Monday, April 20, 2015

Vignettes of Vietnam -- Part 4: Sa Pa

My last weekend in Vietnam, I travelled 7 hours northwest by the sleeper bus to meet Aren in Sa Pa close to the Chinese border.  This city is in an area where there are many ethnic minority groups living in villages amongst rice paddies in the terraced mountain sides. The largest group is the Hmong people; others are the Dao, Giay, Pho Lu, and Tay. March is close to the rainy season, and the humidity is quite high, which means the air can be misty.  However, there's a mystery and beauty in the mist.

I didn't realize how large bamboo can grow.

I'm amazed at all the work it has taken to terrace these hillsides for rice paddies and all the work it takes to maintain them.  The bamboo is sometimes used to pipe water to the fields.

This woman was selling raw sugar cane for a snack.  I hadn't ever tried it before, and found it to be quite tasty though very fibrous.  One chews for the sweetness and then spits out the fiber.

Some local water buffalo, corralled for the night.

These next few photos are taken in the town of Sa Pa where there is a large market area where women from the villages set up stands to sell their colorful wares.

Another use for bamboo is as a case for a regional, tasty, sticky-rice dish You peel off the bamboo and then dip the rice in a salty peanut mixture as you take each bite.  

I thought this presentation of a watermelon drink was fun.

At the Sa Pa tourist bureau, some of the village women demonstrate their fine embroidery skills.  They do beautiful work.

From Sa Pa, Aren and I first hiked to the closest village -- Cat Cat.  I took very few photos there because it seemed so made for and overrun by tourists that it felt a bit like being in Disneyland and exploitive of the local people. From there we hiked several hours, beyond where cars can drive, only the ubiquitous motor cycle or scooter.  The views were magnificent and the air so clean.

All the animals were with babies this time of year, and totally free-ranging.  We enjoyed seeing the little animal families.

These piglets were the sweetest things.  They were tiny and very cute.

Most of our hike was climbing uphill, so coming down was a relief; however, the last stretch was a long, steep climb into Sa Pa.  Some entrepreneurial locals offered to give us a ride up the steep stretch -- for a price.  As it was starting to rain, we took them up on it.  Aren snapped this picture to save the moment for posterity.

Our day of hiking ended with a delicious meal in a charming restaurant run by a Norwegian immigrant to Sa Pa.  He features local delicacies made by a Vietnamese chef as well as hosts cooking classes in the regional cuisine. His decor is Asian with Scandinavian influences.

This part of Vietnam was full of mountainous natural beauty.  I feel so fortunate to have been able to experience it. Thank you, Aren, for being such a good host and for your great company and thank you Eddie, whom I mentioned in the last post, for being such a helpful and available travel agent.  

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