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Published: November 30th 2009
"Me" my guide
Member of the H'mong, 26 years old, three children, noneducated, speaks fluent English, some French, chinese
Of the mountain areas of Vietnam, Sapa is probably the most popular. Originally, a French Hill Station developed in 1922, coined the “Tonkinese Alps,” Sapa is surrounded by the Hoang Lien Mountains. One such mountain is Fansipan, which is almost as tall as Pikes Peak in Colorado USA. It is a popular three day trek which means it is one of those goals of mine I just have to scratch off the “to do” things in my life.
I went at the wrong season in Sapa. I would have liked to have gone when more crops were growing. They only grow one crop of rice a year in Sapa, where as the farmers in the Red River Delta around Hanoi grow two crops and the farmers in the Rice Bowl of Vietnam-the-Mekong Delta grows four crops a year. The chilly climate of Sapa does have its advantages, however. This area grows temperate zone fruit trees bearing peaches and plums and gardens for raising medicinal herbs.
The most amazing thing to me was the minority tribes living so close together and having almost daily contact but yet keeping their own languages, dress and customs. No American melting pot here.
Me, letting me photograph her
Wearing a scarf instead of traditional black H'mong headgear. Notice silver earrings, other jewelry.
got to Sapa, I signed up for a tour of the minority tribes and their villages. I asked for the easiest trek available. The tour operator told me he had just the thing for me, a short walk down a hill, through several minority villages. The tour also included a guide who spoke good English. Her names was “Me” and she was just great. The tour was a lot longer than thirty minutes. It was four hours of up and down hills, but I did just fine.
Me was a twenty six year old Mother, who had three kids. All of her children were delivered by her alone.
She wouldn’t of had it any other way. She didn’t believe in Doctor assisted deliveries. I asked her if any of the women die of complications during the delivery She said: “Just a few every year.”
I also asked her about marriage. Did you select your husband? “No, my parents did.” What if you didn’t like him? She said every so often a girl fines herself in a situation where both parents agree their boy and their girl will get married. The girl objects, but there is nothing she can do. So
she goes in the forest where poison herbs can easily be found and takes them. She said several girls every year kill themselves this way.
I suspect education may change things for the minority people. The government is making a concerted effort in bringing education to the minority tribes. They all go to school together. They all now speak Vietnamese. They are taught by Vietnamese teachers. Also, Vietnamese merchants, professional and technical people are moving into minority areas. So, change is coming and it may not be too long before the tribes start melting into the larger Vietnamese community.
The minority tribes used to be the poorest of poor people in Vietnam. However, the tourist industry and their own grasp of “free enterprise” has dramatically improved their lot. Almost all the minority women excel in handicraft making. Most hawk their wares. I asked “Me” what her husband does. She said he is a farmer and homebuilder. When he isn’t doing that he takes care of the children and the house.
I took the ten hour bus trip to Sapa because I wanted to see the countryside. The more popular was to take the train from Hanoi to Lao Cao. You
Leg bands. Just wrappings about 1 1/2 inches wide wrapped around leg and held at the top with an elastic band.
are put on a sleeper train and sleep your way to Lao Cao, and then it is a short bus ride to Sapa. I highly recommend this method of getting to Sapa.
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