Friday, November 14, 2008

Trekking in Sapa

After an overnight train ride to Sapa, the three other members of my tour group and I began our trek through the Sapa countryside. This region is a higher altitude, maybe around 7,000 feet, and it is sprinkled with tiny hill villages of Vietnam's ethnic minorities including the H'mong, Dzay and Thai people. Around the villages are terraced rice fields, water buffalo and other farm animals.
At the start of the tour, ten H'mong girls and women joined us and walked with us. All along the way they talked to us in English, made little adornments for us out of plants they picked along the way, gave us four-leafed clovers which apparently grow freely here and held our hands every time we crossed stepping stones in a creek or a slippery part of the trail.

These girls, all dressed in their beautiful traditional clothes, were so cute and fun, and really made the day. I took lots of pictures of them, and they were happy to pose.

Of course, after hiking with us for9 km they pulled out their handicrafts and asked us to buy, and who could say no (even though buying from them promotes child labor and keeps the girls working and not in school).

Above, our guide, Khang, of the Thai ethnic minority, plays the flute while the H'mong women and girls look on.

Above, a boy tends a water buffalo, used for plowing the rice fields.

The girls made wreaths and hearts from ferns that they found along the way, and adorned us with them.

We hiked a total of 16 km, to a homestay where we would spend the night with a Dzay family who taught us to make Vietnamese spring rolls over their open hearth and whose baby peed on my lap. Below, our guide prepares French Fries for us at the home stay hearth.

The journey to the Sapa region was well worth it, even though everyone who ate the meal at the homestay (below) got food poisoning and spent the following night throwing up. Hey, everyone needs a good cleanse now and then, right?

I was especially interested in visiting the H'mong villages because there are many H'mong refugees in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

FromwhatI understand, H'mong hill people from Laos helped the U.S. during the Vietnam/American war by becoming ground troops in Laos, preventing Ho Chi Min from distributing supplies. It was illegal for the U.S. to have ground troops in Laos, so most people didn't know about this "Secret Army" until years later.

The U.S. government convinced the H'mong minority of Laos to help the U.S. during the war by telling them that the Vietnamese wanted to take their land. When the U.S. pulled out of the war, the H'mong were victims of genocide by the newly formed Lao People's Democratic Republic.

Of the 300,000 H'mong in Laos at the start of the war, 30,000 died as a direct result of the fighting, 100,000 escaped to Thailand or elsewhere, and 90,000 remained in Laos and many of these were subjected to execution or torture by the Laos government. Many of those who escaped eventually became refugees in the U.S.

I pulled this information from a short internet search, but feel free to chime in because I really don't know much about the Vietnam war history.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The H'mong were not written about much during the war. And Sapa was not mentioned. The countryside looks beautiful, a reminder that God and nature is the same even after the soil has been soaked with blood.

I'm going to ask my Special Forces friend about the H'mong
Wow, that food , in the last picture, sure looks tasty.
Love and peace Orlando
Cynic Online Magazine is going to publish, my oh so romantic, Manhatten Serenade. I don't have a date.