Coming to Can Tho City, a quiet area that tourists should not ignore is Binh Thuy Communal House, known in the past as Long Tuyen Communal House.
Ong tu (guard) inside the Binh Thuy Communal House in Can Tho City - Photo: My Tran
Located in Binh Thuy Ward, about five kilometers from the center of Can Tho, the site is not as famous as other sites in the city such as Binh Thuy Old House, Cai Rang Floating Market, Ninh Kieu Wharf or Ong Pagoda.
However, the communal house, which has existed for over two centuries, will bring another side of Can Tho’s history with its fine architecture and antiques.
Built in the 19th century, the Communal House was named Bon Canh Thanh Hoang on November 9th 1893 by King Tu Duc.
Later the Communal House was dedicated to national heroes including Dinh Cong Trang, Nguyen Trung Truc, Bui Huu Nghia and Vo Huy Tap. It was completely renovated in 1910.
If you are an architecture enthusiast, you will recognize that the communal house’s architecture is different from communal houses in the north. The front and the back buildings are square, and its side has six rows of columns, and all the columns’ bases are extra-wide, making these buildings more stable.
The roofs of the two front buildings were built overlapping each other. The main temple at the rear has three roofs. The top of the roof is covered with statues of people, lions and fish.
In the front of the building, there are cement columns. Inside the ancestor-worshipping house, there are altars dedicated to worship the animal gods.
It is considered a valuable monument of art and architectural style in the newly-expanded south western area. Although it was built at the beginning of the 20th century, its architecture has many traditional characteristics with carved and engraved wooden boards.
Bas-reliefs, lacquered boards and paralleled sentences or royal costumes and old paintings is an interesting area for art lovers.
Another impressive thing is the attendance of ong tu (the guard) of the house. He is very old with white hair and slowcoach gait. He will accompany you around the house and show you where to take the best photographs.
Some giant trees in the spacious yard shading the house make it more ancient and peaceful.
The house is also a venue for traditional ceremonies and festivals.
The Thu Bon River basin covers an area of over 10,000 square kilometers in Quang Nam Province and is ranked fourth for hydropower potential in Vietnam. But to the local people, the river is considered the lifeblood that has helped raise many generations of residents on both banks.
|Part of the Thu Bon River with cloud-covered mountains in the background
Originating from Ngoc Linh Mountain in Dak Glei District, Kon Tum Province, the Thu Bon River flows into the sea via Cua Dai Estuary in Hoi An Town in Quang Nam Province. A tributary runs to the Vinh Dien River to pour water into the Han River in Danang City. And before going to the sea, part of the Thu Bon River courses through the Truong Giang River to pour into An Hoa Tam Quang Bay in Nui Thanh District.
From Vinh Dien up to Giao Thuy T-junction, one can see mulberry fields along the river banks. A folk art was born here, using literary figures to show the intelligence, optimism and sentiments of the locals.
For a long time, the Thu Bon River has been famous for the craft of raising silkworms and weaving fabric, and for the endless green mulberry farms stretching along its banks. Along the banks are many well-known craft centers such as Thanh Ha for pottery, Phuoc Kieu for bronze casting, Kim Bong for carpentry, Tra Que for vegetables, Ma Chau for silk, Phu Chiem for rice paper and Que Minh for conical hats.
Along the banks are numerous wharves and markets reflecting the rural lifestyle, and simple villages steeped in memories. The Trung Phuoc floating market is the busiest trading place in the region.
The Thu Bon River is likened to the Ganges River in India because it is a silt source forming the delta. Strangely, despite cultural interchange, the very northern and southern banks of the Thu Bon River have their own cultural differences characterised by voices, routine activities, festivals and even relics from each area. In the southern bank, the Champa culture still figures in daily activities, customs and festivals for local residents.
The Thu Bon Goddess Festival falls on the 12th day of the second lunar month, and is held solemnly in My Luoc Village, where a water procession is the most important part of the ceremony. Locals scoop water from the Thu Bon River and pour it into the jars, then carry them on their heads back to the village in deference to the river.
