Well, I was right…there’s really nothing to do here after sunset! I mean the restaurants are open, and there are a couple of bars, but the town is mostly deserted, except for the occasionally hill-tribe member offering marijuana and opium and groups of Vietnamese playing a game similar to hackey-sack (did I spell that correctly?) that involved what appeared to be a comb (or some plastic thing) with a feather tied to it! Anyways, I made it an early night, as I did decide to join a trek for today, which meant I had to get up early…plus I wanted to buy my return train ticket…I had been thinking last night of trying to go back tonight, but it was full, so I’m still going back tomorrow night.
Anyways, my trek this morning was to visit 3 different hill-tribe villages of three different minority groups. The people in this region fall under the H’mong and Dzao ethnic groups, though within those they are further divided by slight differences, like the Red H’mong people (whose skin apparently has a slight red tint to it and wear red head scarves) and the Black H’mong people, whose skin is darker (but not black).
There were 6 people in my group, plus the guide. We set out from Sapa by foot and walked down into the valley that Sapa overlooks. It was a pretty clear day today, so we could see far into the valley, which as I mentioned yesterday, is largely covered with beautiful terraced rice patties. It is quite a steep drop-off into the valley…on the way we passed a spot where a car had driven off the side into the valley below…the driver jumped out before the fall and wasn’t killed. Apparently this is a fairly common occurrence, which I can understand given the way they drive on the road, as I saw on our van ride back to Sapa.
After a while we went off the main road onto this dirt path leading further down into the valley…they valley wasn’t too low though…Sapa itself is something like 1,300 meters above sea level and right next to it (though usually obscured by clouds) is Fansipan, the highest peak in all of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, at over 3,000 meters above sea level.
Towards the bottom of the valley we encountered our first village. These were slightly more modern than the ones I saw in Laos…many were built of wood with tin roofs and were not on stilts. We visited a family for a peak inside their house, which was incredibly simple…a pit for fire for cooking and heat, a small table (they sat on the floor) and some thatch floor mats for sleeping. The floor was simply the outside ground. Strangely enough they had a TV that was on, which seemed a bit out of place in such primitive surroundings. The village also had a more modern (and by that I mean concrete) schoolhouse which, of course, bore a picture of Ho Chi Minh inside…from what our guide was saying, he’s as common in schoolrooms here as the American flag is in classrooms in the U.S.
The other villages were pretty similar…very small with the same style of houses. Each had a school, though our guide was telling us that many of the children don’t feel inclined to go since they can make money by selling goods to tourists instead. In the villages, we occasionally encountered villagers working on crafts, which I believe is their primary (and possibly only) source of outside income. Also on the way we encountered a garden growing marijuana plants. Our guide explained that they were illegal in Vietnam, but the hill-tribes use hemp to make their clothing out of. And, of course, they try and sell the marijuana to tourists.
After five hours, and between 15 to 20km of walking, we caught a van back up to Sapa. It was a fun day. When we got back I had lunch (we had sandwiches on the trek) and decided to climb up the mountain that Sapa sits on up to this radio tower on top that makes a great vantage point. Well the complex on the mountain had multiple trails and some gardens, and I ended up going to the opposite peak which was called Heaven’s Gate. Along there, the path wove through these really neat rock formations…often in between them as well! I did reach one vantage point where I had a nice view of Sapa. After all the climbing around (which I did for almost an hour and a half) I was beat, and it was getting late (and quite enveloped in clouds) I decided to give up on the radio tower and head down to town.
Anyways, I’m not sure about tomorrow yet…I may join another trek, but we’ll see. Tomorrow night I’m back on the train to Hanoi, which arrives at 5am (and that’s the later train…the other arrives at 4am!). My plan was to go straight to the bus station and catch a bus to Halong City, the gateway to Halong Bay, but I’ll probably hang out in Hanoi for a few hours and get breakfast. From Halong City, I can supposedly catch a scenic boat ride through the bay to Cat Ba island, where I can sleep and visit the national park on the island. I must say though that I’m a bit nervous as I haven’t met anyone who went to Halong Bay solo…they all went with tours. Should be an interesting adventure though!