Today is our last day in Sapa. After yesterday’s long and more difficult trek, we have decided to hang out and relax today. We got up a little later and had breakfast then found out that we don’t have to check out until 2pm! Our bus leaves Sapa around 5:00pm for Lao Cai and it will take about an hour to get there. Then we have a couple of hours to grab some dinner before getting on our overnight train back to Hanoi.
Yesterday’s trek was incredible. We met Mee at 9:30am to begin our hike to 3 tribal villages, Y Linh Ho, Lao Chai, and Ta Van. We walked through town and picked up a few other H’mong girls along the way. As we got closer to the end of town we could see the line of other tourists doing the same walk – much more crowded than yesterday – each surrounded by their guide and a gaggle of other H’mong girls. As we walked down the main road we saw a newer village whose product was roses; there was field upon field of little pink blossoms.
Once we got through the checkpoint we split from the majority of the tourists and went down a steep footpath to trek through the valley of the Y Linh Ho village. This part of the journey took about 2.5 hours and was my absolute favorite part of the trek. We literally hiked through rice paddies and above a beautiful valley of terraced paddies among ducks, chickens, water buffalo, and other H’mong people. There were some really difficult parts of the hike, extremely steep and slippery parts, but the H’mong girls with us were very helpful always grabbing hold of our hands to steady us. The fog still didn’t burn off, but the lower in the valley we went, the better we could see all the rice paddies around us.
We hiked back up to the main road for a beautiful view of the valley and then back down another, steeper foot trail to begin our descent into the valley surrounding the village of Lao Chai.
In Lao Chai we stopped for lunch with all the other tourists in a big, open-air room. The H’mong girls who had accompanied us gathered around our lunch table trying to sell us their handicrafts. They make it difficult to say no, especially since they had helped us on the walk down. Zach bought something and so did I, though neither one of us really wanted anything.
Lunch was nice and relaxing, even with all the H’mong and Red Dao people buzzing around trying to sell things to everyone. From that point on we stayed on the same path as everyone else and actually walked through the villages of both Lao Chai and Ta Van. There was much more of an emphasis on purchasing their handicrafts. We were constantly around Red Dao women in the streets and were given a few opportunities to stop at some of the shops in the villages. We had purchased everything we wanted on the trail the day before so we felt pressured to buy things we didn’t want. It would be easier if all the village shops had different products, but they all have the same things that are being sold in Sapa, in Cat Cat Valley, and all the other villages. There are only so many scarves you can buy…
In both Lao Chai and Ta Van we were allowed to visit the village schools (to which I did make a small donation) and look inside an actual class. The one we peeked at was learning English – hello and goodbye. It was nice to see the positive side of tourism – enabling village children to go to school and learn a language that will help them in the future.
In the next 5-10 years this area will continue to change dramatically. We were glad we had the opportunity to see it now, because even with the newer hotels and restaurants and the shops that litter the village trails, we saw a lot of the tribal people in their natural environments and had to hike small, dirt foot trails down steep mountain valleys – we felt like we were seeing things first hand. It’s a little like going back in time – but not entirely. Mee stopped a couple times to answer her cell phone and many of the people have some modern conveniences – machinery to make their farm work easier, electricity – but all in all they still lead simplistic lifestyles.
We were really exhausted at the end of that hike and were transported back to Sapa in a minibus (van). We tipped Mee $15 for her excellent work as our guide and then spent the rest of the night relaxing and watching movies on the crazy, out of date HBO channel we get at our hotel. Our trekking partner, Steve, left after our second hike and is going out to Ha Long Bay today. We took a group photo of the 3 of us with Mee and hopefully Steve will email that to us later.
We are excited to get back into Hanoi, although we hate to leave the beautiful cool weather here.