In the upstream district of Hiep Duc, locals set up a long house with an altar on the top to suspend a boat. The rituals around the boats aim to honor the “river mother” in the spiritual lives of locals.
For tourists who are interested in a river tour or an eco-tour to the countryside of Vietnam, taking a boat ride on the Thu Bon River may be their most enjoyable experience when they come to Quang Nam-Danang.
They can also visit Dai Buong, an orchard village similar to those found in the southern region with rambutan, durian and mangosteen. Tourists will have the chance to enjoy durian wine, which has an unforgettable flavor.
In Hon Kem-Da Dung area, where the river is narrowed by the cliffs on either bank, novelist Thai Ba Loi stood and gazed at the Thu Bon River and regretted: “On the river, hydropower dams were built, thousands of hectares of forest have been destroyed. Sand is exploited excessively. With such unethical behavior toward nature, people must reap what they sow.”
If the Thu Bon River, a water mother who opens her arms to hold the holy land which is home to the epic legends of Quang Nam, a traditional cultural stream filled with the colors of the central region’s countryside, and an attractive tour itinerary, is not protected from being destroyed by humans, it cannot retain its beautiful images in the minds of people who love the land.
Go Thap Archaeological Area in the Mekong Delta is nothing but ruins reflecting the once proud Oc Eo, a culture that had its glorious development 1,500 years ago.
People pay tribute to statues of Doc Binh Kieu and Vo Duy Duong, two of the leaders of the resistance against French troops in Go Thap
On Wednesday, brownish mossy bricks are what is left of the foundation of a tower which served as a worship area for local people in 500 AD.
The area was uncovered in 1984 when archeologists found a number of artifacts of the Oc Eo civilization in the site about 43 kilometers from Cao Lanh City.
Further excavations and findings saw the discovery of the foundation of the tower, which was built 25 meters long and 13.85 meters wide and in the eastwestern direction to allow the sun to cast its first and last light on the building.
After excavation work the tower’s foundation was renovated in 1995 and then opened to scientists, researchers and those who were keen to dig deep into the history of the Oc Eo culture which was part of the legendary kingdom of Phu Nam.
Recognised as a national vestige, the site in Thap Muoi District, Dong Thap Province is also home to Go Thap Muoi (Thap Muoi Hill), the grave and temple which honors Doc Binh Kieu – one of the leaders of the resistance against French occupation. Nearby is Ba Chua Xu Temple and Co Tu Tower which are located north of Thap Muoi Hill and built during the 19th century.
Go Thap Muoi also served as a base for revolutionary soldiers to fight against U.S. troops during the American War in Vietnam. A lot of people visit the site every year to learn how brave soldiers fought for independence.
The Go Thap Archaeological Area is quite a peaceful area as well as its cultural and historical value. The sounds of boat engines on nearby canals and the rustling sound of leaves falling from old trees make the site an oasis for visitors to rest and relax away from their daily life.
The ruins of a worship tower in Go Thap Archaeological Area – Photos: Mong Binh
Po Cung Grotto on Pha Hang Mountain in Thanh Hoa Province is the largest grotto cemetery in Vietnam.
The grotto is 10m high, divided into three parts with two doors of 5m high. It is the cemetery for 74 ancient coffins made of tree-trunks. Most of them are quite intact.
Anthropologists explained that instead of burying dead people, some ethnic groups put dead people in caves. In Vietnam, this practice was popular during the Dong Son era.
Archaeologists discovered coffins dating back to the first century in Thailand caves and coffins from the 5th century BCE to the early 20th century in China’s caves. Coffins in the form of dug-out canoes in Po Cung grotto are the first of their kind to be discovered in Vietnam. These coffins are made of tree-trunks and they are placed on wooden brackets.
