It was almost the perfect ride!! Recliner beds, comfy pillows and working curtains that would block out the street lights. What was everyone on about? This 12 hour journey from Vietnam’s capital to northern Sapa seemed to be in luxury. But no, we couldn’t be that lucky could we…
Within moments of taking off the brightly multi coloured neon lights began their relentless flashing. And if that wasn’t enough, the Vietnamese whining karaoke accompanied with B-grade film clips were used to back up the rave like feel. Distorted noise was blaring through the bus, to the extreme that Clint and I were unable to hear a single word of each other’s expressed disgust from less than two feet away. We had hoped that later into the night the volume would be lowered, after all, the guy operating this party was driving a SLEEPER bus… Nope, it really was relentless. I remember looking at the time ‘4am’ and finally coming to terms that there was no escape until we exited the hell bus in Sapa.
Hours later we had made it, alive and intact, though our mental health had taken a serious blow. So we opted to take the no thinking path and followed a lovely local whom showed us through the thick fog to her budget guest house. We checked in, layered up in thermals, and took back to the streets to source some breakfast. After all, it was not even quite 8am.
We travelled to Vietnam’s remote northern region for the sole purpose of trekking. Tours are more than easy to book from Hanoi, but Clint and I try to cut out the agents wherever possible. This way we save a huge amount of cash, and the money we do spend goes directly to the locals… Not to mention that we also end up with a more culturally unique experience.
We successfully sourced our guide and started our trek the following morning. Nice and early Clint, Zu Zu, Zu, Me and I set off into Sapa’s surrounding mountain range. The first nights destination was the girls Black Mong village, where Me welcomed us into her home for the night. We were incredibly grateful for this opportunity, and eagerly accepted. Upon arrival we were lead inside to sit by the fire, which was also the stove and the lighting for the house. Soon after our arrival Clint discretely asked me; “have you ever been in this situation before?” We both shook our heads and chuckled in disbelief – we literally had just stepped back in time by a few hundred years.
While the house did have one lonely light globe hanging in the main area, it was rare to see a flicker of electricity roll through it. So we sat by the fires ambient light, listening to the pigs squealing and ducks commuting in the background, as our lovely guides prepared our evening meal. It was at this moment when we realised – these women were bloody ‘feeders’ (a term we generally anoint to our parents, as they never stop bringing out more stuff to eat). The girls cooked copious amounts of delicious foods, which thankfully they agreed to share with us. Because usually they would only eat rice and cabbage soup, a diet which I could not imagine being able to ever sustain! And then for dessert – RICE WINE!! A little hard to stomach for the first drink… but it does get easier! It was actually a much appreciated night cap as well once we had discovered where we’d be shacking up for the night.
Me was lovely enough to make up her sleeping area for us, only problem being… The Mong communities are just pint sized people. So what is a roomy little sleeping area for a Mong couple is a crammed up chicken coop for us. Upon lying down we found the coop was far from adequate to house our lanky limbs. Our shoulders bumped against the side walls and legs were heavily bent with heads and toes touching either end wall. Geeze we were in for a very long night!
The following morning we set off down into the valleys where we trekked for two more days, being dwarfed by the surrounding mountains, soaking up the everlasting views of the infamous rice crops, and of course consuming copious amounts of delicious traditional foods along the way. From here, I think I’ll leave it to Clint’s photography to illustrate the scenery which we were continuously in awe of.
Though, as a short final thought, it really was such a laugh hanging out with Zu Zu, Zu and Me for three days. Zu Zu was technically our solo guide. But because it was the low season Zu and Me had some spare time and decided to join us. These three girls were childhood friends, so they jumped at the opportunity to tell their husbands they were all off working on a trek, enabling them to hang out with each other. Cheeky girls!! It was absolutely hilarious by the second night. We all sat drinking rice wine, joking and laughing when their husbands contacted them. They would portray to be ‘working so very hard’, and then join us back at the table for more shots. We all had an absolute blast, and communication was filled with sarcasm, jokes and banter, as the girl’s English skills were incredible and near perfect. We left our trek with three new friends, and have every intention of taking them up on their generous offer, to return to their village in the future. Though, next time round we’ll be picking the season better, to both avoid the fog and witness a full harvest.