Friday 1 December 2017

My Second Day In Sapa, Vietnam: Trekking Muong Hoa Valley

We were well rested after an exhausting first day in Sapa and were all ready to trek to Muong Hoa Valley the next morning. This valley is home to several ethnic villages and constitute the largest farmland for rice cultivation in Sapa District. The valley is also famous for its terraced rice fields. Even though rice terraces can be seen from roads like Fansipan Street and the road leading to Sapa from Lao Cai (aka QL4D), the best way to get an up-close panorama of these beautiful rice fields is to trek into the villages where paddy is cultivated. After all, the main reason we visited Sapa is to see its acclaimed rice terraces and topping the list in our itinerary should be an activity where we could satiate our eyes with the best of these vistas.
Unlike Cat Cat Village which is close to Sapa town and which visitors could easily trek to without a guide, Muong Hoa Valley which we were going to this time is vast with most parts inaccessible by motorised vehicles. Trekkers will need an experienced local guide to do thisWe got our hotel to arrange a trekking tour for us opting to join a group instead of getting a private guide. For this we only paid USD15 per pax, a package that includes a whole day trek through a few villages with a stopover for lunch.
'Pheng' came to our hotel at about 9am. She is a H'mong guide assigned for this task. She spoke English well though she couldn't read or write the language. We followed her as she walked through Sapa town to gather a few more trekkers from various hotels. All in there were 7 of us; a Singaporean couple, a Japanese girl, a middle-aged American man, a young Korean man and the two of us. Other than Pheng there were 5 other H'mong women tagging along. It was like an entourage. These "extras" were accompanying us because they have spent the night (or nights) in Sapa town and it was time for them to get back to their village. They tagged along with the hope that we would buy some of their handicrafts when we reached their village. 
When asked about the difficulty of the trek my hotelier assured me that it was an easy 12km trek mostly on flat land. I was silly enough to believe him not knowing that Muong Hoa Valley actually lies between two high mountain ranges and Sapa itself is on elevated land so how flat could the trekking path be? In fact what we were about to embark on was a tiring trek along rolling hills, traversing jungli paths, small streams, and walking on narrow bunds of paddy fields.
There is a road called Muong Hoa Street in Sapa town which leads to Muong Hoa Valley. We followed this road untill we reached a steep path going down. From here on the path is no longer accessible by motorized vehicles.
As we trekked further and further the view of Sapa town diminished from our sight.
The first village we passed by was Y Linh Ho Village, a small commune comprising a dozen or so small hamlets scattered around the mountainous terrain. There are a few hundred inhabitants from the Black H’mong tribe living here. Their houses are built on the farmland itself and they cultivate corn and  rice on steep hill slopes. Y Linh Ho Village can only be accessed on foot. We caught initial glimpses of rice terraces from afar and just navigated through this village without stopping by except to take photographs.
We also trekked through paddy fields walking on the narrow bunds. I slipped and fell a few times but fortunately the fields were dry as it was the harvesting season.

Even though the rainy season has ended, some parts of the farmland were still muddy. Buffaloes were happily wallowing in the  mud and our fellow Singaporean trekkers who have never seen real buffaloes went gaga over them much to our amusement!
 The landscape was quite breathtaking.
We must have trekked up high hills to be able to see all these hills. It's no wonder that I felt so exhausted. It definitely wasn't an easy trek for me and it felt like I've started to hallucinate about gulping in some cool icy drinks along the journey.
It was a relief whenever we could stop for a breather. The H'mong simply knows how to earn some extra bucks by setting up make-do stalls to sell drinks to tired trekkers who have run out of drinking water.
The scenery was unbelievably stupendous as we approached Lao Chai Village, a larger commune with over 100 families of the H'mong tribes.
The sight of so many hills being terraced is simply incredible. The effort put in must have been mammoth. This land is said to have been cultivated for more than a hundred years. Visitors like us would come to appreciate the aesthetic aspect of this creation but for the ethnic minorities who live here, the crop grown on theses terraces is a major lifeline.
Muong Hoa Stream came into full view nearing the flatter part of the village.
Village children could be seen playing gleefully by the stream.
It was another bigger relief when we finally arrived at the little township of Lao Chai. After several hours of trekking I could finally gulp in all the liquid I'd yearned for.
The tiny township consists of just one short row of shops and restaurants.
We had a meal of rice with 4 dishes in this H'mong owned restaurant. We rested an hour or so here.
From Lao Chai we proceeded to Ta Van Village where the Zay and H’mong ethnic people live together. There is an assimilation of two cultures here. The worst part of the trek was over by the time we reached Ta Van Village as the land is mostly flat. Ta Van Village can also be reached by vehicles.

There are options for trekkers to continue the hike further up Muong Hoa Valley to other villages like Hao Thao and Ban Ho and experience homestay in the houses of these ethnic minorities but 12 km and 6 hours of trekking on the rugged terrain was more than enough for me. We crossed a bridge at Ta Van Village to get to the main road. From there we took a van back to Sapa town ending the day's trek at close to 5pm.

Related Posts:
1. Top Things To Do In Sapa, Vietnam
2. My First Day In Sapa: Trekking To Cat Cat Village
3.My Second Day In Sapa; Trekking To Muong Hoa Valley
4. My Third Day In Sapa: Visiting Hamrong Mountain
5. My Fourth Day In Sapa: Bac Ha Market
6. What And Where To Eat In Sapa

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