Vietnam 🇻🇳: Exploring Sapa hills & tribes; Feliz Cumpleaños 👧🏻 🇨🇴

Our last day in Hanoi was the 28th of January. That meant Laura had only hours left to her 25th birthday. Celebrations began at German style Legend Beer restaurant in Hanoi before we picked up our stuff from the hotel and headed over to the train station.

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A night on Fansipan express 🚉

To save a little time, but also for the experience, i booked a ln 8,5h sleeper train service to Lao Cai, the main town in the province. The train, named after the highest mountain on the indochina peninsula, is one of several trains carrying tourists between Sapa and Hanoi. Reviews are mixed with concerns on noise, cleanliness etc. In our case, just noise was an issue as the train tracks and train have come of age. We also had a little trouble with an overly ambitious a/c, but otherwise quite ok.

The cabin was cosy and the ride out of Hanoi very exciting as the train literally passes right through residential and business areas. Flats and shops close up… Just like we witnessed during sightseeing earlier in the day.

Once you leave Hanoi behind you, there are some more stops on the way, but best to sleep (unless partying tourists next door have decided otherwise).

By 6am we arrived in Lao Cai and transferred for 40mins to Sapa. Very sleepy start to Laura’s special day and the windy road to Sapa was also a challenge for our stomachs 🤢. Thankfully the operator of our hiking tour later had organised a hotel room… So 🚿 and 🛏 and 😴

Sapa hills 🏞️, Sapa tribes 🧒🏽👧🏽

By 8.30 we had managed to brew up a pho ga soup and met our guide – a 21y old woman from the black hmong tribe.

She led the way out of Sapa and immediately some beautiful views of the rice terraces presented themselves. Two sisters from her village came along and immediately engaged Laura in conversation.

The whole trek was some 13km included three major villages on the way. The guide even took us to her house where she still lives with her family after studying tourism in Hanoi. Pretty dark these traditional houses that also serve for food storage (mainly for the once annual rice harvest in September and corn). However, good conversation and a little happy water (rice wine) lightened up the house 💦 😊 🏡

Tribes in the Sapa region

About 74 million, out of 90 million people living in Vietnam, are Kinh ethnic group or true Vietnamese. The rest of 16 million are ethnic minorities of Tay (about 2%), Tai  (≈1,8%), Muong (≈1,5%), Khmer Krom (≈1,5%), Hmong (≈1,2 %), Nung  (≈1,1%), Hoa (≈1%) and others.

Hill tribes in Sapa – good read

We learned a few things during the day. I guess the best story was about how the black hmong get married when man set out to kidnap their wifes. Usually this happens around the lunar new year and normally for girls aged 16y to 18y. Our guide, at 21y, already belongs to the older generation in that regards. What a contrast to London or the US where a wrong comment can cost your job or worse.

Men clearly retain a preferred status in their society. In fact, it is completely acceptable to have several women should the first one (ones) not produce a male heir 👦🏼. Should a man find himself drunk, women are expected to take care of them. Heading home alone would be rather upsetting for the husband.

Upgrade 🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟

We got back to Sapa early afternoon and laura was in for a surprise. I had booked a room in the new Sofitel (which opened 6w earlier) – Hotel de la Coupole. 

So shower, rest, french cafe, swimming pool… Time to spoil ourselves a little. The hotel management threw in a free upgrade and a chocolate cake birthday wish too. Truly 5 star.

Feliz cumpleaños amor. Gracias por el año pasado, por el tiempo feliz y (a veces) triste pero siempre muy especial, por los momentos formidables y malo en muchos lugares differentes, por todos. Eres una mujer increíble! Eres mi vida. Te amo. ❤😍😘

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For dinner we still opted to go elsewhere. It was low season and pretty empty… So more pho soup? Yes for laura while i enjoyed a tasty sapa soup.

For breakfast the hotel had our loyalty back… What an amazing selection. Sadly, we only had so much time as our bus towards the Laos border.

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