Thursday, June 28, 2012

Among the Hmong

    We woke early to have breakfast on the balcony below our hotel room, a VIP room which we had been upgraded to, but instructed many times not to tell anyone about. It was overcast but the view of the mountains around Sapa was gorgeous. The clouds began to dissipate and a rainbow appeared.
     After breakfast we met the driver and our guide and stopped to try the famous Vietnamese coffee, which is very thick and served with sweetened condensed milk. It was very good and strong. We then got on the road for our two hour drive to the Bac Ha market, a local market of the Flower Hmong people, another tribe in the area related to the black Hmong we visited the day before. The market was wild- you could buy or sell almost anything there and our guide, Nam, insisted on showing us the local eatery there where you could get horse stew, among pretty much any other animal you could think of. Needless to say, we quickly found our way back to the women selling hats and handbags and declined lunch at the market.
     The local lunch at a nice cafeteria outside the market was good and we were  soon ready for our next trek through a Flower Hmong village. This village was very much like the one we saw the day before. Rice patties were everywhere and corn was grown on the hillside in places most people would consider inaccessible. The women had baskets on their backs filled with all kinds of items, things to sell at the market, things purchased at the market, firewood, etc.
   The homes were small, made of local materials; wood and grass. Many had more modern roofing, not the palm tree leaves of old. Unlike the other village though, this one had one house which was very unique. It was made of mud. Nam wanted to show us around the house but the door was closed.We were disappointed. Nam had really wanted to show us that house.When we  were on the ridge above the house an old woman came out from the house next door (families live next to each other) and Nam yelled something to her then pointed to the old house. "She will show us the old house" he said. We followed him in and were amazed to see such a place. Everything was dirt. There were no windows but the walls where they met the roof were open. There was really only one large room with a few beds hung off the ground and a cooking fire with a large pot. Spider webs were everywhere and there were only a few belongings in the house. It was impossible to tell how many people lived here.
   Lindsay was trying to take pictures on the sly as the Hmong don't often like to be photographed, especially in this tribe. Nam and the woman were discussing something and then she took out a water bottle and a tiny bowl to be used as a shot glass and poured us a drink. Here we go again with the happy water. I didn't know why she was doing this. Was it hospitality? We each took a sip- this wine didn't have as much bite as yesterday's. Nam said he was going to buy some of the corn wine from her. He asked me to borrow some Dong and when I took it out they began to haggle. Lindsay was still trying to get her picture. Nam and the woman settled on a price and I wondered if she had seen how much money I had and upped the price....opps.  Then Nam said to Lindsay "take your picture while I distract her." He continued to talk to the woman while Lindsay got her shot and Nam got his; he had purchased a whole bottle of corn wine, freshly poured from an old diesel bottle for the equivalent of a dollar. When we left we joked that he must really love corn wine, but he protested that it was for his cousin. We wanted to know what they were talking about; was it the price of the wine? Was she mad Lindsay had taken a picture? Did she want us to buy more? "I don't know what she was talking about" Nam said "she did not speak Vietnamese."

Flower Hmong pouring us corn wine
Photo courtesy of Lindsay Bruno
Black Hmong, left and Red Hmong, right at their village in Lao Chai
Photo Courtesy of Lindsay Bruno
Vietnamese coffee with sweetened condensed milk


  1. Thanks for painting such a beautiful picture. You've got quite a gift for language. While reading, it felt as if I was right there along side you, Lindsay and of course Nam. ;) Thanks again for the tour, anticipating your next adventure.

  2. Thanks babe, I'm glad you like it. Traveling is condusive to writing. I''ll keep it up, I've got over 100 views so that makes me feel good, too! I want you to feel like you are here becuase I wish you were.