In the mountains of Sapa with the minorities

Sapa travelFor a change, we take the night train to travel from Hanoi to Sapa, our last destination in Vietnam. We pay a little more for our privacy and take a cabin for 2. The train looks much older than on the picture on the Internet but it's a class act. You get a red rose on your bed, beers, coke, water and apples in your room and hot tea as we depart. This is the first time I sleep in a train! The trip is 8 1/2 hours long. I call it the shake and bake experience. Not that it is very warm but it shakes! We still manage to sleep a little. I enjoyed the experience although you can't see anything outside. We had a tour arranged, so we have someone awaiting for us with a sign with our names when we arrive at 5AM. But it's also easy to take a bus from the bus station of Lao Cao to Sapa. It's a short 45 minute drive in the mountains to our hotel in Sapa. I will always remember the warm welcome...there's a group of 5 or 6 Black H'mon girls dressed in their typical clothing running behind our van to welcome us. Our first introduction to the salesmanship in Sapa ! They ask for our names and remember it when we get out of our hotel a few hours later. Do they all get the same marketing course? They are likable and chatty and you want to talk to them, but if you do, they won't let you go easily without a sale! "Buy from me"! I dont know how many time we heard that sentence in the 2 days we were in Sapa. And they all ask the same questions to build a relationship: What is your name? Where do you come from? How old are you?? How many children do you have? And they go back to: You buy from me? In the States, they would be sued for harassment. But many are so cute...

Anyway, we had a lovely time in Sapa and in the surrounding hill-tribe villages. It's a beautiful, dramatic and mountainous region in the northwest of Vietnam. So different from the large cities of Saigon and Hanoi. Ideal for hiking although a little muddy in April. We had a local minority guide with us for 2 days and that was very pleasant and interesting. No group. More flexibility. And we learned a lot from him. At the end of the second day, he was calling Bill his "adoptive father". He picked us up after a very good breakfast and we walked with him to our first village outside Sapa: Cat Cat (named Cascade by the French, but with the Vietnamese pronounciation, the name became Cat Cat). It's a nice hike down but you do have to come back up in the afternoon. Good exercise.

The next day, we had a longer trek and walked through 3 villages . Luckily, the sky cleared up after an hour or so and the views were magnificent. I can only imagine how beautiful it is later in the summer when the rice is up. In the first village we crossed (forgot the name), we only saw children, dogs and cocks fighting. It's common to leave the young children to not so older sisters while the parents are working in the fields. We walked on the road, then on pathways and finally through the field, doing our best not to fall in this slippery ground, sometimes through the mud. We crossed a river where they are building a small dam to produce electricity for the booming villages around Sapa. Electricity is a new concept in these villages, with many houses in the mountains still not connected. The second village, was the H'Mon village of Sin Chai where we had lunch, followed by the nearby Giay village of Ta Van. All these villages have different customs, languages and clothing. They usually don't marry outside their tribes. When the young Black H'Mong women get married, they shave their hair and eyebrows. They are the one wearing the red turban on their heads and black clothing. You can recognize the married women from another tribe by the very large earings they wear. At this time of the year, most of them wear the same things on their feet: rubber boots!.

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