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Monday, December 29, 2014

Hiking with the Hill People in the Scenic Sapa Region of Vietnam


Tired and cold from the previous night's hike from the city center to our homestay located in a village deep in the hillside of Sapa, I exulted at the sight of sunlight creeping in our spacious second floor room. Because this means the temperature is hovering near 10 degrees compared to the almost 2 or negative 2 degrees that chilled us the night before when I lay shaking even under a thick blanket. 

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The weather was still cold when we commenced day 2 of our trek just after we downed a hearty breakfast consisting of fresh fruits and pancakes. I felt more comfortable in the weather that has become more bearable to even take off your jacket like what my fellow hiker from UK, Alyson did. Our hiking party all got to meet each other for the first time the day before when we all arrived at Sapa as passengers of the train that came from Hanoi, the one that stopped in a random town for seven hours thereby delaying our arrival until late afternoon. Because of this unforeseen hiccup we started our hike at around 4:30 pm. Many hours behind our schedule, we hiked until darkness. 

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Our group is composed of Alyson and Serena who are from the UK, both avid travelers and are now journeying in Chile as of this writing. They were the only ones I got to reconnect through Facebook after this trip. There were five other young professionals from California who are of Chinese and Vietnamese descent, two of whom were married in Saigon a few days later, while two towering couple from the Czech Republic completes the cast.

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During our night trek while struggling to find our footing in the dark, one of the Asian Americans in our group asked aloud "Where are the tall people?" I turned my head and there they are lagging a few dozen meters behind accompanied by one our guides who belongs to the either the Hmong or the Dao hill tribes of Sapa. 

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Actually, our tour organizer only provided one local guide but we were nonetheless accompanied by around six to seven more locals including two adorable young girls who can speak English well. One of them keep asking about myself like "are you married?", "you want to live here?", "what is your country like?" to which I tell her "My country the Philippines is just like yours, lots of mountains too and rice fields without the snow"

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There are five ethnic groups in the region of Sapa and they consist of the Hmong (52%), Dao (25%), Tay (5%), Giay (2%) and a tiny percentage of the Xa Pho people to go along with the local Vietnamese people. 


Even with the many similarities in scenery with our countrysides, the monotonous greenery and sweeping landscape of rice fields stretched like our very own rice terraces and the snow capped peaks of the nearby mountains, all relentless in splendor, makes my eyes glisten in visual banquet. What savored my vision made my huffing and puffing take a backseat as I enjoy numerous solitary breaks while I stare at my surrounding mouthing repetitive "Wow"(s) 

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We had our longest rest atop a hill that provided a magnificent 360 degree view of the mountain range. While the wind picks up pace, the sunlight kept us warmer at the same time. As I sat exhausted on the grass I ran my hands over it like I would do on a lover's hair, massaging it just enough to get mounds of Earth on my skin. I watched my fellow hikers pose for jumping pics on the camera, while our guides - some of them even carrying babies smiles back looking at us. 

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No doubt it was a beautiful day. Our hike lasted for another four to five hours that day which took us on long trails leading to awesome viewing vantage points and unto pockets of other tiny villages and a small waterfalls. When we finally reached the town at the end of our route a set of hot Pho lunch are already waiting for us.

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The whole hiking itself wasn't just an exercise that moved every inch of my leg muscles, it also moved new information into my head about this vertical-land locked region. Even though the cold bothered me the night before - as we all sat around the table with burning charcoals underneath heating our feet - talking about travels and stuff, the people I met along the trail, who belong to the minority groups added a semblance of uniqueness to the over-all experience. 

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Even as our hiking party went on our separate ways - the five going to Saigon to attend their friend's wedding, Alison and Serena going back to Hanoi and the two tall Czech couple who I wonder if they're still trotting around the world, my memory of these two days will forever intertwined with their own set of recollections. And that would be our lasting links to each other. All thanks to the chance to travel. 

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Sapa can be reached via a 7-8 hour night train from Hanoi. 
Cebu Pacific Air flies thrice a week from Manila to Hanoi - the only direct flight from the Philippines. December is winter month, probably the best time to come if you want to chance upon some snow. 


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