VIETNAM:SAPA – The Land of Rice & Ethnic Minorities

Posted by on Feb 4, 2015 in Uncategorized | 7 Comments


Sapa – Feb. 4th.-6th.

I  arrived on the overnight train from Hanoi at 6:00 am, and after an hour van ride arrived in Sapa which was chilly and draped in fog and mist. It was nice to be out of the clamor of Hanoi, and to breathe some fresh country air. After a quick nap it was off on our seven-mile trek. As we descended into the valley some of the fog lifted and mist dissolved to reveal the rice terraces Sapa is known for. You’ll also notice some of these photos bearing the same personality as one of my home page photos. Yes, it is Sapa at a different time of year. I bought the photo knowing I would be in Vietnam at the beginning of my journeys and didn’t even know where it was taken. I met a sweet Australian couple in Cambodia that suggested I visit Sapa, and subsequently met another British couple that made the same recommendation, so I arrived in Sapa and came face to face with the region depicted on my home page.


Hmong Woman – A real sweetheart

These are some tough folks. Although you will see satellite dishes outside some of their dwellings, their walls are generally porous and it gets quite cold in the winter. The kids still play outside and are not glued to the TV or video games. The endless rice terraces are solely for the production of rice for families in the villages since there is only one planting in April. Additional funds are required for their livelihood which is augmented by salmon farming, and the raising of cows, pigs, chickens, and ducks. Many people also act as guides and supplement their incomes through the sale and production of souvenirs.


My Northern Italian Trekking Companions – Alicia and Federica.


Ta Van Village – Dzay People

The Dzay people have become a little more sophisticated in the ways of the tourism business, and have become heavily vested in the formation of homestays.


Hmong woman and a pasty-faced Travel Zealot


Cawfee Tawk


Drying Incense Sticks


 “Oh, the weather outside is frightful, and the fire is so delightful…”

With the Tet holiday rapidly approaching, a common sight on the streets of Vietnam are people riding around with various forms of peachtree blossoms strapped to the back of motorbikes much like their western counterparts at Christmastime. It seems both of our cultures share in a yearly ritual killing of the trees. Just when I thought our cultures were so dramatically different along comes this, complete with strapping it to your vehicle for a sometimes precarious ride home. Some choose the live tree in a pot, but most go for the large branch as seen above.

I’ve yet to encounter an artificial version. Virtually every household in Vietnam will have these trees on hand. You’ve got to admire the determination involved with strapping one of those unwieldy clumps of branches and blossoms onto their bikes and maneuvering their way home in that damp, slippery weather.


  1. Z
    February 13, 2015

    Hey John, this Hmong woman has very elaborate ethnic dress. Is that what they wear all day long?

  2. The Travel Zealot
    February 13, 2015

    Yes, the whole town is overrun with women wearing these clothes and selling trinkets. Each group has a different outfit. Check back since I plan to include another picture with women gathered in a circle drinking tea. I just realized since I am the Travel Zealot, I am also a Z.

  3. Karen Devers
    February 15, 2015

    When my daughters were in elementary school quite a few Hmong families immigrated to Seattle. We befriended a shy young girl who was in Fran’s class. Her multigenerational family of six were living in a tiny one bedroom apartment. We made inquiries to find out what sort of food they might want and visited them with several bags of groceries.

    The elevator in the apartment smelled disgusting, their toilet wasn’t working, the front door of their apartment wouldn’t lock, and the windows had no screens. To get some relief from the summer heat they kept the refrigerator door opened. In an effort to supplement their meager diet they had planted seeds in the dirt next to the cement stairs leading to the building.

    While we visited with them the mother crocheted an elaborate egg holder that she gave to me along with a key ring holder and a piece of black cloth with the intricate embroidery they use on their clothing. I still have these items and cherish them.

    The older sister showed me a dress that had taken her years to cover with gorgeous embroidered designs. She explained that she doubted she would be able to wear it because she didn’t think anyone would want to marry her. Her back bore scars as a result of something that happened during the family’s journey. I didn’t know what it was but her resignation saddened me.

    This was a time of unease, despair, and prejudice toward these mountain people. When I asked what their homeland was like they described it as green hills and mist. Thank you, John for your photos and your story. It provides the visual depth that was lacking in my imagination.

  4. Z
    February 17, 2015

    the women gathered in a circle drinking tea – looks like some of them have pillows on their heads – very practical for many reasons..
    Hey, you are now Big Z, lol.

  5. BigD
    February 21, 2015

    I wonder if they ever get verklempt during their cawfee talks. haha

  6. The Travel Zealot
    February 23, 2015

    Big D,
    Probably the only way to find out without another visit would be to print out that picture. Then take your jewelers loops and see if you can detect any verklemptlike expression on any of the faces. Personally I can assure you that Barbara Streisand was not in the vicinity, and I would not reckon this to be to sort of place she would ever hang out. She might send some personal assistant to the area to pick up some textiles, but there would hardly be sufficient Streisanitude lingering to trigger any noticeable verklemptitude. So I would have to say no. 😉

  7. The Travel Zealot
    February 23, 2015

    Thanks for that story that added some much needed depth to my own. It is amazing some of the sadness that is shrouded beneath some of these beautiful costumes, or so much suffering that is in this regions recent past. Carpet bombing, Pol Pot. What haven’t these people had to endure. Talk about stiff upper lip. These people invented it. Hopefully things will calm down for a while to where they can settle into a nice long protracted peace. A time when the only invasion is launched by tourists dropping money to and fro. Funny that photo on launch page of the green rice terraces is in Sapa. I wasn’t aware that I would visit there. I just wanted a beautiful Vietnam picture on that slide show. I ended up there on a fluke. Some travel companions in Cambodia recommended it.

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