Our family has been in Vietnam for the last week and we just spent a few days in Sapa, the picturesque mountain town known for its terraced rice fields and ethnic minorities, most of whom are masterful farmers and artisans trapped in extreme poverty. You can recognize them by their tribal dress—there are the red-hatted Dao, the Black Hmong who dress in all black, and the Giay who wear light cotton blouses of green and white.


A Hike through a Village near Sapa

Tourism is one of the very few revenue generating streams available to supplement the rice shortage that occurs after the family has eaten every grain from their fields. As a result, any visitor arriving in the Sapa area can expect an entourage of friendly escorts who “stick closer than a brother” until someone makes a purchase and supports the local economy.


Hmong women Sapa
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Women from the Red Dao minority hoping for a sale


Hiking is THE best thing to do in Sapa. The weather is cool and the scenery is spectacular as soon as you step out of town. On our first day we hiked through a couple of villages, tucking in and out of homes, discovering their way of life up-close.


A few things we learned:


  • Indigo is not colorfast. The fingertips of many women in the villages are stained blue. This is from the dye used for the fabrics used in their handicrafts.
  • Senior citizens in this region include anyone who is 25 years of age and older. The lifespan is short because of the hard work and conditions of the minorities. I have certainly earned the respectful two-hand handshake reserved for the older generation that is offered to me.
  • Green peaches aren’t always inedible.
  • Water buffalo have a very good life. Besides the rare occasion where they are used to plough the fields, they spend much of the day blocking traffic, eating, and rolling in the plentiful mud puddles. I think they get away with it because they are such gentile creatures.
  • If you see someone with a round red mark on their forehead it is because they are suffering from a headache. Headaches are “cured” by heating the horn of a water buffalo and applying it to your forehead. I guess water buffalo have other purposes I had not considered previously.
  • Mopeds are the most useful mode of transportation. They can carry as much as a pick-up truck and only need a track about 1 foot wide to run on.


Ice Cream Treats

One of the highlights of our time was hiking up to a mountain school where we played games with children ages 3 to 14 and then served them ice cream. Only three of the forty kids had ever tasted this frozen treat. What pure, unspoiled JOY like we have never seen!


Hmong children Sapa
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Hmong children near Sapa tasting ice cream for the first time.


The next stop for us is Hanoi and then the famous Halong Bay! We’ll keep you posted.


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