Tag Archives: countryside

Trekking in Sapa

After Angkor Wat, my parents and I headed to our next destination: Sapa. Located in northwest Vietnam, Sapa is a mountain town and is one of the only regions in Vietnam that has distinct seasons. It actually gets cold during the winter! With a population of approximately 36,000, the area is home to a number of ethnic minority groups. The Hmong are the largest miniority group in Sapa and make up a little over half of the population. In addition to the Hmong, there are four other minority groups that reside in Sapa (spellings vary): the Dao, Tay, Giay and Xa Pho people.

Sapa is located in Northwest Vietnam, very close to the Chinese border.

Most of the minority groups work in the mountains growing rice and corn.  In addition to farming, the minority groups in Sapa make money by selling homemade products such as clothing, jewelery, bags, fabrics, etc to tourists. As soon as you step off the bus, you are immediately surrounded by swarms of women trying to sell you things. It was definitely a little overwhelming having people constantly trying to talk to you and sell you things, but it’s important to remember that they are just trying to make a living. However, even though begging and selling to tourists is so prominent, our tour guide explained to us that we shouldn’t buy from any of the children. By giving them money, it is only encouraging them to beg more instead of spending their time studying at school.

So the actual town of Sapa is a little hectic. Like I mentioned, you can’t walk down the street without being approached by groups of minority women. It has also become a pretty developed tourist hub, so the town is lined with hotels and restaurants that cater toward foreigners. Although the view from town is nice, Sapa is best enjoyed by trekking through the rice fields. Along with a guide, my parents and I completed a 12K trek through rice fields and the Hmong and Dao villages. Our guide took us on less traveled routes and we completed our trek without running into any other tour groups. We were able to see how the rice is grown and learned about the everyday lives of the minority peoples. The trek also provided stunning views of the mountainside in Sapa.

My father eating breakfast at our hotel

About 30 min into the trek, we made it out of the town of Sapa and entered the rice fields.

A water buffalo plowing the rice fields

Overlooking a Hmong village

View of the mountainside from a minority village

Close up of the rice fields

The "postcard" view of Sapa.

The only downside about Sapa is it’s a little inconvienent to get to. You have to take a 10 hour train ride from Hanoi to Lao Cai and then from Lao Cai it’s another 1 hr 30 min busride to get to Sapa. However, most people take the night train from Hanoi so you don’t actually lose much time traveling. There is public transportation that you can take from Lao Cai to Sapa, but honestly I think it’s worth it to pay the extra money and plan ahead of time for a private bus or van. For a few extra dollars, I think it’s definitely worth it.

The next entry will be about the Bac Ha Market which is a 3hr drive from Sapa. Crazy things for sale!!!

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Out of the city, into the Countryside

I’ve been in HCMC for three full weeks now so when the opportunity came to get out of the city yesterday for a few hours, I couldn’t resist. Being in HCMC is great, but with the constant traffic, noise and massive amounts of people, it can get a little overwhelming at times. One of the LanguageCorps students offered to take me and my housemates into the countryside to “hang out by the river.” Before I left I had no clue what I was getting myself into but one thing I’ve learned here is you can’t really ask questions, you just have to go with the flow.

So after over an hour of driving through muddy streets, taking a ferry and speeding down narrow and curvy roads, we reached our destination. “Hanging out by the river” turned out to mean going to a makeshift waterpark built around some river in the countryside (your guess as to which river it is is just as good as mine). Now don’t get me wrong, the place was actually kind of cool and had I visited this place 10 years ago, I would have had a field day. There were water slides, trees turned into diving boards and tons of boats to ride around in. Everyone else chose to go swimming in the murky green-brown water but I opted for some much needed R&R and lay on a hammock all day reading a book.

My view from the hammock

One of my favorite parts of the day was eating lunch (duh). Our friend packed tons of food and brought a portable burner so we could cook for ourselves. We made a simple noodle dish and it was fun and super easy to make. I’ll walk you guys through the steps so you can try it out on your own if you want!

Here is what you need:

  • Spring Rolls with whatever filling you want
  • Fresh Rice Vermicelli Noodles
  • Raw lettuce, cucumber ,bean sprouts and your choice of herbs (ex. mint, basil, cilantro) all mixed together
  • Tomato
  • Soy Sauce and/or Fish Sauce

You should probably make the noodles first. You can buy plain rice vermicelli noodles at any grocery store in Chinatown, NYC or at the Great Wall Supermarket on Route 27 in NJ. Just follow the instructions on the bag. They don’t have to be hot when you eat them so you can even make them a couple hours before you plan to eat.

I would buy the spring rolls frozen and then cook them by deep frying them. After you cook them it’s a good idea to pat them with a paper towel because they will be really greasy. You can buy spring rolls at almost any grocery store. Here is a picture of us cooking the spring rolls.

Deep frying some Spring Rolls

Once the spring rolls and noodles are done the rest is a piece of cake. Cut up some slices of tomato and mix together your greens and bean sprouts. Then grab a pile of noodles and put them in a bowl. Toss the greens and bean sprouts over the noodles, then add the sliced tomatoes. Put the cooked spring rolls on top of all of that and finish it off by pouring some soy sauce or fish sauce over the bowl. And you are ready to eat! Super easy and a pretty cheap meal as well. Try it out at home and let me know how it goes!!!

This is what the dish should look like:

Fresh Noodles and Fried Spring Rolls

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