After a short stay in Luang Prabang, we began our journey towards Vietnam. Crossing the border via land wasn’t the easiest alternative, but we felt it was the most interesting way to reach our next voluntary spot, close to China. Along this freezing trail we’ve encountered beautiful souls and actually never made it to Ha Giang.
Boating Up Nam Ou River
On the bus to Nong Khiaw we met two backpackers: Anders (Swedish living in Singapore) and Amandine (French living in Montreal). In this desolated place, the four of us shared a lovely afternoon and evening together.
The following morning, we took a boat to the cute little village of Muang Ngoy made up of one dirt street, filled with guesthouses and restaurants. Amandine joined us for a nice walk in the neighboring villages and we said goodbye over homemade pizza.
Muang Khua was our last stop before crossing over to Vietnam. Considering not many were headed in this direction, it was a peaceful 6 hour boat ride upon brown waters, within thick green forest and mountainous landscapes.
In the House of a H’mong
We reached Dien Bien Phu in a feverish state, so we locked ourselves in a hostel room until it was time for our night bus to Sapa. We were meant to arrive at 6 am but were dropped off at 2:30 am. The only person around at that hour offered us shelter until dawn. Then, we grabbed a taxi to the small village of Ta Van, where Xu runs a homestay overlooking a valley of terraced rice fields.
With a flashy pink headband and her legs wrapped in black scarves, Xu belongs to the Black H’mongs, one of the 54 ethnic minorities still living in Vietnam. Originating from China, this group settled in the region about 300 years ago and is famous for making hemp fabrics decorated with indigo batiks.
We had planned to spend 2 days trekking in the area. However, our weak physical condition along with the cold and rainy weather prevented us from doing so. Instead, we spent 5 days by the fireplace helping Xu fix her IT issues, while admiring her delicate craftworks and listening to her fascinating stories.
Xu is a force of nature. Raised in extreme poverty, kidnapped at the age of 16 for marriage – as often happens to H’mong women – she never went to school. To this day, at age 35, she can neither read or write, but speaks fluent English and has her business up and running: a guesthouse, trekking tours, cooking classes. In addition, she dreams of creating a weaving museum to honor her roots.
Right when homesickness began to kick in, Xu made sure to look after us as if we were part of the family. O´Chau Xu for opening your heart to us, we will surely come back in the summer when the fields display their best colors. In the meantime, since our voluntary host in Ha Giang turned us down, we decided to celebrate Christmas in milder temperatures. Hanoi, here we come.