Mountains of the far North

by Bngrtw June. 10, 2013 2460 views

Last, but definitely not least, was the city of Sa Pa, one of our favourite places in Vietnam. Sa Pa is on top of the Hoang Lien Son mountain range, just East of the Himalaya range and very close to the border with China.

It was a long night bus journey from Hanoi, once we were back from Ha Long bay, but completely worth it. We arrived in Sa Pa at dawn and, as usual, “the welcome party” was waiting for us at the bus station: hundreds of tuk-tuks and hotel touts (maybe not that many, but it definitely feels like that). We had already grown to like them as, in a way, they are sometimes helpful for us.

As it's been the norm over the last few months, we did not have anything planned but we did have something in mind… We intended to do some nice trekking and, if possible, stay in a village overnight, at least one night.

And yes we managed to organise it that very morning, as we happened to meet Xo Xo, a very friendly and genuine nice lady from the Hmong people [en.wikipedia.org]. She has been working for the last few years in the tourist trade, organising treks and overnight stays at her family house in a village up in the mountains. We liked her a lot and gladly accepted her invitation to explore Sa Pa with her. Actually if anyone is interested in doing something like this in Sa Pa, do not bother to book a tour in advance, as they are a rip off and pay very little of your fee to the local people. Over in Sa Pa, you will find plenty of villagers happy to take you home and for nice treks for a better deal and, of course, knowing that all the money is for themselves, not for the tour operators.

All the pictures are from these days in Sa Pa with Xo Xo and her family. It was a great experience to stay over at her beautiful house with these amazing people. Although only Xo Xo could (actually very impressively) speak English, the rest of her family also did their best to make us feel at home. Xo Xo's mum, who was a shaman, performed a rite on a chicken to give everyone good luck before Xo Xo's husband proceeded to kill it and cook it for dinner. The grandpa didn't speak much and spent most of the time smoking from his bamboo pipe, but was happy to share a cigarette with B. As for Xo Xo's daughter, she had been feeling sick all day, so her granny also did a rite on her. This rite worked efficiently together with the ibuprofen we gave her, and soon she was much better.

In the meantime, Xo Xo's son, a very smart but shy 14 year all, tended to the water buffalos and helped his mum in writing some useful information for us.

We left the house the next day and started preparing for our next encounter with the mighty Mekong a couple of days later…

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