Thursday, January 18, 2018

Trekking In Northern Vietnam

We have just returned from a short trek in northern Vietnam.  We had read about the region's people along with its rugged beauty and decided to go check it out for ourselves.  We were delighted with what was waiting for us.

The Sa Pa Valley is a stone's throw away from the Chinese border and is surrounded by towering mountains, majestic waterfalls, thousands of rice fields and thick bamboo forests.

It is cold this time of year.  The houses are not heated, save for small cooking fires.  If it's 6 C outside, then it is most likely 6 C inside.  We were grateful for the puffy jackets, fleece hats and wool socks we bought in Hanoi before we travelled north.

Sa Pa valley is hemmed in by steep mountainsides covered in terraced rice fields.

We stayed in the village of Ta Van for two nights.  The guest house was full of young trekkers from all over the world: Australia, the Netherlands, England and Canada. 

Once we got settled in our guest house, Joe and I went for a walk in the tiny village.  We ended up having a beer at a local bar.  As soon as we sat down, we were surrounded by women wanting to sell us their embroidered handiwork.  We bought something from everyone.  (I find it extremely difficult to say no to anyone.)  The woman with me in the photo, Chie, stepped forward and asked, "Do you want to walk with me tomorrow?  I take you to my house for lunch after?  Yes?"  YES!  We settled on a price and agreed to meet the next morning.

Where one goes, everyone goes.  Even though we told the other women that we had hired Chie as our guide and would not be paying them or buying their wares, they came along for the hike anyway.  These gals are expert trekkers and saleswomen.  Of course we bought something from each of them at the end of the hike.

We headed up through the village and deep into the bamboo forest.

These women trekked with heavy baskets on their backs and their bare feet in rubber sandals.

This is hiking footwear for many Hmong women.

Gorgeous rice fields.

Arranged marriages are the norm in northern Vietnamese villages.  The young woman on the left married when she was 17 and her husband was 15.  She is now 22 years old with 3 young children.

Oh, that's just a herd of water buffalo walking down the path towards us.

These two women literally held my hand for the entire hike that morning.  Even when I didn't need it.  So adorable.

The villagers are very house proud.  This woman insisted Joe and I come into her home and have a rest by her cooking fire before we went to Chie's house for lunch.

The lunch table in Chie's home.

We ate lunch with Chie's daughters and husband.  Chie speaks three languages; Hmong, Vietnamese and English.  I asked her where she learned to speak English so well.  Her answer?  From tourists!

The next morning, we were picked up at our guest house by May Quynh, an exuberant and outgoing 25 year old who was our guide for the next two days.  She, too, excelled at English learned from tourists.  Her beautiful clothing took her 15 months to dye, sew and embroider.

It took us most of the day to hike 17 kilometres from the village of Ta Van to the village of Han Bo.

Again, another woman joined us on our trek and held my sweaty hand every step of the way.

At one point we had to navigate our way along the edge of a rice paddy.  It was extremely slippery due to recent rains.

Holding my hand, this woman showed me how to slowly shuffle sideways along the muddy raised edge of the rice field.

The trek to the village of Han Bo was either straight up or straight down.  Here's Joe heading down the mountainside with his two guides ready to grab his hand at any moment.

While heading down one steep section, we ran into a boy bringing his water buffalo up the hill.

While crossing a river, I slipped and fell into the water.  Oops! 

As we neared our destination for the night, we walked past this little guy helping out some construction workers.  He had pretty good skills with that shovel!

The villages are filled with animals.  Buffalo, goats, pigs, dogs, cats, chickens, roosters and ducks all roam free.

Getting closer!  We could see our homestay from this vantage point.  All that was left was the long hike down the hill to the valley floor.  My legs and feet were hurting by this point.

Many things are done the traditional way in this part of the world.  The women are incredibly hard workers.

I was so happy to finally reach our homestay!  The homemade rice liquor was poured freely during our dinner with the family.

Joe and I slept upstairs in the loft area of the family's home.  Sheets and blankets were hung for privacy.  Those mattresses were rock hard.  But none-the-less, I slept well that night.

 The next morning we headed out again with Quynh to see a local waterfall.  This time the hike was much shorter, a mere 4 kilometres.  Thank goodness for small mercies!

The beautiful waterfall.

Thank you Quynh for guiding us safely through the mountains. We loved the two days we spent with you.

 Later that night, we took the sleeper train back to Hanoi.  We shared a room with two Korean boys travelling with their family.  I was happy when we reached our destination at 4:30am.   Those berths do not make the most comfortable beds.

And now we are back in Hanoi for a couple more nights.  We are going to take it easy to rest our weary bones.

The next leg of our journey involves a 3 day boat cruise around Halong Bay.  We are really excited and are praying for good weather.

After all that hiking we will be happy to sit on a boat deck for a few days!

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