Saturday, 21 September 2013

The Sapa Shenanigans: Part Two

Day Three: The Trek Begins

The next morning, we were greeted by a delightful breakfast consisting of pancakes, banana and coffee and best of all- real bread! All bread in Asia tastes like sugar so it was great to have some which tasted savoury like European bread! We were very excited. 

Outside there were local people sitting there who were part of a different minority- the Black Hmong. Their outfits were completely different and they were very friendly when we walked past. 

We were waiting for our guide in the lobby, but for some reason, the plans had changed and we needed to meet her at an unknown destination. Apparently the only way to get down the hill was by motorbike. The owners of the hotel kindly offered to give us lifts and seemingly with no other choice, we hopped on the back of both motorbikes, fastened our helmets and clinged on. Bear in mind, this is a typical Vietnamese road....

...motorbikes clearly don't faze the Vietnamese. After our dramatic entrance we finally met our guide Lala and our trek began. Our trek group was made up of our guide Lala, two other tourists Llyris and Junko and some other members of the Black Hmong community. Lala was 18, 8 and a half months pregnant and still an amazing trekker. Very different attitudes towards pregnancy in Vietnam. 

The first part was a downhill trek along a country road overlooking the Sa Pa countryside which is spectacular. The walk was very easy to begin with. After coming off the road onto dirt tracks through the countryside, it became a bit more difficult to navigate mostly because of the rough and rocky terrain and you had to be careful when placing your feet. The view was worth the challenge though as it was the best scenery either of us have ever seen.

We were very lucky with the weather as it was warm but not hot and a little breezy. Thankfully it didn't rain the whole time we were there as it would be much more challenging if the ground was muddy.

A few bits of information:

There are quite a few children (aged about 5-10) selling bracelets as you pass various points. They are incredibly hard to say no to

The women who come with you help you in the harder parts but they do expect you to buy some handicrafts from them at the end

There are checkpoints at regular intervals where you can reenergise and stop for lunch 

Towards the end of the trekking, we hit a few specific places of interest which helped us understand local life a lot more. The first was a village where we saw local handicrafts being produced including weaving and pottery. We also saw a lot of farmers working in the fields as September is harvest time.

Making a substantial income seems to be challenging and there aren't a huge amount of opportunities for local people outside of traditional industries and tourism. Within the village, there were a number of local primary schools and education is free up to the age of 11. Rob has just qualified as a primary teacher so it was interesting for him to see the contrasts between schools in England and here which weren't as severe as you might expect. While the schools were more basic here, the fundamentals seemed to be the same for example lining up in the playground, the structure of lessons and the general appearance of a primary school with murals and artwork.

After trekking for about 10km all together and about 5 hours, we were pleased to reach our beds for the evening. We had opted to stay at a local family's home for the evening and lots of families do this as a way of subsidising their income and meeting tourists. These are called homestays and the houses are renovated to accommodate multiple guests. The houses are clean yet basic and the top floor is covered with mattresses which are the beds for guests. 

It was a really rewarding experience to spend time with the local family observing their natural routines. They made us a delicious dinner and we got to try their home brewed rice wine.

We also got to spend more time with Lala and find out about the local customs and traditions of the Black Hmong minority and learn about her life. She got married last year so we got to hear about a Hmong wedding. The rice wine we tried is apparently consumed in much larger quantities at weddings - sometimes reaching the astronomical figure of 80L per family. Needless to say, they always have a very good time.

We also got to meet this guy who was super cute....

We had a very early night after our busy day and prepared for the next day of trekking.....

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