Tag Archives: Hmong

Vietnam, Sapa – Hiking and Rice and Everything Nice [Part III]

27 Oct

Our final day in Sapa was G’s favorite…

Mostly because he had finally met his match – the sweetest and feistiest H’mong girl who helped her mom lead us through the rice paddies fearlessly.

Our final day in Sapa was my least favorite…

Mostly because I had to hold-on for dear-life as we slipped and slide-d our way down the mountain.

(Frustration.)

Yes, indeed, to get down the muddy slopes of Sapa, I had to be fully supported (body, mind and soul) by a sweet old H’mong lady who was about 1/2 my size and had approximately 100 times my strength.

Don’t judge!

Each of us foreigners was equipped with a pint-sized support system…

This coupling happened to be my favorite:

Anyway, once we got the hang of mud-skiing, we were able to relax, look up, and start noticing the magical views around us.

We crossed over bridges…

Hiked through hidden valleys…

Learned how to die clothes using indigo leaves (thanks to Cou, our FANTASTIC tour guide for the day)…

Met some new friends…

Saw some more perfectly sculpted rice fields…

And finished it all off with some pho…

(and a smile)

Guess it wasn’t such a bad ending to our trip after all.

Vietnam, N & P – we love you! Thanks for a perfect vacation.

***

For more information about Sapa, including details about transportation, tour guide and accommodation, see earlier posts about our trip here: PART I and PART II

Not Long in Luang Prabang

19 Oct

The last stop of our jungle tour was a Khmu & Hmong village, located on the shores of the Nam Khan River.

As we approached the village by boat, we were greeted with many smiling and curious faces.

We visited homes, talked to the villagers, played with kids, and just allowed this new/old and foreign world to unfold and seep into our souls.

It was one of the shortest experiences that I’ll always remember.

***

Only a 30 minute boat ride and 1 hour bus away from the jungle, we found ourselves in, what seemed to be, another planet – Luang Prabang – a perfect riverside city with majestic golden temples, old French architecture, lantern-lit streets, delicious Asian cuisine, and an intoxicatingly relaxed pace.  In short, Luang Prabang is a traveler’s dream.

G and I wasted no time (please read: I pushed G out the door) and headed straight to the Hmong Night Market.  There, we strolled around for hours, trying to pick out the perfect scarf/braclet/shirt from the hundreds of options.

At one point, G was so tired of shopping that he left to get a massage. I, on the other hand, was happy to continue hunting solita. What can I say? I just love me a market.  BTW, Lu, that scarf is for you!  Don’t mind the strained smile, that’s the best I could do while modeling scarves in 100 degree heat.

While night marketing, restauranting, and massaging were all highlights of our time in Luang Prabang, my favorite moment, BY FAR, was waking up at 5:30 am to give alms to the Buddhist monks.  G & I were extremely lucky because we were the only tourists (among many locals) waiting for the hundreds of monks to appear during their morning procession.

It was a quiet and beautiful moment for me, kneeling on the wet street, handing out steaming sticky rice to the colorful monks.  I wondered if I could do this on a daily basis, like most of the residents of Luang Prabang do.  I also hoped that I could find something in my own everyday life, that could make me feel as good as handing out rice in the rain….

Here is a quick clip I found on YouTube of a typical Luang Prabang morning:

If you are interested in giving alms to the monks during their morning procession, please be respectful of the ritual.   I was told, as a girl, to look modest (cover those arms and legs) and make little eye-contact with the monks.  Ask your hotel to prepare a good few containers of sticky rice the night before, to ensure that you will be able to give the monks high-quality rice, instead of the cheap rice often sold to tourists along the main road.  Also, if you want to take photos, make sure not to use flash and stand on the opposite side of the street.  It’s important to preserve and uphold this Buddhist tradition in Luang Prabang, and many article’s I’ve read (like THIS NYT article) make it seem like some tourists are acting more like invasive paparazzi than respectful participants.

Oh, and if you are like me, and have no idea what to actually DO once the monks arrive, simply scoop-up a handful of rice with a clean hand, and place it in their bowls as they walk by.

I may or may not have accidentally dumped an entire bag-full of rice into the first monk’s bowl… The puzzled look on his face was priceless (and SO embarrassing for me)!!!

Even though our time in Laos was way too short, G & I left Luang Prabang knowing that we’d be back for more (Soon! Please!).  Not many places in the world can steal your heart as quickly as Laos.

Welcome to the Jungle – I mean, Laos

13 Oct

 After a perfect morning of falling in love with elephants,

As my dad says, “The only thing cuter than an elephant is a baby elephant.”

G, Ko, and I headed deeper into the marvelously muddy and mosquito-y Laotian jungle.

During our hike, Ko showed us how the local farmers use plant leaves to dye cloth and silk.  (Notice the red stains that stayed on my fingers for days after crumpling-up a seemingly normal green leaf.)

Along the way, Ko also spotted some WILD sesame.

It was wild, baby, yeah!

Small confession – after the whole sesame discovery thing (no, seriously, have you ever just found sesame in a jungle before?), G and I realized that Ko was a true tour-guide gem (perfect English + wealth of knowledge + sesame spotter = gem), so, we proceeded to behave like 2 year-olds and asked him every Laos-related question under the sun.  Luckily, Ko didn’t mind sharing his wisdom.

For the rest of the trek, Ko taught us about the three main ethnic groups living in Laos- the Laotian, Hmong, and Khmu people.  We learned about their different traditions, cultures, and religions (even the important distinctions between their home and village construction). Ko also shared some personal stories about the Hmong, his people, who believe in spiritualism, shamanism, and animism.

When asked if he believes in spirits, Ko answered, “Sometimes.”  

I guess I feel the same way.

After a couple hours of educational hiking, we stopped for lunch at Hue Fei, a Khmu hillside village of farmers and fisherman.

We walked through the village school, where all the children share 2 classrooms.  There, Ko told us that the next time we come to Laos, we should bring paper, pens, and notebooks for the kids, instead of other gifts.  Even though schooling is free in most villages, many students don’t have enough money to pay for supplies and therefore can’t attend classes.

So, if you are headed to Laos, do as Ko says and bring some school supplies to these children in need.  Instead of distributing the supplies yourself, speak to the head of the village, who will know which families need the help most.

I couldn’t stop taking photos of these beautiful children…

even though it sometimes didn’t lead to the best results.

Still cute though, right?

The pet monkey was a little bit more sympathetic to my photographic needs…

as were the unknowing villagers who didn’t notice me creeping outside their doors.

***

After a long rest and stroll through Hue Fei, we continued our hike to the waterfalls of Tad Sae.

It was the muddiest of journeys (still trying to scrape that Laotian mud off my boots), but the most gorgeous of destinations.

We chillaxed in the Tad Sae waterfalls for a few hours, with big beers and even bigger smiles… enjoying our time in the cool powerful water as we washed off the sweat and mud earned on the hike.

Unfortunately. we couldn’t get too lazy (tipsy) because there was still one more destination on our jungle tour.

More pictures to come…