Our last stop in Vietnam was one that I learned about when initially arriving in Vietnam. I remember standing in the lobby of the hotel on the first day in Saigon, and seeing pictures of terraced rice paddies with the caption “Sapa.” I exclaimed to myself, and aloud among the hotel staff, “That’s IN Vietnam?” They confirmed my excitement, and I knew it would be one more place to add to the list.
The journey there started with an overnight train from Hanoi to Sapa. We opted for the nicer train where only four of us were crammed into a room and it was probably the most comfortable overnight transportation I’ve had (it was also my first time on a sleeper train).
On our first day there we opted to tour the area on a motorbike which brought us to the Silver falls, and winding roads with great vistas between mountains and over descending valleys.
The following day, we began our 2 day trek including a homestay visit with Mey Lai who was part of the Giay (pronounced Zay) hill tribe indigenous to the area. We were recommended this option by another traveler, Trisha, who we hung out with in Hanoi. Over the past few years, Mey Lai had become fluent in English by offering her family’s home to travelers who wanted an experience in the mountains among the paddies with the local people. And more recently, she started giving guided treks through the mountains from the town center of Sapa to her home. We were in luck as the views were astonishing.
A new school built for the children of surrounding ethnic hill tribes of Sapa.
Mey Lai also enjoyed the view while leading us within the valleys filled with rice paddies.
Long grain rice.
Short grain rice.
Every corner we turned attained another vantage point of the terraced paddies, and I was in awe each time. Although, all the pictures look quite similar, it was hardly getting old for me. I started wondering, how long have these rice paddies been here? What group of people had the idea & who perfected it? The appearance as well as the work and thought behind its creation had me in a state of admiration.
From the perspective of just appearances, it reminded me greatly of topographic maps. Contour lines that signify altitudes within a certain terrain were actualized on this land. And from the standpoint of human endeavor, it seemed to me that a balanced harmony between man and nature was achieved in this land (debatable, yes). Vegetation, wildlife, and the people were all thriving.
Young girls carried desks into their newly renovated school. Two of them were wearing the traditional clothing of the Giay ethnic tribe. With the recent in-flux of tourists to Sapa, many changes have occurred in the region. Most of the changes seem to be for the better as it has brought money to the villages. One common practice among the ethnic women of the area is to sell to the tourists directly as they are trekking through. I was made aware of this practice long before I arrived and was somewhat prepared.
I also happened to meet a few university teachers/students from British Colombia who actually had worked with Mey Lai to help start her homestay and are slowly working with all the village people to encourage not selling directly to the tourists as they are trekking as it can feel awkward/annoying especially for someone who is not expecting it.
Knowing that it was coming, I was able to see it in a different light. The ethnic women here, who are for the majority spearheading their household’s income, have decided to not comprehend or acknowledge how to give up. Their persistence and moreover, unending enthusiasm was amazing.
This sort of determination and optimism seemed to be a common thread among all the people of Vietnam and probably a strong contribution to the country’s ascent in the past four decades. Since leaving, it’s also what has made the strongest impression on me. I look forward to returning to Vietnam.