Among the H’mong

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We were seriously considering not even coming to Sapa. Originally, it was one of the can’t miss places in Vietnam. However, as we made our way north the weather got colder and wetter. We also met people who were making their way south from Sapa with tales of freezing weather and milky fog. In the end, we made the decision to get some warmer clothes, a hat and some gloves and head into the mountains. We do not have regrets.

The tales of weather were not exaggerated. It was not below zero, but still cold. The fog was relentless and we were afraid we would not get to see much. Also, unlike back home, there are not many places to hide from the cold. The electricity was out and the fireplaces were not keeping up with the shivering. Restaurants looked warm and cozy, but through the windows you could see all the people wearing jackets, hats, and scarves.

We really wanted to see the fabled rice terraces of Sapa, but the weather did not make us want to trek. As a matter of fact, we did not have great expectations of seeing anything as the fog was thick enough to slice. Instead, we started off our first day with visits to the many restaurants, bars, and bakeries and enjoyed the delicious food, tarts, coffee, and wine. We met some cool people, including Melissa, with whom we spent the whole next day trekking through the countryside.

It was tough getting out of bed. The electricity was out again, the room was frigid and there was no hot water. We broke through, geared up, and rented a pair of rubber boots. Melissa, Weronika and I hired May, a local guide from the Black H’mong tribe to go for a trek to the local villages.

We walked a long time. I can’t tell how far, but the motorcycle ride back took about 15 to 20 minutes. The mud was everywhere and slippery. However, armed with rubber boots it was not a great hindrance. The fog was constant and unforgiving and the view was a constant milky blur. And then, it cleared up. Almost magically, it blew away and we got our first view of the fantastic rice terraces. They were everywhere. Whole mountainsides have been corrugated so that food could be grown in this harsh environment. How long ago were they built, we asked. “Very very long time.” At the end o the day May invited us to eat at her house. We walked a considerable distance and climbed some more impossibly muddy paths before we arrived at her simple but welcoming home. They cooked us a tasty dinner of veggies, fried noodles, and tofu with tomatoes, which we appreciated greatly after the long walk.

May was a great guide. She spoke good English. She was sweet, pleasant, and disarming. If you find yourself in Sapa, we would recommend finding her. Other tourists complained that their guides were pushy with selling souvenirs. With May, we established a price for the day up front and there were no hard sells. She thought us three very useful phrases in H’mong: “Hello”, “Thank you”, and “I don’t want to buy anything.” Just try to find her from the photo or give her a call: 016 7600 4196.

We liked Sapa a lot. I am sure that it must be an entirely different place if the sun is shining and you can see more than 20 meters. However, the fog gave the place character, the cold drove the hordes of tourists away, and the slippery mud built character and balance.

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