We’ve spent the last few days hiking around Sapa, living in the pages of National Geographic surrounded by the Black Hmong.
The Black Hmong are a hill tribe that lives in the Sapa region of Northern Vietnam. They are by far the largest ethinic minority in the area, having migrated from southern China around the 18th century.
Our guide told us there are five distinct sub-groups in the area, each with its own language. They learn Vietnamese to speak to one other, but they don’t consider themselves to be Vietnamese at all.
The Black Hmong take their name from their dress, which consists of hemp clothing dyed a deep blue-black from the indigo flower. Brightly coloured woven textiles complete their look, making them a colourful group of people to watch.
We took a two day trek through the rice terraces and stayed overnight with the Hmong at a homestay. We came at just the right time as the fields were being harvested, and we were able to watch the whole process of separating rice from the husks to bagging rice for transport to market.
The only bad thing about being in Sapa at the end of September is the smoke that fills the valleys from burning husks. The ashes are mixed into the soil as fertilizer, so an important part of rice cultivation.
The tourist trail in Sapa is pretty commercialized, with a steady stream of trekkers passing through the valleys. Women follow tour groups and try to establish a relationship with trekkers to sell their goods at the end of the hike.
While some people find this annoying, I tend to look at the broader picture. People in this area can continue living their culture because of the money they get from tourists. Did I pay too much for a hand-made bag and a couple of bracelets? Probably. Do I have $10 to give to a woman who would be lost if she was forced to find work in a big city far from her culture? Yes.
We hiked 15 km the first day and eight the next. We spent overnight in a homestay with nine other travellers including a woman from Edmonton who had just finished her degree.
There was a backpackers’ bar at the other end of the village run by a friendly Australian. Our server was excited to meet us because she was from Toronto and it was her second day on the job. We were her first Canadians.
The bar and its hippie music seemed a little out of place in the village, but it was fun to connect with other travelers. Back at the homestay the family cooked us a traditional meal and then it was pretty early to bed. We were all exhausted!
The one thing we learned on the trek – don’t ignore the snakes! We were on our way down to the river to swim when Sophie spotted a green snake with a red spot near its head. We found another route down to the water, but learned afterwards that colourful snakes are poisonous (along with pretty much everything else in Vietnam). This particular snakes bite kills you in three hours without anti-venom. Oh to be a naive Canadian… 🙂