One of the first images in our minds when we thought about visiting Vietnam was bright green hillsides carved by stacked steps of rice paddies. It was one scene we did not want to miss, so we hopped on a long, creaky, overnight train to the mountains in the north near the Chinese border, to a region called Sapa.
We arrived very early in the morning at the train station and headed straight to Sapa Town to meet our trekking guide for the day. Simply introduced to us as B, our guide was a local Black H’mong woman, one of 52 ethic minorities living across Vietnam in remote villages. Each has a different language, customs, and unique way of dressing.
B took us through the local morning market and around the backside of the mountains where we’d start our trek. Before long we were joined by two more Black H’mong, the elder Ku, and young Mai, whom joyfully chatted and gossiped as we made our ascent. What was a pulse inducing, steep climb for us was a gentle morning stroll for Ku who wore thick long-sleeved traditional clothing and barely broke a sweat as she quickly moved through the foliage.
By the early afternoon we had reached one of the many cloud covered peaks, each with dramatic views into the valleys and villages below. There was a moment that felt like we were floating on clouds, but soon enough some unseasonably warm sun broke through as we made our descent. After some haggling with Ku and Mai we purchased some handicrafts they had hoped to sell to us after we reached the peak. Many of the ethic minorities heavily rely on tourism for income and walk miles from their villages in hopes that they will make a few sales a day from trekking tourists.
By late afternoon we passed through local villages, farms, and rice paddies hidden in the mountain side. B talked to us about her people and life in her village, and before we knew it we had reached the valley. B arranged for a couple of locals to give us a lift to our lodge, so we hopped on the back of their motorbikes and soaked in the views of our postcard trek just in time to catch the setting sun as we settled in with a celebratory drink. ◆