After a harrowing taxi ride from our hotel in Sapa town – through narrow crowded roads and down bumpy steep slopes – we were dropped off in Ta Van Village 10km away from town.
We proceeded to hike our way back to town, passing through the lovely villages of Ta Van and Lao Chai, and observing how the villagers go about their daily routine.
Ta Van Village is home to an interesting mix of ethnic minority hill tribes, including the Hmong, Dao and Giay tribes. Of the various ethnic groups that live in Sapa and its surroundings, the Hmong are the most numerous, followed by the Dao, the Tay and the Giay.
The minority groups practice subsistence agriculture, with the staple crops being corn and rice grown in the terraced rice-fields on the valley slopes. That probably explains why many of the houses we passed by were adorned with rows and rows of corncobs hanging out to dry.
Chickens cramped into small wire cages are a common sight. Other than chickens, domestic animals like horses, pigs, buffaloes, and ducks are raised to provide meat and milk.
From Ta Van Village, we followed the sign that says Lao Chai. Lao Chai Village is home to the Black Hmong hill tribe, which is the predominant ethnic minority in Sapa. The Hmong people are instantly recognizable by their clothes dyed indigo, a dye extracted from the leaves of the Strobilanthes cusia plant.
Along the way, we got well acquainted with the village’s many resident animals.
We witnessed a kitten trying to scare a family of chickens, but was himself frightened by the sound of passing motobikes.
Ducks and geese were aplenty, enjoying a bath in the water-logged fields.
Stray dogs roam around the roads, leading seemingly carefree lives.
Surrounded by open expansive fields…
…we were delighted to be able to stalk some birds, such as the Pond Heron…
…and the White Wagtail, happily hopping around in the field.
The walking path brought us through awesome views of Sapa’s famous terraced rice fields.
Although it was winter post-harvest season and the rice terraces were not the vibrant green and yellow hues of summer, we were still blown away by the brownish yellow colours sweeping through the entire valley.
As we walked, we were entertained by the local kids playing in the terraced fields.
Upon arriving at Lao Chai, the most prominent landmark that caught our eye was the Lao Chai Primary School situated in the heart of the village. All was quiet – school was probably in session.
More wonderful views presented before us as we sauntered through Lao Chai.
At some point, we passed by a large tour group being accosted by local tribe women and children bearing handwoven gifts.
After the brief encounter with the group, the path ahead of us was blissfully quiet and peaceful.
We were tempted to follow the bridge right into the heart of the cluster of village homes. But we soon realised that we had missed our turning and were heading down the wrong path, according to our helpful trekking map.
After backtracking for a bit, we soon realised that we had to cross the river, just like the locals were doing.
Following in the footsteps of the locals, we proceeded to clamber down the slope…
…shuffle across a rickety bridge…
…navigate across some large boulders…
…before we met another tour group gingerly making their way down to the river.
After having crossed the river ourselves and making it safely to the other side, it was fun to spy on other groups attempting the same route.
The view from an elevated perch on the other side of the river was amazing.
The road brought us higher and higher…
…where we could enjoy even more marvellous views…
If we wanted a more intimate encounter, we could even trod through the rice terraces. But spying on others attempting the trek was pretty fun too.
The path ahead looked long and the sun on a cloudless day seemed merciless, but we persevered.
In the next village, we encountered a queer looking chicken, all bald and pink.
Proceeding along the path, we simply couldn’t get enough of the valley views, and our cameras continued clicking away.
Some of the best views could be enjoyed while standing atop one of the many bridges in the valley.
One of our favourite activities was to stalk water buffaloes going about their daily routine in the field.
Now, let’s zoom in and see what this bunch is up to.
The higher we climbed…
…the prettier the views.
Very soon, we were ejected from the mountain slopes onto the main road…
…which led us back into Sapa town.
Even along the main road heading back to town, we continued to be treated to gorgeous views of the Sapa valley.
At some point, our knees began to grumble and our stomachs began to rumble. The local fare at Yummy Restaurant just outside town was too tempting to pass up. A hot meal and cold beer – a decent reward to cap off our epic hike.