One of our main interests in Vietnam was visiting the mountain village of Sa Pa. Sa Pa is situated in northwest Vietnam near China border. It’s approx 6 hours ride away from the capital Ha Noi. There is many ethnic minorities living in the small villages around Sa Pa. Weather in december is very cold and we noticed soon that after warm and humid Southern-India, we needed to upgrade our clothes to warmer ones to better deal with 0 degrees temperature! Too bad that we already had sent our winter clothes to Finland after Nepal…Many hostels don’t have any warming systems, you’ll get an electric mattress to keep you warm during the night and hot shower isn’t guaranteed either…so prepare with proper clothes if you wish to visit there in winter We were happy to arrive to Sa Pa though, as we noticed it had exactly the kind of a ‘christmas’-spirit we were looking for (and what is very difficult for a Finn to find under the palm trees). That was the main reason we decided to stay in Sa Pa for one week, so that we could spend Christmas there as well.
We wanted to do trekking in Sa Pa in order to have a closer look to it’s beautiful nature. As well, we wanted to see how local minority people live so we chose a trek which included 2 nights in local people’s homestays. We chose Sa Pa-based organisation Sapa O’Chau to organise our 3-days trek to Muong Hoa Valley. There is many tour operators in Ha Noi who do all-inclusive-trekking-trips to Sa Pa but Sapa O’Chau has great mission of employing local minority people as tour guides and homestay keepers. In that way money gained from trekkers goes directly to improving these peoples’ living conditions. Our trek price including all meals was approx 80 euros per person.
Trek to Muong Hoa Valley was more demanding that we had thought. Our first and second day’s walk were both around 20 kilometers. Route went through terraced rice fields which unfortunately had harvested in august. They were beautiful without rice anyway just filled with water. Sometimes the trail went through thick bamboo forests and across rivers via suspension bridges. Mostly it was going up or down and sometimes in a thick and slippery mud. Almost every tourist who did trekking and to whom we talked to, said they had been falling at least once while trekking. Our shoes were always so muddy after the days walk was over. And how can it be that our guide Mô always had such a clean shoes!?
Me, our guide Mô and Auli in the beginning of the trek.
Rice fields were covered with water.
Terraced rice fields
Boys carrying bamboo
Damn these muddy and slippery paths!
Seeing how local people live was the best part of our trek. Our guide Mô represented Hmong Tribe and said it is five different ethnic tribes living in the Muong Hoa Valley close to each other. Mô is 29-years old and has two children, oldest being 12 years old. Mô had been widowed earlier this year, her husband being only 33 years old when he died due to somekind of a heart-illness. Mô is guiding treks to Muong Hoa Valley and in this way is able to support her small family. We got to see Mô’s house in Lao Chai-village where we also stayed our first night in the homestay of Ms. May. It was pretty shocking to see Mô’s house. It reminded me of a barn houses in Finland having basically only one big room, concrete floors and walls made of bamboo leaves. No windows and as you can imagine wind can get easily in through those thin walls. There obviously wasn’t any heating systems and just a dim halogen lit the common room. All the family was sleeping in one big bed. There wasn’t any great storage spaces for clothes, toys, food or tableware. We didn’t find any bathroom either. Toilet was a separate bamboo house with a hole.
Mô’s house in Lao Chai village.
Our first homestay keeper, Ms. May, had similar life story to Mô. Widowed at an early age and with three small children, she is now able to support herself and her family through the income she earns from her homestay. May’s house was bigger than Mô’s and had very clean western style toilet and bathroom with even hot water! Many children gathered to her living room to watch tv after the dark. There was me, Auli and and Australian couple staying over night. Mô and Mô’s sister Txuv made a delicious dinner to us and after May came back from her guiding work, we all ate together. We slept upstairs below two thick blankets and after first day’s tough trail, slept 12 hours in a row! Second night we spent in a Ban Ho village and shared a huge sleeping space with two girls from Germany.
May’s house in Lao Chai Village
May’s house in Lao Chai Village
Our sleeping settings
Dinner at May’s house
Dinner at Ban Ho village with Mô, german girls and homestay keepers
Auli with local ladies in Ban Ho village
In January there can be even snow in Sa Pa and temperature goes easily below 0 degrees. Imagine sleeping in those kind of conditions in a finnish barn house. There is some perspective to the western countries. Do we really need all the conveniences we have (i.e floor-heating or air-conditioning that can be adjusted room by room!) What do we really need for surviving? Seeing life of these people really made me think about the unfairness between our country and these people. We have it all and still it seems nothing is enough for us…these people have almost nothing but they still seem to be happy and enjoying life without even knowing what could they need more.
I really appreciate how people live in these villages. They grow almost everything by themselves from rice and corn to different vegetables, fruits, herbs and animals. All village help when it’s time to harvest huge rice and corn fields in late summer. They prepare all the food by themselves, use every single part of an animal and buy less ready-made-stuff from the markets. Women make their own, traditional clothes: they start by dying the fabrics, drying them, then sewing all the different decorations to them and finally they sew all the pieces together. Cows, buffalos, chickens, geese, pigs, cats and dogs live happily wherever they want, there is no fencing for animals. There is schools for different levels in each village and children play together outside after school. It didn’t seem to matter whose children it was spending evening in May’s house, everyone got to eat there who happen to be there in dinner-time. There was life in these villages! And I doubt it is actually pretty good life. When asking Mô if she was happy with her life, she truly seemed to answer ‘yes’ from the bottom of her heart.
Mô was the best!