The biggest coffins are 2.8m long, 0.48m wide and the smallest are 1.4m long and 0.28m wide. Many coffins don’t have bones inside.
Scientists observed that this grotto may be a cemetery of several big families and they still want to know how they brought the coffins into the grotto, which is located high on the mountain.
After Po Cung grotto was discovered several years ago in Quan Hoa district, officials have combined with the Institute for Archaeology to research the grotto. The provincial government aims to turn it into a tourist site.
Discovering Vietnam’s Po Cung Cave:
On the way to Po Cung cave.
The red cross sign is the cave
Archaeologists left signs on the road.
The cave door.
A tour of the top of Ba Na Mountain in the central coast city of Da Nang Vietnam is never complete without a walk around the Linh Ung-Ba Na Pagoda.
This is one of the three Linh Ung pagodas in Danang with the other two being Linh Ung-Bai But on Son Tra Peninsula and Linh Ung-Non Nuoc on Marble Mountains.
Linh Ung-Ba Na is the highest pagoda among the three as it is located at around 1,500 meters above sea level.
The pagoda is part of the Ba Na Hills ecological resort complex on top of Ba Na Mountain. It is a real challenge to walk up a very steep road to the pagoda from the Gare De Bay transit terminal where visitors take a cable car ride to the top of the mountain after going halfway to the peak. Don’t worry about that as vans are available for those who are not ready for a workout.
The pagoda is an excellent place where visitors can take a good look at the French-style mansion of the Gare De Bay terminal nestled in the jungle and looking just like a European castle as described in a fairy tale. Standing there, visitors can also have a bird’s-eye view of the jungle and the city below.
What’s more striking about the pagoda is the 27-meter-high white Sakyamuni Buddha Statue with the octagonal base having a story about the eight stages of the Buddha’s life.
Just around 40km west of downtown Danang, the Ba Na Mountain and especially the Linh Ung-Ba Na Pagoda should be given a try when you are in Danang.
The main hall of the Linh Ung-Ba Na Pagoda
A view of the outside of the pagoda
A sign on a cliff tells people that they ought to remember tree planters when they eat fruits
A rockery inside an artificial lake around which there are benches for visitors to take a rest after a short walk down from the pagoda’s main hall - Photos: Anh Khoi
The 27-meter-high Sakyamuni Buddha Statue
Visitors pay homage to the Buddha inside the main hall
Visitors enjoy cần wine at a Muong residence
The northern mountainous region of Vietnam has garnered praise aplenty for its sometimes rugged, and sometimes lush natural beauty. Among the other attractions it has is a none-too-closely guarded secret – homemade wines – for it is in the hospitable nature of the region’s residents to welcome visitors to imbibe the best spirits in the house. This week, we present a sampling of some of the flavors from the slopes.
Dien Bien’s chít wine
Visitors to Dien Bien Province will have the chance to try one of the most famous wines in the northwestern region, chít wine. The wine is made from a type of milk-white chít worm (taken from chít trees growing on the region’s limestone mountains) and pure distilled rice wine. The brew is believed to promote good health, beautiful skin for women and increased sexual potency for men.
According to locals, the chít worm season normally lasts from April to July, when the worms eat the tree stems and grow up to 5 centimeters long.
These worms are put together with other restoratives such as medlar seeds, ashweed, dried jujube and lotus seeds in pure distilled rice liquor with an alcoholic concentration of 40 to 45 percent. The brewing process often takes about one year.
Chít wine is a gold-colored liquid which has a cool and a slightly bitter taste. It is usually served along with local delicacies like chicken baked in a clay pot, fried frogs, hotpot and thắng cố, a type of soup made with the viscera of horse, cow or buffalo.
Hoa Binh’s cần wine
Drinking rượu cần or cần wine (wine drunk out of a jar with pipes) is very popular among many minority groups in Vietnam, from the northern region down to the Central Highlands. However, the Muong people in Hoa Binh Province are said to produce one of the best cần wines in the country.
