A Trip To The Tonkinese Alps Part 4 : Learning Beyond The Classroom Walls

We took the plunge. It was a leap of faith. The kids should be able to survive without any electronic devices. Never tried it since the advent of the iphone. No ipad, no electronic games. Just us, them, and everything else in between.

The trip apart from hiking, was meant to show the kids the lives of people in the less developed part of the world.

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Prior to the trip, I was worried about many things. The food, the weather and how well they (or we) could survive the long journey without their electronic games. I was worried that the holiday could turn into a nightmare.

We packed some UNO cards and a handful of Lego figurines and the boys were happy playing with them during our 8 hour train ride. At the end of each day, they were tasked to write down in their journals, a couple of things they saw during the day.

During the trip, the kids got to mingle and make friends with the local children. Play was their common language.

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They learned about fruits and plants that grow in the wild. Our 13 year old guide showed and fed us some wild weird looking fruits along the way. Some of the plants have medicinal uses but I think they eat them mostly to quench their thirst and fill their stomach.

These are green tea fruits. The leaves are use for making tea but these fruits can’t be eaten.

These fruits which look like berries, have a local name which I couldn’t pronounce. They taste really refreshing and sweet with a tinge of sourness.

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The relatively cheap hiking boots which I got for my 5 year old were perfect for him. It was tough and waterproof, perfect for him to trash in it.

I am quite sure his confidence level went a notch up after all the climbing and waddling through running streams, muddy trails and slippery rocks.

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He learned that rivers and streams play an important role in the lives of these people.

They bath and wash their clothes in them. The water is used in the padi fields and for generating small amount of electricity in their homes.

The boys enjoyed the food and the new friends they made. They played with what the local kids play with, from climbing trees to slippery rocks, from weaving their own toys to making up their own games.

This bow and arrow was made from bamboo strips that he picked up along the way.

I realised that the boys were more adaptable than I thought. They were much more capable of self entertaining than I thought.

I am not sure how much they were affected by the poverty they saw or whether they feel that they should be thankful for what they have. (I hope they do)

They knew that their friends took months to grow their rice and many of them don’t have a chance to go to school. If you ask my 5 year old, he would probably tell you that his deepest impression of the place was their toilets. They were holes in the ground and he worried about falling into them when his legs get tired from squatting.

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Our 1 week in Sapa was an experience that we wouldn’t have had living in our cocoon world of comfort. It was a learning experience that goes beyond the 4 walls of a classroom and I was reminded of the Chinese saying, ‘better to travel ten thousand miles than to read ten thousand books’.

I realised that much of my initial worries were unfounded. The boys did not reject the food that were served or complain about the very basic condition of their friends’ homes. They dug into the gunny sack of toys like treasure troves and they enjoyed every moment spent with their new friends. I am glad that they did not shun the kids they met along the way, often with torn and tattered clothes.

I am glad the boys took in the new experience so well.

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If you ask Malcolm about the kids without clothes playing in the padi fields, he would probably shoot you a nonchalant look before diving back into his book and Marcus would tell you that the kids were having fun.

I realised what I saw as poverty and struggle was perhaps to my children just a different life, probably a happy and carefree one.

They had readily take in the fact that there are people who live very differently from them and believe in very different things.

I realised that perhaps my children could see better than me and they were right that the children of Sapa were just different, and happy and needn’t need anything more, at least not iPad or any electronic games and gadgets.


Read Part 1 of our trip : A Homecooked Meal
Read Part 2 of our trip : Hiking the Mountains
Read Part 3 of our trip : Children of Sapa


  1. Lyn Lee says:

    Yes, on the scale of economics it seems like they have less. But if we look beyond just the material, they probably have more.

    No PSLE/DSA/IB whatever stress, and simple days with simple relationships. I suppose they do struggle, and they do deserve an education to get out of menial labour if they so desire, but perhaps at the end of the day, it’s not so clear who has lived the ‘better life’.

  2. malmal says:

    Yes indeed Lyn, it may not be clear who has lived the ‘better life’. And it does makes me wonder the relevance of Maslow Hierarchy of Needs to the pursue of happiness.

  3. Bumble Bee Mum says:

    Thank you for linking up on Travel Tuesday. 🙂

    I love your posts on The Tonkinese Alps SO MUCH. They are so motivational, especially Part 3 on the Children of Sapa. Really hope I can make this trip some day. The big question remains… how to persuade the hubs. (I tried telling him the other day that the hotels in Vietnam are very nice but he was skeptical.)

    • malmal says:

      Thanks Bumble Bee Mum, Vietnam do have nice hotel. The one we stayed in Sapa was in fact very new and clean. Let me know if you need some pictures of the hotel in order to convince him, will send some over 🙂

  4. Ling says:

    What a beautiful travel story!

    Travelling is a priority in my family, as we firmly believe that there’s so much more to learn about life outside of the books, in the great wide world.

    Indeed we have been contemplating a visit such as this (not the two night trip up Sapa and down, but a longer, in depth village stay)… But we love our creature comforts a tad too much. This gives me new inspiration.

  5. Ruth - Tanama Tales says:

    I think humans beings have a great power to adapt (but sometimes we do not recognize it). I also think kids are way more adaptable than grown ups.

    Trips like these are the ones who show us how little we need to live and connect us to others.

    Cheers for taking your kids on such a great adventure!

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