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All throughout Japan, Korea, and China, Vicky and I never really took a full on guided tour. I guess it just didn’t interest us. We were on a budget and for the most part felt secure and independent enough to go anywhere by ourselves. However, we threw all that out the window the minute we got to Sapa, Vietnam and heard about Sapa Sisters – a two day trekking tour run entirely by the local Hmong women.
In Sapa it’s extremely popular to take trekking tours through the rice fields as it would be nearly impossible to navigate them on your own, and to not do it defeats much of the purpose of going to Sapa to begin with. That said, as we understand it many of the tours that the hotels offer use local guides but the hotel takes most of the cut. Sapa Sisters is a company run entirely by the local minority, Hmong women, which really appealed to us. As locals who grow up in the area they really know the mountains inside and out. We really loved their story and we booked a tour for the following morning.
We met Lang in the lobby of our hotel and she explained the possible trekking options. Vicky and I had requested one of medium difficulty. That’s code word for, we don’t want to feel like major tourists but please take it easy on us as we’re not from around here. There was one decision left to make and that was whether or not we would take the more off the beaten, slippery path, or opt to follow the road straight on.
Naturally, we opted for the slippery path, but not without first renting some rain boots. Honestly, two months ago I probably would have economized on these, as with everything else, but for 4 dollars they were literally the best investment of the trek, which takes you through mud, mud, and more mud.
The tour was designed to be just Vicky, Lang, and myself, but not before long two young, Hmong women spotted us and decided to tag along. Frankly, I had no problem with this but I was a bit suspicious that afterwards they would probably try to sell us stuff (and they did).
We made our way through the rice fields of Sapa, only falling about half a dozen times. (Un)Luckily I only have one pair of pants…to be fair though, we had been warned. Besides, playing in the mud was kind of fun in a child like way.
On our way we passed through several Vietnamese villages, hidden away in the mountains of Sapa. For much of the trek itself it was just the five of us (Vicky, Lang, and I as well as the two other Hmong women). I could tell that we were certainly off the tourist path, both in part because we didn’t see any for the longest time, and finally when we did, because of how clean they were! As chance would have it, we even ran into Lang’s mother, who greeted us warmly.
Lang was great in explaining the intricate details of the rice fields. Frankly, we’d seen these things several times before in China but this was the first time we had ever walked through them and thought deeply about them. For example, I had no idea how much rice a family had to grow just to cover their own yearly consumption. Trust me, it’s a lot.
As we got more comfortable with each other Vicky and I wanted to hear more about the Hmong culture, as that was half of the reason we went with Sapa Sisters to begin with. Vietnam has 54 ethnic groups and the Hmong are simply one that are popular in Northern Vietnam, mostly around Sapa. It was particularly interesting to hear about some of the practices that still take place among today’s Hmong such as arranged marriages (though that appears to be slowly transitioning out).
We hiked for about 5 hours the first day, making our way from village to village. Finally, we arrived at our homestay for the evening, which was actually Lang’s cousin’s house (later, we found out that Lang has over 100 first cousins). The meal, or should I say feast, they prepared for us was quite delicious. They also shared some homemade apple wine, which was very tasty (and strong). Overall, their hospitality was a terrific introduction to Vietnamese culture. Lang’s baby also made an appearance.
The next day involved some more intense hiking as Lang opted to take us a bit more off the beaten path and we hiked up an entire rice terrace. Quite fortunately both days had reasonable visibility, and the view of the rice terraces was nothing short of spectacular. On our way back we got to take a motorbike ride, which was our first (but not our last) - exhilarating.
Overall we were very pleased with our first ever guided tour (and as a result have already booked several more in Vietnam). I very rarely say something is a must do but I think IF you go to Sapa you SHOULD book a tour, and I strongly encourage you to take a look at Sapa Sisters as it is a wonderful cause and a fantastic tour.
If you would like to support these wonderful, young women, we encourage you to take a look at a fundraising campaign they are currently undergoing. Here is their message:
As you already know we are very proud to be one of the few Hmong owned
businesses that manages to exist in this region – and one that is
entirely run by women. However in order to keep our initiate alive we
began in September, the long and expensive process of legalizing both
our guides and business. We are very fortunate to have almost the
completed the process but now we need your help with the final hurdle
- making a $12,000 deposit with the government for an International
Business License. While we are all putting in what we can towards this
amount, unfortunately we cannot meet the total on our own.
If you could be so kind as to take a moment to check out our campaign
on Indiegogo and also share it with your friends on facbook, twitter,
or however you can help us spread the word. All the tools are there.
Get perks, make a contribution, or simply follow updates. If enough
of us get behind it, we can ensure that Sapa Sisters Trekking can
continue offering Hmong women new opportunities to earn sustainable
incomes and help their families and communities prosper.
Note: In return for this review Sapa Sisters partially sponsored our tour, however, all views expressed are entirely our own.