A jar of tasty cần wine is meticulously prepared. The necessary ingredients, including yeast and glutinous rice, are carefully prepared. Yeast is made from cinnamon leaves mixed with rice powder. Glutinous rice is soaked and then mixed with rice and bran. The rice is then steamed, cooled down and mixed with yeast powder before being placed in ceramic jars and covered carefully. After three or four days, the covers of the jars are partially opened and water poured up to its neck. Long bamboo straws are plugged into jars’ mouth and the enjoyment begins.
Cần wine is usually drunk in groups. To welcome guests, a Muong family will stretch out a mat in the middle of the room, place a jar of wine on it and invite guests to sit around it. After exchanging greetings, the host invites everyone to drink the wine. It is not unusual that this drinking session is accompanied by singing and dancing, not to mention boisterous conversation.
Lao Cai’s Sán Lùng wine
Sán Lùng is a commune of Bat Xat District in the northern mountainous province of Lao Cai. And its name is now synonymous with one of the best wines the people here are producing. Unlike other peoples in Vietnam who make wine from mature rice, the Mong people in Sán Lùng soak paddy in warm water until it sprouts then use the sprouts to make the special wine. The sprouts are steamed, cooled and mixed with yeast. The mixture is put in a jar for five to six days until it starts exuding a sweet smell.
Sán Lùng wine has a special taste that cannot be produced in other places. People attribute this taste to the water source here. The wine looks clear and somewhat green, and has a sweet smell and nutty taste. Locals will tell you that it goes best with baked buffalo or baked fish.
Reported by Mai Linh – Thanhnien News
Collected by Vietnam hotel
| Today, you can explore Halong Bay from unprecedented heights by going on a helicopter tour.
|Ha Long Bay is the jewel in Vietnam’s tourism crown, a stunning geological formation that captivates even the most travel weary and jaded of visitors.
Most people usually take a halong bay cruise around the bay. You can choose one or two night trips to enjoy the mesmerising scenery and discover wonderful coves and islets or simply enjoy the views from the top deck of your boat.
As a repeat visitor I wouldn’t say I’m tired of Ha Long, but I was certainly eager to discover another side of the UNESCO World Heritage Site when a friend told me about the helicopter tour.
This would be a great opportunity to fly over the bay and enjoy a bird’s eye view of the limestone karst islets which, according to legend are the shards of diamond and jade, that were spat out by a family of dragons sent from heaven to help protect Vietnam from foreign invaders.
I was so excited at the prospect of climbing into a helicopter, I could hardly sleep the night before. But as the morning drew closer I started to get increasingly nervous. What if, I am scared of heights? Having never scaled any cliff faces, or jumped out of an airplane, how would I know?
I begin to suffer vertigo even before I arrive at Gia Lam Airport, 5km from downtown Hanoi, where I am to meet my tour guide and the helicopter crew. The flight departs at 8.30am. Still slightly anxious, I reassure myself that by flying to Halong Bay I’m at least avoiding the long, rather dangerous road from Hanoi to Hai Phong. Ha Long is normally more than a three-hour drive but via helicopter we expect to arrive in 45 minutes.
Our guide informs us that the Russian MI-17 helicopter seats 24 people and will reach an altitude of 300m. We are also in luck; the sky is clear and blue, a perfect day for flying. We set off and everyone is immediately glued to the windows and we see vast, beautiful rice fields pass below us.
The Red River looks like a long snake winding its way through a terracotta garden. Tran Van Huong, the captain, informs us that because a helicopter flies slower and lower than a jet, there is less chance that people will feel sick while taking off or landing. The helicopter is quite large and comfortable, but being a military chopper, there is no air- conditioning, just fans.
We are told we can visit the cockpit and talk with the four-member crew or, rather, shout at the crew –it is hard to make yourself heard above the throbbing engines!
