I have been fortunate to visit many fascinating places in the world…34 countries and counting!
As I sat down to write my first ‘official’ destination post there was no question as to what region I would highlight. The Northern Vietnam loop…a place that touched my heart and soul on such a deep level that I just booked a return journey for next September! This is the season when the rice is at it’s peak golden color just before harvest.
In June 2015 I spent two incredible weeks with my three daughters, my daughter’s boyfriend Seth (this is a man who has the patience of a saint!) and my BFF Joyce traveling a loop that left from Hanoi, Vietnam to the Ha Giang region on the border of China and then back down through the French mountain station town of Sapa. We all piled into a van and off we went!
As is becoming more common for me I was drawn to this itinerary after reading about the ‘off the beaten track’ part of Vietnam…the ‘untouched/real deal’ that this area is touted to be. Not only was I excited to see the stunning terraced rice fields that this area of the world is known for but I especially wanted to experience the culture of the local hill tribe people and the colorful ethnic markets.
I must preface all of this by saying that this journey is not for the faint of heart. This trip means many long days along snaking mountain and sometimes unpaved roads. There is just no way to really ‘escape’ modern society without the aches and pains of long days and some discomfort….as in two daughters throwing up, eating countless packs of rice crackers and peeing behind barely there bushes. The fantastic reward for our perseverance was an 8 day period where we saw no other white people…this was truly an ‘out of the box’ travel experience.
Luckily the scenery was absolutely unsurpassed and we were able to stop frequently to interact with the precious local children and to pet a goat or two which is just a small obsession of mine.
Most of the residents of this region are descendants from tribes that immigrated to the area from China as refugees due to political unrest. They retain much of their ancestral customs and traditions. I was told that they have been ‘invited’ to be relocated to modern society in/around the cities but do not want to move. They live very simply but peacefully in one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.
These are a people of indomitable physical strength and spirit. We were offered a chance to try and lift a bale of rice that an elderly woman was carrying up and down steep terraces and we could barely lift it off the ground!
The children play a very important role in this society and we were amazed to see even the very young ones caring for their siblings for much of the day while their parents were working in the rice fields.
The adults we met at first were a little shy but quickly warmed up to us and were as curious about us as we were about them.
The children were especially excited to see us and as soon as we handed out a piece of candy, pencil or other treat we had brought for them one child magically turned into us being surrounded by their many siblings and playmates. They were just as cute and delightful as can be.
The local weekly markets we went to are not only a place for people to sell their wares but more importantly act as a social center and place for the young people who are wearing their finest clothing to come for courtship. They often wake long before dawn to make the long trek to the market carrying goods on their back and urging assorted livestock up the steep roads.
There are a number of different tribes that visit the market but my favorite were the Flower Hmong…the sheer beauty of their painstakingly embroidered clothing was something to behold.
Having to choose just a handful of photos to show off this area was really, really hard. This region is a photographer’s dream…every where you look is an explosion of color.
I feel completely blessed to have been able to experience a small slice of the world that was truly like stepping back in time and I can’t wait to see it again on my upcoming trip!
All of this would not have been possible without our amazing guide and now dear friend ‘Lam’ at ‘Amo Travel’ who shared this beautiful corner of the world with us. I will forever be grateful.
Thanks for joining me on my journey!