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Hitchhiking Vietnam
DESTINATIONS
Sapa Valley

"The path down into the valley wound its way through one village after another, often through the individual huts themselves. No one but the dogs took offense as I opened courtyard gates and ducked under clotheslines or skirted pigsties.

Eventually the foot trail took me to the river's edge. I could see it pick up again on the other side and zig-zag up the hill, but the rushing water in between was thigh-deep and filled with slippery, moss-covered stones. Under the amused eyes of several small boys, I dropped my pack, took a camera in each hand and waded in. It was steep and treacherous, the water tugging at my legs and the rocks shifting underfoot. I thought to ask for help, but didn't really trust the boys with either the heavy pack nor my expensive cameras. Halfway across my sandal caught on a rock, the Velcro tore open and I watched helplessly as the current whisked it away. The kids went after it like bloodhounds, their feet barely touching the stones as they hopped, cricket-like, from one boulder to the next. They returned it to me in less than a minute, their teeth flashing in impudent grins. I surrendered my bags, far safer in their hands, and watched them scamper to the far shore."

Excerpt from Hitchhiking Vietnam

map GEOGRAPHY:
If you're leaving from Sapa then it's all downhill on the way out and all uphill on the way back.
THINGS TO LOOK FOR:
  1. Gravesites are common, usually located in the paddy fields.
  2. Those racks of drying sticks are homemade incense.
  3. A funeral. Though it may not be what you expect...
  4. Each tribal group has its own distinctive clothing. Sometimes patterns vary from village to village within a tribal group.
  5. If you're in a hut, look up. The "attic" should have a unhusked rice stored in huge rattan baskets. If there's no rice, you are in a very poor house. If it's winter and there's no rice then they're probably starving.
  6. The ancestral altars near the door sometimes have unusual offerings (I wonder if my M&M's are still there?).
  7. The Hmong make their own thread and weave their own clothes. You can see them working with hemp fibers both in the market and in the villages.
  8. They build their houses without nails - everything is tongue-and-groove to such exacting specs that they don't need metal fasteners.
  9. French ruins abound.
  10. Most minority groups hoe their fields communally.
  11. Those baskets of stringy weedlike plants are either pigfood or people food, depending on how well-off the owner.
  12. The swinging bridges are a lot stronger than they look.
  13. There's quite a bit happening in the fields on a sunny day. If you ever feel like pitching in (hoeing, building new paddy walls, etc.) you'll be welcome. You may find that there's more than one way to move a rock...
  14. The sound you hear of a squeeky door closing, followed by a thunk, is a rice thresher.
  15. You know how they say that barking dogs don't bite? Well, they're wrong.
  16. Forsake the easy road down the mountain and follow the river. It is a center point of valley life.
  17. Opium addiction is a growing problem among the minorities as I discovered one night...

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