The whole package
The Northern Serviced Flight Company, who operate the helicopter, also offer trips to Sapa in Lao Cai province and Dien Bien Phu, but tourists currently seem to prefer Ha Long Bay. The whole tour with Luxury Travel includes a cruise on a junk as well as a helicopter tour over the bay, plus transfer from Hanoi and back by chopper.
Ha Long Bay is certainly spectacular from the helicopter – it’s as perfect as a painting: the white sandy coves, the thick green forest, the rugged mountains and the jagged karsts jutting out of the emerald water.
I snap as many pictures as I can before the chopper lands at a heliport on General Giap Hill (named after General Vo Nguyen Giap as you might guess) Who knows when I will be 200m above Ha Long Bay again?
The chopper lands smoothly and we are back down on earth. Everyone is buzzing after the trip and I almost feel sad it’s over.
We are driven from the heliport to Bai Chay harbour, where boats and junks have gathered to meet the hundreds of tourists arriving from Hanoi. I can’t help but swagger a little smugly past the tired looking tourists clambering out of the buses and mini-vans thinking, I came by helicopter and I feel great! Coming by chopper I got to sleep in longer and had plenty of room on board.
For once, I am actually refreshed and energised as we set off to explore the caves and beaches around Ha Long. Later on we grab kayaks and paddle around, visiting floating aquaculture farms and beaches. On previous trips I was often slumped in a chair, too tired and stiff to do anything else, but today I am up for everything.
We enjoy a lavish seafood lunch on board and everyone is still in high spirits, reflecting on the amazing trip. It’s a little clichéd to say “this was unforgettable” but that’s how we felt!
After lunch the junk returns to port before we again climb on board the helicopter and set off for the capital where we arrive at 2.30pm. It’s hard to believe we still have the whole afternoon ahead of us!
After travelling from Hue to Hanoi we caught the overnight Green Train to Lao Cai in the mountains on the Chinese border. The train left Hanoi at 9.00 pm and we had a four berth compartment to ourselves. However, luxury was in short supply with shared loos and one washbasin for the carriage and it was a very rickety ride, making sleeping difficult. We arrived at Lao Cai at 5.30 am the following morning and were met by a guide who took us for a very early breakfast at a nearby restaurant. After breakfast we went to the bridge where one can cross over to China. The bridge is open from 7.00am to 7.00pm each day and we watched a steady stream of Vietnamese making their way over the bridge where apparently they purchase cheap Chinese goods which they then bring back to sell in Vietnam.
On the way to Sapa we stopped at a mountain town known as Bac Ha where, every Sunday, there is a large market to which all the surrounding villagers come to exchange goods and purchase their necessities. It could have been a rural scene in 18th century England, with almost everything for sale including cattle, pigs, hens, dogs, vegetables, ironwork and clothing, just to name a few. Of course, the piles of sugar beet and bamboo and the water buffalo that were being sold weren’t very Anglo Saxon.
Our hotel in Sapa had spectacular views of the town and the surrounding mountains, but very intermittently as most of the time it was surrounded by swirling mist. We experienced a drop in temperature and had to dig deep into our suitcases to find our warm clothes that we hadn’t worn since we left Totnes. We were thankful for the 3-bar electric fire in our bedroom and made sure that we reserved a table in the restaurant for dinner each night by the big log fire.
On our first full day John went off with Cuong, our guide, for a five hour hike in the mountains. The views through the mist showed terraces of paddy fields clinging to the slopes and there was water everywhere which made for a very muddy walk at times. It was almost like an oriental version of Wales! The packed lunch was eaten at the home of a Vietcong war veteran in one of the mountain villages.
Throughout the market at Bac Ha there are local women wearing a colourful traditional dress
built of wood with a corrugated iron roof, was very dark. It consisted of two rooms downstairs and two up which housed him, his family of eight and his scooter. On the walls were his certificates of commendation which he proudly showed off. Opposite his house was the village school which unfortunately was bereft of pupils as the locals feel it is more productive for their children to try and get money from the tourists than receive an education. Tourism is not necessarily helping these village people.
