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Visiting the tribes of Sapa, Vietnam

In this week’s travel feature Louise Anne Mañasco and Max Pizarro meet a tribe in Sapa, Vietnam.

By Louise Anne Mañasco and Max Pizarro

During our stay in Hanoi we opted for a guided tour of Sapa, one of the town’s most north of Vietnam. We were quite excited about this as we hadn’t really seen tribe villages on our drive up from the south so this was our last chance to experience that side of Vietnam.

We were driven by minivan at 7.30pm to the sleeper bus which took around 10 hours to reach Sapa but we were left to sleep on the bus until 8am.

Once there we were welcomed by a Summit Hotel staff and taken to the hotel which we used as a base to shower and store out belongings.

Temperatures dropped significantly up there, regretting not having brought our hats. We started our two day trek at 9am with six tribe women including the guide and five other visitors.

The tribe women were dressed in traditional wear, very colourful clothes and head scarf, one carrying a baby boy wrapped behind her.

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These women were tanned and wrinkled and it came to our surprise that one of them was only 27, almost my age! This particular girl told us about their ways, marrying young at 17 years of age and having children by 18 years. She had two children, a nine year old and a five year old
Tribe children went to school during the day whilst their fathers worked on the rice paddies or collecting wood. Wood was chopped down from trees at the top of the mountain and dragged down with ropes, leaving distinct paths which were visible the entire length of the mountain.

Women also worked on farms or like these women helped out during tours. I am quite thankful for the help these ladies offered as they regularly held me up whilst walking/climbing down the muddy ground, even if they used this as an excuse to buy goods from them later on, which we expected.

We trekked along the beautiful landscapes, alongside rice terraces, buffaloes and rivers. Rice terraces covered mountain after mountain and even though it was not the time of the year it was still astounding to see the vast number of them and the distinct patterns they created on every mountain.

We combined with another group at times at the view points, drink stops and for lunch. On one of our breaks we ate sugar cane from the stick, so sweet and refreshing and the baby boy agreed also as he ate half a metre of it all by himself.

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Whilst trekking layers of clothing came off but the minute we stopped it was ice cold again. We hiked to Y Linh Ho Village and then had a traditional lunch at Lao Chai Village and experienced the Black H’mong life.

Each tribe had a colour to show where they belonged, in the past men and women from different tribes were prohibited to marry but now it is more acceptable. During our lunch break I was guilt tripped into buying a scarf from one of the ladies, but in all fairness I was clean thanks to them and I had wanted a traditional handmade scarf from the minute I saw them wearing one.

The afternoon trek was shorter and we mainly walked through concrete paths in villages, crossing through Dao Chai Village to Ta Van Village where we had our overnight stay, inhabited by Dzay minorities exhibiting a strong Chinese culture.

Our homestay, owned by a Dzay family, was at the top of a hill and we arrived around 4pm after having walked 12 kilometres.

The homestay was a two storey wooden house with a basic kitchen, a dining table and outside bathrooms but it came to my surprise that they had hot showers and wifi.

On the second floor mattresses were laid down with concrete dividers and mosquito nets. It all felt very cosy. We spent the rest of the day around an indoor fire and getting to know each other as a blanket of mist covered the village shortly after we arrived.

There was Ana and Paco from Seville (nice and close to us back home) and Helenou, Olivier and Vincent from France.

Breakfast pancakes and tea and coffee was a good start before we began our second day trek. That day we walked for five kilometres up until lunch time.

During this trek is when we saw the log trails and small huts on the mountains where people lived. Many households had pigs, dogs and children running around. We hiked through terraces and bamboo forests to Giang Ta Chai village to see the Ref Dzao people and continue to H’mong village further on.

The trek ended around 2pm after we finished lunch where we were picked up by a minivan and driven back to the hotel.

The town reminded us a lot like a ski village minus the snow. There were small shops lining the narrow roads selling warm clothing and cosy looking cafes and restaurants with candles, some still with Christmas themed snow graffiti on the windows.

Louise-Anne and Max are a local travel couple who have visited over 60 countries.

To read more about Louise-Anne and Max’s travels check out their blog:
www.lifeoutofourbackpack.com
And their Instagram account: @lifeoutofourbackpack