A Trip To The Tonkinese Alps Part 2 : Hiking The Mountains

Hiking or trekking in Sapa is not quite like most countries we have visited where trails were well marked, distances annotated, and difficulty graded. Over in Sapa, these concepts don’t exist. Trails exist not for the hiker or the tourist. They exist for villagers in the mountains to get from one place to another. They are well trodden by villagers. The paths exist so that the villagers can survive and make a living.  The guide told us that she had to walk 10 km just to get to the market in town.

During our trip, we would trek to some remote villages and have hot lunches at a local home. We started on shorter routes to get a good feel of the trails and did longer ones when we got more accustomed.

Unlike in temperate countries, the trails here in Southeast Asia were often muddy with occasional landslides. Our guides who were locals were very familiar with the area and knew exactly where to avoid.

We went with friends and our fitness level varied. Luckily with a lot of encouragement and cheering, everyone was able to subdue their fear and overcome the obstacles. We crossed multiple rivers. Some with bridges while others, the slippery rocks were the only way.

Having spent most of our weekends riding bikes and hiking back home had somewhat helped to prepare the kids for this trip. Still, it wouldn’t be possible for my 5 year old to make it all the way if not for the occasion free rides on his Dad’s strong shoulders.

My old hiking boots gave way after just 1 day of walking but luckily I had brought my running shoes along. However, without good ankle support and with soles that weren’t really meant for trails, I was worried that I couldn’t make it far in them.

The local guides all wore the same kind of slippers. They told us that their 1 dollar slippers work best. The soft soles allowed their toes to grip on the rocks and gave them a good feel of the soil. Few of us could match their speed in traversing the more challenging terrains and I think we must have looked really stupid moving clumsily in our ‘expensive’ looking hiking boots.

We arrived on a cloudy day and the weather forecast for the next couple of days kind of dampened my spirit. Even with a waterproof jacket, I was not keen to be hiking in the drizzle for a few hours.

Thankfully, like in most mountains, the weather never matches the weather forecast. We had the most beautiful weather during the last 2 days of our trip and we did the best hikes with the best views.

The villages had been praying to the mountains and ‘spirit trees’ for their padi fields and they were happy to have their prayers answered.

I realised that while trekking the mountains to us is a form of sports, hobby and leisure, to the villages, these mountains are sacred and their livelihood depends on them. I was reminded how these mountains deserved our respect simply by being there.

Read Part 1 for the trip : A Homecooked Meal
Read Part 3 of the trip : Children of Sapa
Read Part 4 of the trip : Learning Beyond the Classroom Walls