A quick hello to our friends and family.... since we last wrote from India we have decided to join the ranks of the unemployed and spend some time exploring the exciting country of Vietnam....
The hilly region around Sapa near the Chinese border was our first destination that we set out for from Hanoi. The overnight train delivered relative comfort for the 7 hour journey. Arriving at 5am, we enjoyed a steaming bowl of pho before we joined up with a fun, international group made up of five others. The cool air of Sapa was a welcome relief after Hanoi's muggy heat and we set off with our local tribal guides for our first day's 8 mile trek into the hills. The area's nickname as the 'swiss alps of Vietnam' was well deserved providing an ever changing display of high altitude trees and thousands, if not millions, of butterflies that fluttered around us through the hills. The various tribes of hill people have successfully adapted to the steep terrain here and transformed what were unusable grades into series of cascading steps that grow rice, corn, and other harvests. With some persuading handlers water buffalo could be seen trudging through the
pools of water plowing the mud for upcoming rice season. Locals were quick to return a smile or wave from the field or farm house and children tried their hand at their parent's duties of guiding livestock, pulling rice or stoking fires.
Our brightly dressed female guides knew this land well and took every opportunity to point out interesting sights and photo ops. They would also share their personal life with us and inquire into our lives back home as family is certainly the most important aspect of life here. We arrived fairly winded and muddy after our 5 1/2 hours of trail climbing and breathtaking scenery at our village among the Black H'mongs. The homestay cabin was perched high on the ridge overlooking the self sustaining farm of crops, livestock and the river valley below. The We grabbed a quick chilly shower and settled in on the rustic home's porch overlooking the village and valley below. It was difficult to think of a better place for the couple hours leading up to dinner with the smell of fresh herbs and spices marinating our dinner and some much deserved Tiger beer in hand...we watched the sun descend behind the distant
peaks. The plates of food were trained in one after another and followed by thimble sized toasts of homemade rice wine we poured from an innocent looking water bottle. Conversation and toasts went well into the evening hours before retreating to our humble cabin and mosquito netted beds.
Day 2 started with homemade pineapple pancakes and only got better. We continued along the ridge which provided waterfalls, bamboo forests, and some very large mud bogs to navigate. Locals could be seen every step of the way engaging in the backbreaking work of rice patties and livestock fields.
Day 3's rain started as sheets of mist and ended in a jungle worthy pour. Our guide led us into a small village near the valley's river where we tried smoked water buffalo meat which was a big hit for my taste buds. The nearby children kept a close eye on us and were quick to accept a treat or gift. Returning to Sapa, we packed up for our train ride back to Hanoi. So far this has been the most interesting part of the trip and I would not hesitate to recommend it to anyone.
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