Today was the day we were going for a 12km walk through the mountains and paddy fields and villages. We were eating breakfast by 8am and ready to go at 9.30. We’d had a pretty good sleep after yesterday’s hike so we were raring to go.
As usual at the entrance of the hotel stood about 15 women from the local tribe, ready to pounce on us as soon as we came out the door. We followed Dong and started walking up towards the town, with all the women following us! We asked if they were her family and she said only her younger sister who has Dong’s 3month old baby boy on her back. The rest were just entourage haha! We were only 8 people in the group for the day – us two, the Dutch couple, an Aussie guy and his Vietnamese friend who lived in Aus, and a cracking young Vietnamese boy called Lam and his sister who’d been born and raised in Moscow.
As it’d rained so much yesterday we’d been advised to hire wellies from a shop next door and we were already grateful we did. Although it wasn’t raining and the clouds were slowly lifting, the ground was very wet and it was nice to just walk along not worrying about getting wet. I was wearing one blue boot and one green boot, as you do, and had made a cover for my camera bag out of a plastic bag after worrying about how wet it got yesterday. Totally colour coordinated with my green mac and blue plastic bag cover matching my mismatch wellies.
We walked up through the town where we’d wandered around last night and followed a road that quickly became lined with bamboo trees and shrubs and green. This took us down down down into the valley and we started getting amazing views of the paddy fields and mountains and the sun started peeking through the clouds. It was still very bright though and there was no rain yay! The tiered bright green paddy fields were so vibrant looking and some of them were starting to go yellow, which is when they’re ready to harvest.
We continued on our journey going uphill for one hour then downhill for the next, and for the majority of the trek we were high up the hillside on narrow mud trails about 2 foot wide with a long drop to the right and nothing much to grab onto. All of the women in our entourage of course knew these trails like the back of their hand and these tiny people grabbed our hands tight and led the way, showing us the best places to put our feet. The orange mud was so slippery and one person lost her trainer completely to a deep mud patch that was more like quicksand, while the Aussie guy went up to his knees in the stuff, filling his boots! It was so funny and everyone was laughing and hilarious little whooping noises came from everyone on the trail. By this time we were all mixed up with numerous other groups and it was so hard to keep track of Dong – a) because she was so frickin fast and nimble and b) the girls of the same age all looked the same from behind with their long black hair and traditional clothing. We all had such a laugh and it was a good workout, let me tell you! Great fun.
We trekked in this way for about three hours, seeing waterfalls, lots of local people, paddy fields, a big rocky river, going over rope bridges and sturdier steel bridges – impressively neither of fell over. The ladies accompanying us made us hearts and flowers and braids from bamboo leaves and animals from sticks and twigs – all very sweet but as Javi reminded me in Spanish, nothing is for free.
Eventually we reached the place we would have lunch. It was so nice to sit down but at this moment the entourage snapped into action and went into full sales mode, tapping us on the shoulders, tugging our arms and being really persistent in trying to sell us their products. Which were beautiful and took impressive skills to make but it’s such a turn off when they bug you so much and also you buy something from one person and the whole rest of the gang will surround you in seconds. There were also little girls and tiny toddlers wandering around putting on little sad voices – I just pinched a few of their cheeks they were so beautiful, but we didn’t buy anything from them.
The man and woman in charge of the place eventually got them all out, quite aggressively to some of them, manhandling them out the door, and we ate our lunch in peace. And what a lunch. It was the usual stuff they give tourists here (rice, a pork dish, a chicken dish, tofu, a veg dish and fruit) but I think it was just extra damn tasty after such a workout in the morning. As we were finishing the smallest girls were creeping in under the tables out of the radar of the restaurant staff, and the tiniest one, no more than three and very snotty, came up to our table again. Javi offered his can of Sprite and she IMMEDIATELY abandoned her work, snatched up the can with a grin and disappeared. Haha that made her day! When we left two minutes later she had perched herself on a plastic chair in the doorway and was thoroughly enjoying her Sprite. I ruffled her hair as we passed and she gave us all the cutest smiles and waves as we walked away, the bracelets and jewelery forgotten but still clenched in her little fist she was waving. Awww.
We continued onward and upward this time. Passing through several villages on a track so much easier than before lunch! We saw pigs stuffed into baskets – it was horrible! There were 3 of them in a wire barrel shaped basket which didn’t allow the animal to stand up, only lay with their legs folded under them. They couldn’t turn their heads or anything, literally all they could do was open and close their mouths and flick their ears. Shudder. There were tons of dogs and puppies in the villages too, running amok. At least the chickens here have feathers – they’re bald in Hanoi haha!
I caught up with Dong and started asking her questions about her tribes culture. She said yes they eat everything but mainly pumpkin and vegetables. They keep every grain of rice they harvest in the family as they only harvest it once a year so it feeds them and only them. When the man chooses a wife she doesn’t get a choice and has to move in with him and his family. Only when his younger brother brings his wife into the home can they move out to live together. All the different tribes around the mountains can marry inter-tribe with no problems. The women do EVERYTHING. LIterally. She said all they do is drink and they’re very lazy while the women cook, clean, work the fields, make clothes, bring up the kids, all of it. She told me little girls don’t know how to play because by the age of three/four they hsve to be able to cook and clean and work. While all the little boys go out and play all day! Wow. She realises it’s not fair but she’s never been out of Sapa (it’s really not that large!) So she doesn’t know anything else.
So anyway, we saw the traditional way of making clothes with a weaver thing and stripped bark of the marijauna plant! She also knew that in Europe and other countries it’s commonly smoked but they discard the leaves and only use the straight branches to strip off the bark. Pretty amazing. All the boys loved the huuuuge plant. She also showed us the big heavy corn grinder which we all had a go at, bloody harder than it looks!
Eventually we made it to where the bus was going to pick us up to take us back to the hotel. It wasn’t there yet so we all took turns to hold Dong’s gorgeous baby! There were lots of locals around and one very old wrinkly saggy brown lady came and sat next to Javi (who was sitting next to Sanna holding the baby) and started poking his chest and miming for him to feed the baby milk! Oh god we were all in hysterics for ages! The bus arrived and we gratefully collapsed into the seats.
Back at the hotel we were all pointed to the spare rooms to use the showers and then dinner was served at 4.15pm! We were getting picked up at 5pm so makes sense and we were peckish again already but what crazy hours we’re eating at the moment.
Well the rest is bus ride to the station, put on the train, top bunk this time where I have caught a damn cold from being under the AC unit I think. I slept lightly from about 9pm to 4am but it was the kind of sleep where you’re aware of everything so not great sleep.
Me and Javi have both agreed that this was our favorite day of our Vietnam holiday so far! Muddy, slippery, green, wet, wellies, laughter, food company and a great young tourguide and deserved exhaustion… fantastic day!