Friday, 25 January 2013

Sa Pa Time

Sa Pa is a small town high up in the mist covered mountains of the north. Only a few kilometres from the Chinese border. We caught a sleeper train up from Hanoi, an eight hour bumper car ride. The trip up was a little eventful with me chasing Callum down the narrow corridors in only my jocks. Not once, but three times.  Poor little bugger must have had some Pho that didn't agree with him and as the lightest sleeper and the fastest runner in the family it was my duty to make sure he made the 30 metre dash to the loo without sharing his noodle soup in the corridor.
Three bugs in a rug, and a few in Callums tummy as it turns out.
We pulled into Lai Cau at 5am, sleep deprived and bleary eyed,  where we were met by our guide, the delightful and 4 months pregnant Pamay.  It's dark and the train station is very very busy. An hours ride up the mountain in our mini bus gets us to SaPa. What a beautiful little town.  Its a little Asian Positano. Brightly coloured buildings built into the cliff face but instead of looking down into a sparkling Agean it looks down into a spectacular mist shrouded valley. Lush with jungle vegetation. Every other available scrap of land is terraced for rice and corn.

Could be Positano
It's paddy fields as far as the eye can see
While the boys settled in to the Sunny Mountain Hotel we decided to take the walk to the Cat Cat village.  Home of the Black Hmong tribe. One of five tribes that inhabit the valley. They moved down from China some 500 years ago and bought some interesting traditions with them. One worth sharing is the Love Market. Once a year they hold a Love Market. To put it in the quaint and delicate words of our guide, they believe that, when it comes to relationships of the most personal kind, a person should not be expected to "eat rice" all year long. That if once a year a person should wish to "eat noodle" then they should be allowed to do so. So in the ultimate spirit of the swinging 60's, once a year, no questions asked, they hook up with their favourite "piece of noodle" on the side and basically have a  big shag fest. None of the other tribes have adopted the practice but you cant help but think that come Black Hmong Love Market day some would be considering an honorary membership.
The rice fields here are enormous but every grain produced is strictly for feeding the families that live in the villages. Any money required for purchasing extras has to come from the handicrafts that the women make. It is real subsistence living.  They eat the animals they raise around the villages, predominately pigs and chickens and grow an array of other vegetables.
The following day the boys are rested and feeling good so we take off on a longer 3 hour walking trek through the valley visiting three villages as we go.

Home of the Black Hmong
This one I called" Apple Sauce", not long for the table me thinks.

A real eye opener
We decided to take all of the free hotel toiletries and a big bag of Chuppa Chops to hand out to the villagers and their kids as we walked through. The kids went the lollies like they were straight out of the Wonka factory.  They were really cute and delightfully sneaky.  Ohhh, mister mister one for my sister, then, ohhh, and one for my other sister, ohh and my brother too. Gorgeous. Fortunately there was a little store down in one of the villagers so I could restock. I wasn't sure if the toiletries, shampoo, toothbrushes, sewing kit etc would be a hit with the older women until on our return trip back up from the village we saw coming down towards us one of the  old toothless crones we met earlier. Looking resplendent  in her magnificent traditional dress, a massive beautifully woven basket slung across her slender strong shoulders, filled with exquisite handcrafted objects and indigo dyed fabrics, a gummy smile and a look of pride on her face as she recognized us.  And on her head,  a new shiny placky shower cap pulled down tightly over her ears. Toiletries are a tick.

Our guide, Parmay

Great walk, now, where's that bus?
Christina writes: Sa Pa is a relaxed mountain village, full of backpacker hostels and massage places. We booked into have a massage in the hotel, 90 minutes for $22, which we thought was a bargain. Later we discovered that just next door, 90 minutes was only $11*
Sunny Mountain Hotel
I fell in love with the textiles in the villages. The fabric is woven, dyed and stitched by hand. The dark blue of the dress of the Hmong tribe is dyed from indigo leaves that grow freely on the hillside. 
The loom, all set up for weaving.
Indigo brew, ready for newly woven cotton.
Traditional dress of tribes from surrounding villages.
Parmay with a piece she is working on for her daughter.

Close up of a quilt, hand-stitched.
Everyone in the village is industrious, whether it be in textiles, vegetable growing or incense making. The little winding paths through the villages are peaceful. Animals and children wander freely and there is a sense of contentment in the air.
Incense drying in the sun
More incense drying in the sun

uumm Charlie, about that puddle your standing in

We came , we saw, we left...amazed
Standard housing
* Craig tried out the $11 massage the next day - seems there is a reason it is half price, he told me that most of the time the masseuse only used one hand because she was texting constantly with the other hand.

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