The village of Lao Chai is just 30mins drive or 6km away from Sapa town where we were based.
Lao Chai is nestled at the beginning of the Muong Hoa Valley with over 100 ethnic Black H’mong families in the village living on subsistence farming & tourist dollars.
The Floating Homestay is a rustic & interesting place, strategically located & looking into the Muong Hoa Valley.
The majestic Hoang Lien Son Mountains is an eastern extension of the Himalayas & the inhabitants at the foot of the range include ethnic minorities like the H’mong , Dzao, Zay, Tay & Red Zao.
The padi season is over & all the sheaths have been harvested so the rice terraces look a little empty but the ducks are pecking & cows grazing, perhaps still finding something to eat.
The Indigo plant ( Strobilanthes cusia nee kuntze) is a leafy shrub that grows no taller than 1 metre bearing violet-coloured flowers. They thrive best at altitudes of between 500-1600m above sea-level under natural conditions. Indigo has been used since ancient times for medicinal purposes & as a natural dye for textiles. The leaves are processed by soaking in water & later fermented, releasing the Indican which can be hydrolysed & oxidised to indigo-blue with the addition of lye. The precipitate is the dried & pressed into cakes or powdered.
Lao Chai is currently positioned as the rest stop for trekkers going to other villages like Ta Van & is inhabited by mainly Black Hmong families who offer genuine homestay experiences & Batik making workshops. What better way to immerse yourself in Hmong culture than to live amongst them.
The Muong Hoa River flows through this area where several villages starting with Cat Cat, Lao Chai, Ta Van & Giang Ta Chai gradually fanning out to many others. This river feeds the rice terraces that are so beautifully crafted in the valley.
Soaking in the awesome view at Lao Chai & the Muong Hoa Valley.
This Hemp plant ( Cannabis sativa) is what the Black Hmong process & weave into fabric which is fashioned into clothing & a wide variety of items. In recorded history, the Cannabis sativa has been cultivated as a source for industrial fibre, hempseed oil, food, recreation ( marijuana, hashish), spiritual rituals & medicine. Each part of the plant is harvested differently dependant on the purpose of its use.
We stopped briefly at a small rest house by the idyllic Muong Hoa River for a swig of Coke…the DRINK & some local ice cream which I sadly did not enjoy!
We crossed this narrow Red bridge tagged Lao Chai quickly as it was only wide enough for one car to pass & a truck was rumbling along.
Without a guide or map, we happily embarked on the trek but these friendly women from the Black Hmong tribe came alongside right from the start, at the top of the hill. They speak a little English & tried their best to engage us in conversation which I did not particularly mind but soon realised that they were actually street vendors touting their embroidered items.
A colourful convenience store in Lao Chai where fruits & vegetables are not the only things on sale; we may be in a remote area in the mountainous region of North Vietnam but staying connected to the world via telecommunications is big here judging by the 4 advertisements posted.
The valley is dominated by rice terraces but the higher reaches of the mountain sides are usually where other agricultural crops like corn, sweet potato & cassava is cultivated.
A provision shop that is well stocked with fresh produce, poultry, pork & sundries in Lao Chai.
H’mong village houses in Lao Chai near Sapa.
We are in Ta Van territory but I honestly do not know where the delineation between Lao Chai & Ta Van really is. Could it be this bridge crossing is the start of Ta Van Village?
Ta Van was formerly a quiet village with a mix of Dao, H’mong & Giay minorities populating it but tourism has brought tremendous changes & the people have experienced economic growth & adapted. It is hoped that rapid changes would not affect the urban layout, have negative impact on the people & erode their unique culture.
Pretty blooming violet flowers of the aquatic Water Hyacinth plant ( Eichhornia crassipes).
Picture perfect Ta Van – complete with green vegetable patches, cascading rice terraces, the imposing Hoang Lien Son mountain range & the illumination of blue skies. A snapshot which I treasure & have kept in my heart.
We see stalks of corn being hung up to dry in the sun before the kernels are extracted from the cob & laid on the ground for further drying. It would be used to feed their livestock like cattle, poultry, buffalo & hogs. On the left side of the porch are joss sticks laid out to dry.
Cottage industry where the Giay women folk manufacture Joss sticks & pellets of Sandalwood incense. Giay women wear blouses like this one with splits at the sides & buttoned on the right side paired with dark indigo trousers & their hair wrapped around their head with a scarf. The older women usually don blouses of darker shades & in their costume we see Vietnamese & Western elements blended together.
A pair of ducks sunbathing & contemplating their world – Ta Van, Vietnam.
Our 3 hour long slow & easy trek ended as we exited Ta Van crossing this bridge. Child labour is an issue Vietnam contends with but I sincerely hope that these young girls will have a chance to get an education & secure themselves a brighter future.
The journey from Hanoi to Lao Cai takes a gruelling 8 hours & though the train’s air-conditioned sleeping berths were reasonably comfortable, it could not make up for the noisy & bumpy ride which kept me awake through the night though I was dead tired. On arrival at Lao Cai Station, you have to take a bus or van ride for about an hour with a fair bit of winding mountain roads before reaching Sapa town proper.
My wish is that the Train system would be overhauled & high-speed trains would be running when I next visit Sapa. Despite the rough journey, I must say Sapa & the surrounding areas around Fansiṕan Mountain are the highlights of my trip to Northern Vietnam & I love this place!