Sa Pa is a small hill town in north west of Vietnam close to China border. Identified by French in late 18th century as a potential hill station,it has become a tourist destination now. Several ethnic minority groups lives in Lao Cai Province and Sa Pa is their only market town. Trekking in Sa Pa valley and an overnight stay will give an insight about their culture and day life.
There are lot of bus operators from Hanoi to Sapa and there is an overnight train as well. It took 5:30 hours to reach Sa Pa from Hanoi via bus and upon on arrival was transferred to Golden Villa hotel who organizes the trek by coordinating with village trek guides. After a quick lunch, receptionist handed over the map and explained the itinerary.
Day's itinerary is simple,need to walk around 10 KM via Cat Cat - Linh Ho - Lao Chai and reach Ta Van village for dinner in a homestay. From the hotel,village guide took in charge of the trek and after waiting for others to join,we started as a group and introduced each other on the way .
Afternoon was so cloudy that we couldn't see any clear view. From a distance we were able to view a glimpse of next village which we will be crossing in an hour or so. Our guide was a village girl named Quuin and along the way interacted with her to know about the region.
This province is a land of ethnic minority groups and agriculture is their main occupation. They don't have access to higher education,health care or other works. Its common to do early marriage and have 5-6 children in homes to assist in agriculture. They need to go for Sa Pa town market for selling their agri products,handicrafts etc.
There is only one primary school in this region. Just by interacting with foreigners they have picked up English language and developed trekking-home stay as business by coordinating with hotels in Sa Pa town. We can find that all the trek groups are being led by girls.
On the way we can find some native tribal women walking along with tourists. In-fact they help us by holding our hands while crossing any slippery paths or rocks with the only hope that you will buy something from them in end :)
Around 5:30 we reached the Ta Van village. It was getting dark and we still need to trek for an hour to reach our home-stay. Sunrise happens early here and villagers leave early for work and return from fields by afternoon.
The old women who walked along stopped at village entrance and sold their handicrafts.They can't walk all the way along since there will be women in next village who will be walking along with you further :)
When we entered the village, kids welcomed us with a high five and greeted with smile. All the young girls work as trek guide, old women do agriculture, handicrafts but none remain idle.
We reached our home stay around 7 and the owner received us with welcome drink. After refresh we had a good traditional Vietnamese dinner. Rice wine was the native specialty in dinner and they call it as holy water :) After dinner we played cards and had fun.
Next day early morning ,went out for a walk with the hope of taking some photographs as i was little upset the day before for not able to view anything clear because of clouds.
Unlike the first day, early morning blue hour walk turned out to be a good one. Able to shoot some landscapes and witness village chores. After playing with homestay owner's hyper active kid Meu for a while,returned to home stay to wake others.
After breakfast we started walking uphill. Day2' itinerary is that we continue walking via Dzao villages Giang Ti chai - Thanh Kim (H'mong Dazo) .
This province acts as a rice bowl for Vietnam. You can have a good view of terraced rice fields in Dzao villages. Terraced farming reduces soil erosion and conserves soil and water.
You can also opt for biking but it is little risky since the path is narrow and you need to have absolute control in slopes. It will be fascinating to see locals riding bikes in small narrow roads with great control and speed.
Due to early sunrise,villagers head to work very early around 6 AM and return back from fields during lunch since it will be cloudy in afternoon or it might rain. At times it might even snow during late December.
On the way crossed a small waterfall which is the main water source for the region. Sat here for a while and continued walking.
Later our guide took us to her house and introduced her family. As a trek guide she needs to walk daily from here to Sa Pa town to receive tourists. !
Villagers rely on buffaloes for milk and agriculture help. They treat them as an asset . You can spot big buffaloes and small pig farms all along the way.
After tea at her home,we thanked the family for their warm welcome and continued uphill towards bamboo forest.
We have almost reached end of the trek. We just need to cross this bamboo trail to reach the village. The trail was so slippery that i fell twice. You just need to hop between mud and rocks to descend down.
Finally we reached the Rattan hanging bridge across which we can enter the H'mong Dazo village. You can have a good view of river and plains from this bamboo bridge. They are constructing a dam across this river.
Like yesterday, today also village women gave a helping hand in slippery trails and they do expect you to buy some handicrafts from them else some might won't oblige for photographs.
We had our lunch at a small shop in the village. Later a van took us to the hotel in Sa Pa town. There we thanked and bid adieu to our guide . After a quick shower we were ready to leave for Hanoi. Receptionist gave us our bus tickets and came all the way to see us aboard. Their hospitality was overwhelming.
so that's it.. bus reached Hanoi back around 9 Pm. If time permits you can explore the town and visit Sa Pa market on sunday,where ethnic groups from all the villages gather to sell their products. Ideally two day trek is sufficient but if you want to spend more time with native people and go for longer treks you can customize and extend your stay in Sa Pa .
I would highly recommend my operator SVIET Travel for their hospitality and promptness in service.
Your feedback and comments are greatly appreciated.
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