09.01.2014 - 12.01.2014 58 °F
Greetings from Sapa, Vietnam!
Ana and I just finished a 3 day 2 night stay in Sapa, which is located in the Lao Cai providence about 40 kilometers from China in the north western section of Vietnam. Sapa is well know to the Vietnamese for a few reasons, most noteably it's recognized for it's beauty and culture rich environment. Lots of Hmong tribes in these parts.
The far eastern section of the Himalayan mountain range comes to an end here in Sapa. It's at about 1,600 meters above sea level, but a day hike will take you to Fan Si Pan Mountain which is the highest point in Vietnam sitting at around 3,100 meters above sea level.
It's no where near as cold as Minnesota, but average temps in December and January stretch anywhere from -1 to 15 degrees celcius (30-60 degrees F). It is undoubtedly the coldest place in Vietnam. The locals (Ana too) are dresssed in full winter gear: scarfs, ear muffs, mittens and layer upon layer. I wouldn't call it cold being from MN, but the fact that we're at cloud level means there is a ton of moisture in the air making it feel on the chilly side.
Although we've enjoyed a couple 12 km treks through a few local villages, we never saw the full vista of the mountains in Sapa. The clouds this time of year in Sapa are so thick that you're lucky if you see a clear during the day. In our 72 hours in Sapa 50-100 yards of sight was average, although we got a little better view yesterday. This is what Sapa looks like in summer and fall:
This is what Sapa looked like the other day:
Our guides have been members of one of the 5 tribes that cultivate rice and corn in the Sapa Region(Hmong, Dao, Tay, Pho Lu and Giay). They wear very traditional clothes they make themselves. The native people live in the mountains and have a very primitive way of life. They are mostly self sifficient, eating only the foods they cultivate in the hills such as vegatables, corn and Rice. They do eat meat as well; mostly pork, chicken and beef. Dog meat is common all over Vietnam, but I have no interest in giving it a try.
In the Hmong tribes people marry at a very early age, some time between 15-17 years of age. They also grow marijuana, yet it is used exclusively for the hemp to make clothes and small items sold on the street to people in the town of Sapa. There clothes were quite authentic:
Our tours have consisted of Ana and I, as well as other couples from all over the place. During each of our hikes we were accompanied by several other tourists as well as a collection of women from the neighboring vliiages. At first we we're hoping it was just to bless the journey with good juju, but their efforts soon became relentless in trying to sell us their handmade goods. Here's a shot of the group along with the village people:
People say Sapa is a very Romantic town, especially in the Summer and Fall when the rice fields are maturing. We knew we wouldn't be privy to the view of the rice in January or be able to wax romance under a sunny sky; however, witnessing the design of the rice fields on the mountain side, eating the local rice noodle soup and confronting a simpler way of life has provided a fresh take on the meaning of romance.
Be well and safe travels amigos!