This is a story in three parts. The reason is A) that this is my first blog post ever and I have not figured out how to be brief yet, and B) there were too many unique and amazing experiences made in those three days to keep this short.
“Where shall we go for our honeymoon trip?” My husband and I pondered over a couple of options but eventually we had a winner: Vietnam!
During our planning we found out about the beautiful mountaneous region of Sapa in the very North of Vietnam, bordering to China. The pictures we had seen of the green, lush rice paddies, the colorful appearances of the minorities and the skillful art work they were producing made us very curious about this place. We decided that we wanted to be part of that experience and booked a 3 day trek with 2 nights homestay with Sapa O’Chau. And what an experience it turned out to be!
So it begins …
It was December 2013, my husband and I arrived in Lao Cai with the sleeper train from Hanoi in the early morning, we were picked up and brought to Sapa. After a refreshing breakfast at Sapa O’Chau’s Cafe we met our Hmong guide Zer who introduced us to the local customs of trade and bargaining techniques. As we set out for our 3 day trek we were soon accompanied by a few women of the Black Hmong and the Red Dao people. We did not feel uncomfortable by their presence but instead took the opportunity to start chatting with them a little. Even though their English was basic I was actually surprised to which level our small talk was possible.
Despite it being winter we were very lucky with the weather and walked in sunshine with mild temperatures out of town, along mud paths, through pristine sceneries, passing little villages. Here and there we needed assistance with some tricky parts of the path but the Hmong and Dao women were quick to offer us a helping hand.
Once we arrived the point where we were leaving the Hmong villages behind, heading towards the Red Dao villages, we were asked by the Hmong women if we wanted to buy some of their hand made art work. Equipped with our newly learned trading knowledge, we thought we made a good deal buying christmas presents such as bags, pillow cases and runners – but probably we would have only made it into the amateur league compared to these ladies. To thank us for buying from them, the women gave us little gifts and with a nod and smile they wandered off to their village.
Long walk to Ta Phin
The leaving Hmong women were quickly replaced by a couple Red Dao women who joined our group as we were passing their village. One of the ladies who had been walking with us since the Cafe, asked me to be sure to buy something from her – “not the others”. As we stopped to have lunch, I made an announcemnet to the group that I would be buying something from that particular woman, as I had promised it to her. Another Dao woman came up to me and whispered “I understand you will buy from her. But what about your husband? Maybe he wants to buy from me?”
In the end we bought little things from all of them. It was Christmas season afterall and what could have been a more authentic present to remind us of this trip. Further we walked through little villages until the Dao women too waved goodbye and went on their way home. Zer guided us through little villages where children were playing outside and people went after their daily business. The rice terraces were no longer green as the rice had been harvested in September, but the scenery was nonetheless beautiful.
Just before dusk we arrived at Ta Phin, the little village of our homestay. Zer showed us the just recently finished new home which smelled of fresh wood and had little sleeping cabins with a curtain for privacy. There was a Western toilet in the outside area and soon showers would be installed as well. The view from the porch was amazing and we felt very lucky to have had such good weather despite the season. Having said that though, the temperature dropped with night fall drastically and while we were hiking in T-shirts during the day, the 0 degrees at night called for very warm clothing.
A hot tea barrel bath
Now it was time to meet our hosts and get some dinner. As we walked into the house our host Chao Man May welcomed us. The preparations for dinner were in full swing and we offered our help. Cleaning the green beans was appointed to us, while Chao Man May and Zer prepared the chicken, potatoes, carrots and some other vegetables. Shortly after we were joined by another trekking couple and their guide and we sat around the cooking place with a beer or coke and started chatting. The cold night gathered us around the warmth of the fireplace and the sizzling fries in the pan made us very hungry.
Dinner was a blast! Together with the family we sat at a table full of food – spring rolls, chicken, tofu, beans, carrots, morning glory and rice – and of course – rounds of selfmade “happy water”! The family’s own rice wine was poured in small cups and round after round down it went the throats! The atmosphere was very relaxed, warm and friendly despite the fact that hosts and guests came from very different cultures.
The last highlight of the day before we were to go to bed was the famous herbal bath of the Red Dao people. This was a treat I was looking forward to very much. All late afternoon the big basket on the stove had been cooking the herbs and now it was time to have a spa treatment Red Dao style!
In a little corner of the home was a designated area with two wooden barrels, separated from the rest with a curtain for privacy. Chao Man May poured the hot water with the herbs into the barrels and we could smell the soothing steam. Once inside the water the physical weariness of the long hike fell off our shoulders and we felt like a melting sugar cube in a hot cup of tea.
This was part 1 of our 3 day trekking adventure. The story will continue with a Red Dao wedding – watch out for part 2 coming soon!