We started our Vietnam trip in the city of Hanoi then headed to the villages in the mountains near Sa Pa for long treks.
After our peacefully island time being back in the city of Hanoi feels insane. There are cars and motorbikes everywhere, crossing the street is nearly impossible (luckily by now we’ve figured out how to deal with traffic), and there is so much noise! This time around though, no one is harassing us with tuk tuks or taxis or souvineers to buy. The city is incredibly busy but the people seem preoccupied with themselves instead of us which is certainly a change. The city is very grey, but it’s nice to have parks around. The city is rather rainy as well.
Our day was meant to go to the Ho Chi Minh Museum and Mausoleum however Elizabeth’s shorts were indecent so we wandered off the the botanical gardens and a bridge overlooking the city instead. People watching is fun in this city, we saw a private dance lesson in progress and a couple photo shoots in random places. We got back to our hostel and headed for our free walking tour of the old quarter. Our hostel guide took us to see the St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, a Buddhist Pagoda( Chua Ba Da) , the local market (with lots of vegetables and dead skinned fish/frogs/turtles (EW!)), the big market (with lots of random stuff) , the beer street (with obamas bar and many others), the lake of the restored sword, the only old city gate remaining (the rest were destroyed by the US bombs in the war), and he took us for a Vietnamese specialty: Egg coffee at a local cafe (which was delicious). We found a great Pho place just around the corner from our hostel, and we LOVE it! Yum. All in all on our first day we walked 8.6 miles! Our second full day in the city was super rainy so we just hid out in a cafe and then ate dinner with our hostel in the evening before we boarded our night bus to Sa Pa. There are plenty of museums to explore in the city however we didn’t make it to any of them for no good reason at all.
In SaPa we woke up from our bus ride at 6 am and then took a minivan to our home stay. By 8am we had our breakfast and were ready for our day. At our home stay we saw two of the workers taking care of a little duck so of course we went to see what that was all about. They had found the duck and it was cold and wet and not moving much so the two workers were trying to warm him up with a hairdryer, milk, and a blanket. Elizabeth soon took over being the duck doctor… Our guide Sa showed up not too much longer. She helped us pick out some rain boots for the trek since she claimed it would be wet and muddy (and it was!). So Sa, along with 5 other random Hmong village women went trekking with us. These women would normally be at home working in the fields or working on their handicrafts however, on this day, they had the day off so they just happened to want to go on a walk with us. Sa took us on a 6.8 mile trek through the Vietnamese country side. The trek was filled with slippery, muddy, steep paths so our 6 helpful ladies were constantly holding our hands/ grabbing our arms keeping us steady, if it wasn’t for their help we definitely would have been a muddy mess. The ladies loved asking us questions and we learned about their lives as well. One woman in particular was 23 years old and already had 2 kids, one of which was carried on her back the entire trek. The countryside is filled with green rice fields that are about ready to be harvested (in 1 week to 1 month). We had great weather even though it was cloudy the entire day and there was no rain. After we said good bye to our random ladies, stopped by a waterfall, ate lunch, saw lots of baby animals (dogs, cats, chickens, ducks, pigs) , and checked out a school before heading back to rest up at our home stay.
Our second Sa Pa day was spent on a shorter trek. Sa took us on a walk through villages. In Sa Pa there are two tribes the Hmong and Zhong. Sa is part of the Hmong tribe. We met so many of Sa’s family members… we met her husband, baby, mother, 2 sisters, the sisters husbands, and the sisters kids. She showed us how they make hemp, starting from the plant to weaving into scarfs and cloth. She showed us how they make indigo dye for the cloth. She showed us how to grind corn and rice into flour for cooking. She taught us how to plant the rice, and that it will be ready for harvest when the seeds turn yellow. She took us to her sisters house who is a shaman. (Her sisters family was about to kill a pig so we ran out of there as fast as we could.. no screaming pigs please!). She told us the villages are all Catholic and not Buddhist in Sa Pa. Sa has 6 sisters all together, most of whom are married and work as tour guides. Her husband takes care of the baby when she works, works in the rice fields, or tends to the buffalo. We saw a few schools but the younger kids just seem to run around the village, chasing each other, chickens, and buffalo. Sa herself was probably about 20 years old, she was very lovely and informative about everything. Our guide loved getting us cucumbers to try also, and they were delicious!
I love SaPa! This trip was really great because 1. We got to go trekking 2. The landscape was beautiful, absolutely stunning 3. We learned a lot about the Hmong people 4. Sa, our guide, was such an extremely happy and nice lady. 5. It felt authentic. Of all the mountainous/countryside village/local tours we’ve had this one is my favorite and I definitely lived 100% in the moment.