Recently I was fortunate enough to travel to Vietnam. This was my first time back in 15 years and I was curious to see how much things had changed…
Vietnam now has many more 3, 4 and 5 star hotels than it did when I last visited. But what I considered even more fortunate is that the way of life hasn’t changed too much at all. This was especially evident when I visited Sapa and Bac Ha on a short tailor made holiday prior to my Very Vietnam tour.
I took the overnight train from Hanoi to Lao Cai. You can either travel in the 4 berth cabin like I did, or there are twin berth cabins for those who want a little more room and privacy. Arriving in Lao Cai very early in the morning we drove for an hour into the beautiful mountains, covered in rice terraces, to get to Sapa. This area is a lot cooler than Hanoi, which was a welcome relief given I had just come from winter back home in Australia, and was thrown into the tropical heat of Hanoi.
In Sapa you can still see the Black Hmong and the Red Dao indigenous tribes (pictured above) going about their business in the town and in the stunning surrounding mountains. They are keen to talk to the tourists, and of course sell you some of their intricate needlework.
I took an easy trek through this valley (above) and a couple of the villages of the Black Hmong people. It is possible to take more strenuous treks, but hey that’s not for me!
On Sundays, Bac Ha comes alive with it’s weekly market. We drove back to Lao Cai and then about another hour further. Some of this drive was spent looking at China which was just on the other side of the river we were driving along. At the market you can buy everything from fruit, vegetables, meat, shoes and of course the favourite of the day for the men – corn wine. Often the ladies need to ride their horses (or in this modern age, motorbikes) back home with their children on the front and their husbands looking rather worse for wear on the back! While the corn wine is popular with the men, it’s ice blocks for all the ladies and children.
The buffaloes are auctioned off in a special section of the market while another area sells the live chickens, ducks and pigs. These smaller animals can be seen in baskets on the back of motorbikes heading off into the distance towards their new home.
The Flower Hmong people dress in their finest for the big day out. The ladies (right) are absolutely stunning in their multi-coloured clothing.
So if you want to see a different side to fascinating Vietnam, I highly recommend a side trip to Sapa and Bac Ha. But make sure you’re in Bac Ha on the Sunday so you can experience the amazing market!
by Di Bignell