Lynne declined the opportunity of hiking and took the soft and restful option of a day at the hotel spa and pool to recover from the train ride!
On our second full day in Sapa the guide took us off for a drive to visit a couple of mountain villages. The houses are very basic being constructed of timber with corrugated iron or asbestos roofs and with very little home comforts inside. The homes also act as stores for the crops they have grown and houses their domestic animals such as hens together with their motorbikes. The floor is bare earth but clean and they have a very old TV in the middle of the house connected to a dish.
Just outside of Sapa the landscape is dominated by the watery terraces where shortly the annual rice crop is to be planted. What must they think when they see the conditions we live in on their televisions? No wonder so many of the local people devote their life to trying to extract money from the tourists. However the scenery surrounding the villages is a definite bonus and must provide some form of spiritual compensation.
At the end of the second full day it was back to Lao Cai to catch the 8.00 pm train back to Hanoi and arriving at 4.30 the following morning. Hanoi is the last lap of our journey.
by John from Totnes, The delights of Bangkok, Cambodia and Vietnam travelblog.org
So by the time we left Hoa’s Place we had quite a crew happening, there was Cia from Melbourne, Dan, Sally and Steve from London and in Hoi An we picked up a Mexican his name Efrain. This was to be our gang for the next few days.
Hoi an like Halong Bay and My Son is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is an old port town but nowadays is famous for its 100’s of tailors and cobblers. We got Jono a 3 piece suit made and me a dress, unfortunately we forgot to take a pic of his suit before we shipped it off (Trace it should be showing up in about 3 weeks) , he reckons its the comfiest suit ever and I must admit he does look dashing in it!
Even more exciting for me is we got shoes custom made, we got 2 pairs each for $85 , so now we are strolling the streets in pumps that have our names embroided on them, it had to be done!
So far Hoi An has been our favorite place and we have also had our best food here. Because Efrain had been in Hoi An for 3 weeks he knew where to go for cheap beer, and I’m talking 15 cents for a glass and for good food, to Ms Nam’s. We cruised across the river to Ms Nams on our first evening after a few beverages and had an AMAZING meal, so we jacked us up a cooking class there the next day.
The cooking class was a lot of fun, we learnt how to make spring rolls, banh xeo this pancake thing that you wrap in rice paper (so so good) and white rose which is a dumpling type thing that is unique to Hoi An. Jono was made the scribe by the group as he wasn’t super interested in the cooking so we could take the recipe’s and make them at home.
The next day Jono, Cia and I decided to hire bicycles and ride to the beach. Of course we got lost and went on a minor detour but this is always the fun part. Eventually we made it to the beach where we stopped for a beverage before starting the trip back into town.
That night we were all booked onto the sleeper bus to out next destination Nha Trang………
by JayZee, Mekong Meanders and Beyond, travelblog.org
Collected by vietnam hotel
8 Dec, 2010
Travel to Vietnam, visit Sapa and beautiful north allows visitors to experience authentic tribal life, writes Rob McFarland.
Teetering down steep stone stairs in inappropriate shoes and tight white designer jeans is a young, affluent Vietnamese woman. She’s holding a multicolored umbrella to protect her from the sun and is being led carefully by the hand by a private guide.
Coming up the other way is a young girl from the local Black Hmong hill tribe, dressed in an embroidered jacket and wearing the tribe’s trademark black hat. Her face is creased with effort as she struggles with a large basket of sticks strapped to her back. She stops to let the descending woman pass and they exchange a glance that speaks volumes about the extremes of modern-day Vietnam.
Although technically still a communist country, Vietnam is now home to a generation of youngsters who’ve embraced capitalism. Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City have the sort of designer boutiques and high-end restaurants you’d expect to find in any fast-paced Asian city.
