October, I made a Sapa tour by train, to the ethnic villages that have become popular communal tours to Sapa: Ban Ho, Ta Van, Lao Chai. The paddy fields had turned successive golden waves that kept expanding forever down from the mountaintops, likening valleys to huge melting gold spots.
By the muddy paths, which are ploughed up by the bare feet of human beings and animals during the rainy days, farmers are harvesting their rice. The conical hats on their heads and the basket on their backs are undulating in line. Mist is melting on the grass. The sunshine dyes the thatched roofs golden.
Train to Sapa
Leaving the western tourists, and H’mong tour guides, I traversed the harvested field, climbing up and down the hillside, jumping across the streams by myself. Chrysopogon wove into my clothes and the grass bristles pricked my palm, itching and hurting. I walked through the rice the H’mong people had cut down, leaving it on the field to dry. Rain the previous week had ruined it all. H’mong people don’t take the rice home until it is dry enough to put in the store. I met a couple plucking off their rice from the ear right in the field. They worked in such a harmony. The husband prepares the rice in bunches, the wife puts them into the wooden rice- plucking machine. Stepping her foot on the treadle, she pivots the axis, beating the rice off the ears.
Back to Sapa town, taking a motorbike trip westward, I am on an ecological tour. The National Highway 4D takes us among H’mong house. Hiding themselves in the ever serenity of the northern west, the shanties cling to the roadsides, crouching under the eternal cold and dust of the highland arid season. Posing above the dells, pines are like dutiful sentries.
The magnificent sceneries in Sapa
The pear season is over in Sapa town. Left here on the skinny twigs are withering leaves, which shrivel at each gust of northern wind. Sapa pears distinguish themselves from the fruit from Cao Bang province, Lai Chau province or China, with their tartish taste will turn an abiding sweetness after swallowing.
In the further distance, I can still see the white spots of paper farmers to cap their roses. In the yards, plump trees are releasing the first yellow leaves, preparing for the blossoming season in the early spring.
Thac Bac, the Silvery Waterfall ̣̣̣which I once mentioned in my previous article “Journey to the wonderful Silver Waterfall“, appears like white hair linking with the milky clouds above. Falling down from 200 metres, the waterfall composes a piece of music which for always plays to the jungles and the mountains.
Silver Waterfall in Sapa
It turns from cool to frigid when we reach Hoang Lien Pass, about 18 kilometres from Sa Pa town. On the highest point on Hoang Lien Pass, about 18 kilometres above the sea level, looking down toward Lai Chau province, I see National Highway 4D swimming through the mountains like a giant white eel with die head hidden behind the forest. I have heard xe om drivers say that from where I am standing, the bike can coast for another 40 kilometres.
Along the path leading into the virgin forest, hydrangeaceae blossom white along the path, adorning the purple tomentose rose myrtles. From 1,000 to 3,000 metres above the sea, Hoang Lien National Park, named after the goldthread plants found in the region, is the habitat for many rare and endemic species.
While I am walking in the forest, I cannot avoid stepping on the hypoxidaceae, which grow everywhere under the wood trees. I have read about precious medical herbs in this area like ginseng, ash weed, rhododendron…
Precious herbs of Sapa
A snake is sunbathing on my way, with the tail still disguised in the rotten leaves. With thousands of species of vertebrates and insects, Hoang Lien National Park makes up almost half of the total floral and fauna species of the whole country.
Among the shrieks of the insects in the foliages, the rattling of the leaves under my steps, I hear the sound of running water, melodiously and tenderly.
I walk on the nearest boulders in the Golden Stream; through the brushwood, a cool and crystal flow of water immediately rushes on, leaking inside my shoes.
I sit back on a boulder, looking down and realize the meaning of the name locals gave the current: the watering flowing through the iron-ore plated rocks looks like Sows of melting gold. Crossing the stream, I am lost in the realm of ancient trees. I look up at the top of the Fokienia hodginsii and polains, but they are higher than I can see. On a tree whose name I don’t know all the leaves have turned yellow. Grasping at a vine which grows along it and shaking it, I get thousands of golden sheets dropping down ail over my head and my shoulders. Mistletoes and moss has put a thick green coat around the trunk, smooth and soft like velvet. Fallen across the stream, huge trees make me perfect bridges. On the rotten wood, grass, wood-ear mushrooms are sprouting — life always carries on here, in this jungle, as it has always been since the creation of the world.
Sapa in an Autumn afternoon
Then I find myself wandering among the interminability of cardamoms. The plants jostle with one another and reach out, encroaching on my way. It is the harvesting season, from die foot of the plants grow out the brown fruit. Sold at about $5/kg, this medicinal fruit has turned many local farmers into millionaires in die recent, years.
The walk leads me through the different latitudes, water-rails grow more and more thickly. Following the path for about eight kilometres, I know I would be on Fansipan Mountain, the roof of Indochina. Some sunbeams are trying to pierce the foliages. Around me, bamboos are hissing, casting little yellow leaves about in the wind.
Let’s plan trekking Sapa tours. Come on, do not be afraid!