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  • Writer's pictureJodie Mohrhardt

SaPa, Vietnam

The two things I was looking forward to the most in Vietnam were the rock climbing and bay experiences of Cat Ba, and the village life of Sapa with its rice fields and hill tribe people. Sapa did not disappoint! We arrived from a night bus at 6am and were greeted by a whole bunch of Hmong women swarming us like bees asking us if we wanted trekking. It was a bit overwhelming so we fled into a coffee shop to get out of the masses of women, get some coffee of course, and figure out a plan. We decided because of weather we would not hike up “fancy pants” (Fansipan) volcano and would instead do a home stay trek with a Hmong family. Just as we came to that decision as a group, a young Hmong woman named Song walked up and nicely asked us if we needed help and trekking. I’m glad she walked up when she did, she was perfect for us and so kind and patient. We huddled with the group to talk about it and decided to book with her and do two days of trekking and stay at her family house overnight. 

All of us on the way to SaPa from one bus to another.

We packed up our things, bought rain coats, ponchos, and umbrellas (it was raining/misting the whole time) and went with Song. After dropping our bigger bags at a restaurant for Songs husband to pick up, Simon realized his wallet was gone. We searched everywhere and retraced our steps, but it wasn’t found. After going through all the stages of the grieving process in an impressive 5 minutes, he adopted the attitude “No wallet? No worries!” That became the slogan for the rest of Sapa.

The start of our trek was all uphill, winding through the market and then up the street until we branched off at a faint trail that lead up the mountain to a spectacular overlook enclosed by clouds. We also walked among bamboo forests and streets with little boys no more than 7 herding goats and buffalo. Little girls were working in the fields and digging, collecting bamboo, or picking plants. The older people of the village were planting rice or sewing. You could really get a sense of community and the idea that they were in it together, which is so beautiful. 

As we walked with Song we asked her many questions about Hmong life. We found out that she was part of the Black Hmong Tribe of the area but that there were also flower and Red Hmong around as well as other tribes. Song was married at the age of 15 and she is now 20 with 1 child and wanting more. She really wants a boy so that he will take care of the family. If they don’t have a boy they have to pay someone to take care of them when they are old. Their people do not have arranged marriages but it does seem similar. Song said that sometimes women who do not want the marriage will go off into the hills and take medicine and die. Luckily Song is happy and has a sweet little girl who we got to play with while at their place. Song lives with her husband’s family and all his siblings, parents, and grandparents. It is quite a full home.  

When we arrived at her family home we settled into our upstairs barn style loft. She had 4 mata on the floor with mosquito nets surrounding them. We put our stuff down and met the family, played with the kids and the animals, and relaxed a bit. For dinner most of the family came including Song’s husband’s 93 year old grandmother. The little sister was off texting with a boy during dinner (some things never change no matter what culture). Although her little sister was 15, she was looking hard to marry a boy. After dinner she brought out the “happy water” which is a rice wine mixture special to Vietnam. We had a few glasses and then went to bed early so that the other people in the house and baby could sleep. I decided one thing the next morning. If I ever own a farm, which I would love to, I do NOT want a rooster!! That thing woke me up at 4am along with the geese. About an hour later I heard Song wake up and start the kitchen fire. I must have fallen back asleep because when I woke up they were starting breakfast. I wandered into the little hut and sat with the fire while they cooked over it. I got to hang out in the fire heated kitchen and play with the baby as well which was nice. Minus the fact that I think she may have peed all over me. The little babies and kids in the village don’t wear diapers so it could have been much worse for sure.

After a breakfast of pancakes and bananas we ventured back out into the rain for the second trekking day. We walked past many more rice fields and waterfalls, bamboo and forests, and people of all different tribes working away. It was a great day. We said our goodbyes to Song and found a place to sleep for the night back in Sapa.

I wonder what life would be like and how it would be different if we all lived off the land in a simple way like this and no one knew any differently. Would the world be a better kinder place? Would we all get along? I guess we will never know.

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