And although both are compelling destinations, if you’re looking for a respite from the chaotic din of motorbike horns and the extreme sport of crossing the road, you need to head north and, in particular, visit a beguiling hillside town that’s nestled among some of the country’s most spectacular scenery.
Sapa was once an old French hill station but has developed over the past 20 years into a popular tourist destination. Travellers are drawn here by the dramatic landscape of mountain peaks and plunging valleys and the chance to interact with the locals.
Travel to Sapa, which is located 380km north of Hanoi, is an adventure in itself. After stocking up on biscuits and beer at Hanoi train station, we drag our luggage across several sets of tracks to board the overnight train to Lao Cai.
Our final destination is the swish Victoria Sapa Resort & Spa and, if it wasn’t a Saturday night, we’d be delivered there in a velvet and mahogany-panelled carriage of the resort’s private train. Unfortunately, tonight is the one night it doesn’t run so we’re on an older, shakier version.
We arrive at Lao Cai in the murky pre-dawn light and watch the market town come to life. Normally you’d take a 1.5-hour bus transfer straight to Sapa, but today we’re making a detour to one of the region’s must-sees: the Sunday market at Bac Ha.
Local minority groups from around the north-west congregate in Bac Ha each week to trade and socialise. Beautifully dressed hill tribe women in embroidered dresses and bright headscarves barter and laugh while a lazy procession of motorbikes, horses, carts and water buffalo ambles by. Wicker baskets full of live pigs and chickens are prodded while, nearby, raw meat is hacked apart.
Our onward journey to Sapa reveals tantalising glimpses of the Alps-like scenery for which the region is famous. As we climb into the clouds, verdant valleys plunge away from us on all sides to reveal hundreds of metres of carefully terraced rice fields.
With its polished wooden floors and cosy feel, the Victoria Resort is a welcoming haven at the end of our trip. Rooms are on the small side but are beautifully furnished with antiques and local handicrafts.
Sapa is a much bigger tourist destination than Bac Ha market and inevitably it has a different feel. Expect to be surrounded by grinning, trinket-laden hill tribe girls the moment you step outside, and much of the market here is devoted to souvenirs rather than essential supplies for locals.
Although you could easily spend a couple of days ambling around town, the big drawcard is the chance to get among the scenery and interact with the local people.
The next day we set off for Cat Cat, a small Black Hmong village 3km south of Sapa. The second we emerge from the hotel we’re befriended by a group of Hmong women who pair off so we each have a guide. Their grasp of English varies, but all have mastered the basics: “Where you from?” and “How old are you?”. Particularly important is “You married?” and when I reveal I’m not at the prehistoric age of 37, my companion looks shocked and cries, “Why not?”
Getting hitched is a serious business around here and the hill tribes engage in some interesting wooing techniques. As recently as a decade ago, men would kidnap girls from a neighbouring village to trial them for marriage. If they got on she’d stay, if they didn’t she’d be returned. Weekly love markets to pair off youngsters were also commonplace, although an unhealthy interest from tourists has all but stamped these out.
The village of Cat Cat comprises simple wooden shacks along a steep path that leads to a waterfall. Many locals have set up stalls outside their houses selling scarfs and jewellery, and gorgeous children chase each other around courtyards.
It’s here that I witness the glance between the affluent city girl and her basket-laden hill tribe counterpart. To be fair, both look equally uncomfortable in the 30-degree heat.
The following day we tackle an even more spectacular trek, starting at the Black Hmong village of Lao Chai and passing through the Giay village of Ta Van as we follow a stream along the valley floor. It’s all camera-happy stuff, but I already know that it’s not what I’ll remember most. The enduring memories will be of those little glimpses I’ve gained of day-to-day life for the minority groups that eke out an existence here.
On the way back to Sapa, we pass two children herding a pair of enormous water buffalo along a ridge. At one stage the giggling little girl clambers on top of one of the animals and lies down while her brother shepherds them along with a stick. It’s about as far away from inappropriate shoes and designer jeans as you can get.