Madam, will you buy from me?

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Asia » Vietnam » Northwest » Lao Cai » Sapa
March 8th 2007
Published: March 11th 2007
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Good Morning Vietnam...
Now that's out of the way, we can talk about Sapa. Located in the Tonkinese Alps just south of the China border, this alpine town sits about 1,650 meters above sea level. Most travelers make the long journey from Hanoi to Sapa to hike through rice fields and picturesque mountain passes and sleep in the small tribal villages of the Black Hmong and Red Zao minority people. When the minibuses first pull into this town of about 3300 (32,000 in the surrounding areas), travelers are awed by the beautiful costumes of the local tribes. The most prominent group to be seen in town is the Black Hmong (50%of Sapa's pop). With large heavy earrings, bracelets and necklaces made out of old French coins, clothing woven out of hemp and dyed with Indigo, and long hair whisked back into a woven headband, the Hmong women have taken to consumerism quite well. They will greet you everyday with a, "Hello madam, would you like to buy this from me?" Their textiles can be seen on every tourist that leaves Vietnam. Even I found their smiling innocence is hard to resist.

Unfortunately, Mark and I were not prepared for the unseasonably frigid weather. I pulled out every clothing item I brought and threw it on like the Charmin girl. But it did not help. Mark and I both came down with a respiratory infection. And our grand plans of trekking overnight to stay with the Hmong tribe turned into a four-hour tour. But despite the turn of events, our tour was well-worth the long trek from Hanoi. We headed to the village of the Black Hmong and Red Zao. Both of Chinese origin, they are subsistence farmers, turning over only a single crop of rice a year (most parts of Vietnam see three crop rotations). Last year, the Avian flu killed 80 villagers. So the government helped to vaccinate the existing crop and continues to provide them health care and education.

We were immediately greeted by the beautiful women wearing bright red headdresses. A Red Zao legend says that once upon a time a village woman cooked her husband dinner and he died. Upon inspection, they found her hair in his food, so Red Zao women must shave a portion of their hairline and wear their long hair in a spectacular headdress. Coins and bright pom-pom's dangle from their clothes, and they carry shoulder bags and baskets with red tassels.

Mark and I were able to visit one of their homes, with the expectation that we would buy one of their hand-made goods. We toured the rice fields and handed out #2 American pencils (Fred Meyer brand) to the kids; a gift we were told was better than candy. Sniffling and coughing, we were happy we were able to at least see a village. And after petting some of the pretty birds(especially the chickens and ducks), we packed up and headed out on the next night train to Hanoi.

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