Wednesday 16 March: a hike around Sapa
There are five ethnic tribes living in the mountains around Sapa. We met a lady from the H’mong tribe today to learn about the tribal cultures and her way of life. She took us for a walk through the rice paddies to two villages home to different tribes. It is still winter here in the north so the terraced paddies aren’t yet filled with lush green rice plants. They get only one rice harvest per year here compared to three around Saigon in the south. Still, the valleys are vast and the mountains are high, making for impressive scenery.
We covered a lot of subjects on our walk and it was fascinating to compare life here with life in the UK. Schooling is relatively new, especially for girls. Our guide was 26 and missed school because only boys were sent at that time. She’s since taught herself to speak very good English which impressed us a lot. Some here are Catholic after the French influence but others follow Shamanic principles. Having too many sons causes difficulty as the family land must be split. Daughters are easier as the husband’s family pays a dowry and takes responsibility for them after marriage. The youngest child inherits the family house in exchange for looking after the parents for longer. We feel very privileged to have access to the NHS at home as in most parts of Vietnam people have to pay for healthcare for themselves.
Before we met our guide we were concerned that tourism could be taking advantage of the locals, or distorting their way of life. However, our guide was happy to show tourists around as she appreciates the extra income to support her family and improve their quality of life. In fact she wished she did more guiding to save for some extra land or high school for her children.
We found a local place for a hotpot tonight. They bring a large pan of vegetables and stock which is placed on a camp stove. Next a plate of raw pork and black chicken (skin, bones, everything black) for us to cook in the stock and eat in small bowls. Tasty! Alex shared one too many shots of rice wine with a boisterous group from Hanoi on a boys’ weekend. A fun end to a fun day
The sun is shining on us again and we have had three days off the bikes. We feel refreshed and plan to set-off again tomorrow into more remote areas. It will be exciting to see where we end up each night!