange for letting us take pictures and things. The climate here is wonderful (i.e. its either a t-shirt or t-shirt and raincoat as it does rain and go sunny quickly and frequently). We were already depressed at the thought of leaving Sapa and take back our previous advice on booking trips with an agent. I would definitely do Sapa directly (assuming the train is still cheap) as you can then stay as long or as short as you want. 


We started our descent into the Cat Cat village after lunch and had a wonderful trek for a few hours again just surrounded by stunning scenery. Maybe not as stunning as the first day and definitely a bit more commercial (you walk out of the Sapa town and pay 20k dong) and you see a lot of tourists and shops and jewellery / craft stalls. We saw some Indigo plants that the women use to dye their clothes, (the dyes do not set and stain the women you see lots of black hands and necks), we saw little boys playing with home made kites made out of plastic bags tied to bits of string. At the bottom of the valley was a big waterfall which was lovely. We hiked probably half way back up before jumping a motorbike to get us back up the rest of the way.


We got lost in all the detail of which tribe was which but the black Hmong seem to be the most prevelant, upon checking with the guide the main types of tribe are Hmong, Yao, Tay and Giay (I reckon Sharkey might be a Giay).


If we come back in a few years we may even try and scale Fansipan the highest mountain in SE Asia just to get a second use out of Erica's hiking shoes. We would also love to visit at the weekend when a bigger market takes place and they also have the Love Market on Saturday evenings. In the Love Market local tribespeople of a certain age come to dance with members of the other sex and do traditional dances with several partners with a view to getting a husband or wife. You can marry out of your local tribe or marry townsfolk with no problem.


We retired to the cheapest bar we have found in Sapa and reflected on a magical few days. Lots of mixed emotions about what tourism may do to the place, the people and the tribes in both good and bad ways. Clearly Sapa has changed a lot in a few years and you do feel guilty about the effect you are having but at least we managed to help a little as well by spreading our rather small budget about and collected a load of stuff we dont want or need. Some more expensive resorts are starting to be built on the peaks within the valley that are already scarring the beauty of the valley although with only 65k people here it is a small place so any increase in tourism will have an obvious impact.


We got a minibus to descend down from the hills of Sapa at an altitude of about 1750m back down to Lau Cai. This was truley breathtaking and nearly brought a tear to my eye. We couldn't get any pictures but if you ever decide to go I would try and hire a motorbike in Lau Cai and drive the road yourself to spend longer taking in the scenery. You descend through the clouds and gradually feel the temperature and humidity build. We left on the 9pm train and shared our carriage with an Australian couple we trecked with on the first day. At almost 60 we got along with them really well. Anyway the train ride home was very noisy and very very unstable so none of us got much sleep except Lady E unsuprisingly.

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