Rice Fields Of The North
Today was a long but fun day. After settling into our Sapa hotel, we met up with our group and headed off on a Trek to the indiginous villages outside Sapa. It was myself, Tammy, Esther, Paul, Gwen, Andrew, Kelly and two other women who joined us for the day, Sharon and Cindy (from New Zealand).
We met our guide, Khu (Koo), who is from the Hmong Tribe in Lau Chai, north of Sapa and we were on our way to go trek through the rice fields to go see her village, meet her familiy, and see the people who live there…
But we didn’t have to wait long to meet the people from her tribe because they were already waiting for us at the bottom of the hill from our hotel ready to walk alongside us the entire 7 km back home, to make friends with us, before they settled in for the kill and offered to sell us every piece of touristly momento you can dream of.
Jen, who is a sucker for being guilted into buying things, warned us about this happening. However, I have to admit, they were such cute people! They’re all under 5 feet tall, maybe 4’8″ and they’re a sweet group. They walk next to you and ask you questions and tell you about themselves, just chatting, helping us walk through slippery muddy areas, without asking us to buy anything for HOURS. You can’t NOT talk to them for the entire day! It was only after we arrived to the village that they pulled out the goods.
Aside from the consumerism, the trek to Khu’s village was amazing. There are just miles of rice fields built into the mountains, that sit in the clouds.
This is Khu:
On our six hour trek, I learned alot about Khu. She’s 22 and not married. This allows her to have freedom, because Khu says the men in her village get jealous and wouldn’t let her go off and work as a tour guide, or travel to Hanoi. She says women who aren’t married by 30 will probably never get married, or will have to marry someone really old, but that’s okay with her because she doesn’t want the headache of a husband. She told me that most of her friends have been married for years by now, since they’re married off at about 16 years old to a man they may have never even met… and if you don’t like your husband, it’s a problem. She says some women commit suicide to get away from the husbands they hate.
That just makes life much more difficult, as the Hmong tribe have a lot to do anyway. Not only do they work in the rice fields, they also make their own clothes from the hemp they grow, dye it with the indigo plant that grows in their villages, cook everything from scratch and take care of the husband and the kids!
I asked her about all the tourists she meets, and that maybe she’ll fall in love with someone who is not from her village. She laughed, and said that would never work for her. I asked Khu what she likes in a man and she said it doesn’t matter what he looks like, it matters what’s in his heart. She does seem to have standards of beauty though, beacuse she told me that she thinks the tourist women are so beautiful with their white skin.
Khu is very smart and very good at languages. She became a tour guide about two years ago. She’s quite sharp and very charming. I really got a kick out of her. Apparently she and the other Hmong people learned English from the tourists. She kept telling British Paul that she can’t understand his English accent. She was laughing at him and telling him to take lessons from me. He was quite a good sport about her teasing him.
English isn’t the only alnguage they know though… they also know how to speak Hebrew! They get a fair amount of Israeli tourists on the Sapa village tours and so the villagers have learned how to say “hello, cutie!” Unfortunately, the Israelis haven’t made a good impression on Khu. She told me that the ones she has met have been rude and kind of mean. I apologized on their behalf.
For hours, Khu and I were chatting about our lives. I imagined her life to be a really rural, tribal one… and then she asked me to be her Facebook friend! A few hours later I met Khu’s mom, a tiny, rugged-looking woman with a mongolian face. Turns out Khu’s mom is on Facebook, too!
We all made friends with Khu and her neighbors. Several hours into the trek we were all fast friends and they agreed to pose for pictures with us. Notice how I tower over everyone, and I’m just 5’6″! Granted, the kids in the front are about 10 years old.. but the woman to my left is 43 and she’s about the average height of the Hmong villagers!
Here’s a photo with more of us. Paul on my far left in the photo is probably about 5’11″ or 6′. Tall by Anerican (or UK?) standards, but here he’s absolutely carzy tall:
Once in Khu’s village, she took us to her parents’ house where 6 members of her family live. I’d describe it as a large cabin with a dirt floor. They sleep on straw and burn a bon fire on the floor to keep warm… but they still manage to have a TV in their hut where they can watch American and Australian programs! Khu says it’s a good way to practice English. No wonder she thinks Paul speaks funny. I guess they don’t get the BBC.
We continued our trek though the Lau Chai village to the rice fields of the Ta Van village, over the hills and across a crickety old vridge:
Across the brige we had lunch with our group, and then a little more trekking through another residential area. Khu showed us a rice mill inside someone’s house:
And then we walked to where Cindy and Sharon were staying for the night. They wanted a real, authentic experience so instead of staying at a hotel, they opted to stay with a tribal family. We dropped them off and I asked to see the house. Very primitive with an amazing view of the rice fields. Of course they had a TV, and it was on when we arrived. Turns out the Ta Van village natives are fans of the OC.
I took a look around the guest house and then snapped a photo of myself from the porch overlooking the rice fields.
Then it was on to our bus. For the last leg of our trek, Khu and I discussed music. She said she likes American music so I pulled out my ipod and played her some of the new dance songs I recently downloaded for my hip-hop class. Cool chick that she is, Khu recognized most of those songs.
On the way home, Tammy, Esther, Paul and I opted to get dropped off at the local market to walk around. We seriously needed to pick up some new pants and sneakers. We were just covered with mud and hadn’t brought extra clothes with us. We have another hike tomorrow, but Khu promised it won’t be as muddy, slippery and difficult as today’s hike. (Which was fun, don’t get me wrong — just dirty!) She won’t be with us, so I guess we’ll just have to stay in touch via Facebook.
Back at the hotel now and it’s absolutely freezing! I guess heat is expensive. They refuse to turn it on! One more day and night in Sapa and we head south to warmer weather.