Saturday 5th October 2019
Today we undertook another trek leaving the hustle and bustle of Sa Pa town behind which is a relief.
We were heading to Y Linh Ho which took us through the rice terraces and mountains as far as the eye could see and along Muong Hoa Stream to the Black Hmong village of Lao Chai.
We wanted to experience a more rural perspective and different way of life as well as gain in knowledge about the cultural characteristics of some ethnic minorities.
We have hired a local guide named Thái as we wanted to try and get up close and personal with some of the locals to hopefully have some communication with them aswell as learn about their culture and life.
Thái is from Sa Pa and knows the villagers well. We find out his mother is a teacher and teaches the Hmong children who learn Vietnamese, English and history at school.
We spent the whole day getting to see the spectacular landscape of Hoang Lien Son Mountain.
We walk through the most beautiful valley lying between hills. The clean air from highland Vietnam feels good.
We have the opportunity of seeing the rice fields that have just been harvested two weeks ago, its like a painting of nature.
Y Linh Ho is a little commune composed of a dozen little hamlets scattered on the severe mountain terrain with high and steep hills. Houses are made of wood and bamboo.
Once setting foot in this village which has been occupied for centuries, straight away I was impressed by the tranquillity and the natural scenery with terraced rice fields on the hillside and flowing streams. It is beautiful and intriguing.
Along the way some of the local women accompany us on our walk, walking with us for some distance.
We can communicate with one another as they can speak basic English.
One of the women has a one month old baby strapped to her and regularly she stops on the track to breastfeed.
On some of the very steep sections, which they are walking in flip flops, they take my hand helping me down, it’s quite humbling.
We notice that the Black H’Mong people wear very dark clothes compared to what we have seen, they are in black and navy dyed with indigo.
You can see the dye on the hands and feet of some of the older H’Mong women.
We picnicked for lunch taking in our surroundings. We learn a bit about the local culture such as the way they live, traditional houses, techniques of earning and clothing.
Bamboo grows everywhere and it’s a great resource for these people, from their houses, fences, water pipes, ladders and they even eat the worms that inhabit them.
We felt welcome in this village and the locals are keen for travellers to learn about their culture and customs.
We clearly see daily activity taking place such as the weaving of fabric and textiles.
Although this lady in the photo below is using a very old sewn machine every other lady we saw was hand stitching their fabric.
The below picture shows the indigo dye from the plant and the fabric hanging up drying from recently being dyed.
To encourage the locals traditional craft we bought some products not only for their distinction and beauty but also the practically useful features, such as small shoulder bags.
We also learned methods they use to cure a sick person…it was intriguing.
Seventy percent of people in Sa Pa are catholic. Families are large. Boys are still very important so couples will keep trying until a boy appears! Although this is changing.
Women, as in the last village we were in appear to do most of the work! They make their own clothes, they sell these clothes, they work the rice fields, they look after the children and their husbands by making them rice beer, the husband not the children that is. This is how they learn to be a good wife! They love their husband until the end and stay with them forever!
We say goodbye to the Mong women as we leave their territory but buy some homemade materials from them before leaving.
From here we headed to Ta Van village, home of Dzay ethnic people who have a different culture with Hmong people living in Sa Pa.
Again this is a unique and beautiful village in terms of location and culture.
Boys catching fish for tea
In this valley 10,000 people live here.
The terraced rice fields, the colour of the tress makes the landscape very attractive and special….its like nothing I have seen before.
Here they grow rice, produce instruments and engrave silver.
Rice drying out
They live in both stilted houses and common houses with a solemn central part.
The Giay people who live here have quite various cultures with fairy-tale poetry, proverbs and riddles – this appeals to me a lot!
Thái called this bridge ‘ The Golden Gate Bridge’
Its just so tranquil and peaceful, still retaining pristine character and culture. Time has gone by but the people in TaVan village’s tradition and culture have been well preserved.
Ta Van Village is hospitable, amiable and friendly, people living together at peace it seems.
As we walked past an old style house Thái knew the old lady who was sitting outside working on some hemp. He asked if we could go in to see her house and to our surprise she welcomed us in.
The inside was basic. We entered the main living area where they gather as a family. It consisted of what I would describe as a bumpy concrete floor surrounded by timber walls and it was very dark.
Now I mean no disrespect to this lovely lady or her family but to best describe this house I could only describe it as that very similar to an old cow shed.
On one side of the main living area was the kitchen area which was the same as the above but it had a small round hole in the ground used for making fire where they cooked.
On the other side of the house was the toilet which was basically a hole in the ground in a kind of out house area and between this and the main living area were two bedroom areas – 2 beds which slept this family of 10 and this was a small family.
When I use the word bed, bedroom, kitchen etc I mean this in the most basic sense and I mean basic, it was really one very small room divided by material.
There was also a loft type area where the family stored a year’s supply of rice – this to me looked like it certainly could not feed a family of 10 for a whole year!
The outer shell of this house was made of wood and there were many gaps in the wood so during cold wet months things must get very cold and be very tough for some of these families.
Out of respect for this woman and her family I took no photos from inside the house only memories and it broke my heart…we left her some money and she took hold of my hand and arm and said thank you in her language…I walked away from this lady with a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye.
You could argue that this is their life, they know no different, ignorance is bliss. But when there is a massive influction of tourism happening in THEIR village with tourists passing by regularly I know for sure they see and know of a different lifestyle, their ignorance no longer bliss!
There is poverty here as in other places we have travelled but these people seem to be making no money whatsoever out of the tourism other than practically begging for it in the main town of Sa Pa.
It appears to me that the money is going into the hands of others!
Is tourism destroying the ways of the indigenous people or infact increasing their livelihoods?
In Sa Pa town the women and children of these groups wander around town looking for money.
They try and sell you their hand made goods. Children as young as 4/5 have siblings tied to their backs. Some of these tiny children as young as 1 year old sit on the streets, dressed beautifully hoping for the tourist to offer some money.
In town you see multi million pound hotels being built for the tourists in an already hotel built up area. Land is being dug up, more hotels are being built.
On the outskirts of one of the villages we visited today hotels are getting closer and closer to the ethnic communities.
Roads to these villages are atrocious and yet the government make you pay to enter each individual community – this money does not go to the village but straight to the government!
The only thing it appears the government gives these people is a free education.
It’s because of the landscapes and the culture of these ethnic groups that draws in tourism to the area so it just doesn’t sit well with me.
It appears the rich get richer whilst the poor get poorer…can I dare use the word corruption here!
Nevertheless Sa Pa is a natural wonder. Its serene location as in the Ethnic Community location it is stunning.
It enables you to gain some first hand experience of interacting with hill tribes who inhibit the area.
The indigo plant
We have been spoilt with beautiful and interesting scenery. It has been an enriching and humbling experience where you can truly feel the cultural value of the people who live here.
I am overwhelmed for a whole lot of reasons and only hope these ethnic communities and the land they inhibit can survive here.