Ricefield Trekking in Sapa (Vietnam)
Ricefield trekking in the Sapa region offers breathtaking views over rice fields and bamboo groves through the hilly hinterland. The trail passes several villages of different tribes, who surprise you with a home-cooked meal and take you into the circle of their family for a night in an authentic ac-commodation. The duration and distance can be chosen individually. You can budget for the cost of a guide for about $15-20 US per day per person.
Eva, my companion on this hike, and I stay in one of the local hotels called Mountain View, where we are served a lovingly designed and clearly Vietnamese-inspired breakfast before the hike. With Sii, our guide, we meet at 9:30 am at the local church, the centre point of the village. At this point, we are intercepted by local women trying to sell us souvenirs, hiking tours, and the like.
To fill our water supply, we go to one of the most inexpensive supermarkets in the village. Afterwards, we leave the noisy construction site called Sapa by a side alley and start the hike. The steep ascent before us suggests that the walk might be more demanding than anticipated. After half an hour, we can already look down onto the roofs of the small town. The mountainous background, cloudy sky and glistening lake between the houses make a very peaceful panorama.
The sounds of horns and engines still audible from the village below serve as a reminder that we have more trail to travel in order to fully get away from the hustle and bustle. We continue uphill for another half hour, becoming increasingly drenched in sweat, until we take a short rest in the shadow of an improvised sales stand. Two horned buffaloes are looking at us quite uninterested and continue to graze in the midday heat.
While Sii opens her umbrella, we are helplessly exposed to the blazing sun. After crossing a plateau, we are suddenly aware of a sense of tranquility. I take a deep breath and let my gaze wander over the sweeping valley that opens on this side – on my right the Mount Fansipan, the highest elevation of Vietnam, as well as the gondola to its top – on my left further forested hills. In between, a green valley, which seems to be part of a mystical story through the light haze.
In the middle of the valley winds a river, on both sides of which there are some huts and the famous rice terraces. These give the impression that the surface of the mountain consists of several layers. A few minutes later we reach an asphalt road and cross the first village. We enjoy a typical lunch of rice and meat in a local restaurant. While I sit on the red plastic chairs under the umbrella, Eva exhausted beside me, a couple of small pigs, followed by cackling ducks, cross the road directly in front of us.
After lunch, we hike 2 hours through similar hillside villages, while we get closer and closer to the rice fields. Unexpectedly, Sii stops and points to a small house where her family lives and offers for us to stay here. Our bed for the night is in a corner, separated on one side by a wooden wall and on the other by a curtain. Despite the musty odor, we lie down and immediately fall asleep for a few hours. The dinner we share with the family consists of rice, noodles and delicious spring rolls.
During the conversation, Sii explains that the next day a shaman will visit the family, which is why everyone is a bit excited. Six different animals must be sacrificed, which is why their husbands and their brothers go mouse hunting shortly afterwards. After the meal, all family members, according to Vietnamese tradition, drink one or two shots of rice wine with us – the “wine” has more than 40 percent alcohol content and we are advised to have a bite of the noodles after we enjoyed it.
Communication with the almost exclusively Vietnamese-speaking family no longer seems a problem after a few rounds. Afterwards, Sii’s father-in-law lights his water pipe at the fire station in the kitchen, while we get tired in our sleeping-room.
The second day we were planning to do a day hike into some other mountain villages, but due to the weather that greeted us upon awakening, we were forced to shorten the trip to 2 days. The sun was now driven out by a thick mist, which might announce the appearance of the shaman. Sii will also participate in the family’s ceremony, and has arranged for a friend to lead today’s tour.
The smell of coffee is enough for us to have a joyful smile, and a small breakfast of a baguette and omelet that has been prepared for us. Hitting the trail soon after breakfast, we enter the path right next to some flooded rice fields, where knee-deep footprints can be seen in the muddy ground. We follow our guide, who has effortlessly strapped her 2-year-old child onto her back. The path leads through a grove, which is bordered on the right by a hip-high stone wall.
While I try to keep my balance on the slippery path, I admire the surrounding bamboo plants sprouted in groups from the ground of the forest. The dense fog adds a spooky element to the trek. Dark green cacti along the wall announce the end of the route and we welcome the return to the main road. We are welcomed into a home of a friend of Sii’s, where our new guide cooks us lunch.
When I ask for the toilet, I am a bit surprised when I see a stone slab with a hole in the middle. I spontaneously decide that it is not that urgent. The last kilometers back to Sapa we prefer to take two moped taxis, looking forward to taking a nice hot shower.