The landscape around Sa Pa is the most beautiful we’ve seen in Vietnam yet. Sa Pa town is perched on a mountainside and the vista from our hotel overlooks the river valley and is dwarfed by the opposing and imposing mountains. To take in more of Sa Pa’s scenery, we signed up to go on a guided day hike with a local tour agency. This morning we met our guide, Mai, a twenty-something year old Black Hmong girl. We also met the sole other trekker on the hike, Caitlin, from Canada. Although the hike started down the main road leading into town, we soon veered off it and began descending down into the valley. Most of the way we just walked down a dirt path that intersected the dozens of rice paddies. Its planting season now and men were out preparing the paddies, plowing and fixing irrigation canals. The path was slightly muddy from yesterday and last night’s rain, but it was manageable (if not a bit slippery). A little girl began walking with the four of us, as well, since she was headed to one of the villages that we’d pass through. Lots of little girls walk around Sapa, hawking handicrafts and other souvenir junk, this girl included. We continued down, down, down the terraced mountainside. Not much to write about- just descending with the occasional stop for a photo. Despite the monotony of the walk, it wasn’t bad. The scenery was spectacular, mainly the rice paddies that blanketed the valley and mountainsides for as far as we could see.
We took a rest break when we reached a rudimentary suspension bridge spanning the nameless river at the bottom of the valley. While we sat, the seven year old girl following us accidentally dropped her umbrella. Although I was pretty sure it landed in the river and sank or got swept away, she was determined to recover it. We watched on in amazement as she clambered down the rocks and jumped from stone to stone on the banks of the turbulent river looking for her umbrella. Her efforts were, however, futile as her umbrella was gone. When she climbed back up to the bridge, we set off again. We came all the way down one side of the valley and now began the tiring climb up the other. Hiking uphill was pretty tiring, but at least it was a river valley that gradually descended in altitude. So we did have some steep ups, but it was generally down. Eventually our path cut away from the river and we walked through paddied hills full of farmers. Men plowed, women planted. Walking, I realized that by days end I would probably have 12 millions rice paddy photos. But at least their irregular lines, colors, and reflections made them a dynamic subject.
After several hours of hiking, we reached Lao Chai, a Black Hmong village. It was a farming village and as the trail ended, we were reduced to walking on narrow walls of dirt/mud separating the paddies. Careful not to fall to either side, we slowly approached the village. We ate lunch in the village and noticed a ton of other trekkers. Apparently all the other groups had taken one trail, while our guide had taken us along a remote trail. I was really thankful that we didn’t run into any other people throughout the whole morning, not to mention groups of package tourists. After lunch, we only walked for about another hour or so, at which point the trail met a road. We piled into an SUV that shuttled us back to Sapa for the evening. Looking back on the day and the hike, it was a relatively easy hike, but very scenic. It was a good way to end our otherwise tumultuous time in Vietnam.