All of our H’mong friends – as well as most of the H’mong selling to tourists in Sapa – are from the village of Lao Chai. This is a huge village, and
it would take over an hour to walk across it. Many of the people living here don’t know each other if they’re not related by blood or marriage. Most houses are in little familial enclaves like that shown above. But some houses are more spread apart.
The walk to Lao Chai was amazingly beautiful. We were very lucky to have a break in the near-constant rain that’s been occurring since we’ve arrived.
A small section of Lao Chai
Locals Enjoying the View From the Road
There have been many improvements in the village since we were last there 3 years ago. For one thing, the road down to Lao Chai from the main road is no long mud – it’s now paved with rocks.
The village got electricity and telephone lines in the last 6 months, so most people now have satellite TV (for a mere $1.50/month). We are also told that the house where tourists do home-stays has a computer! Speaking of changes, the first time we were here (5 years ago) we helped many of our friends set up e-mail accounts. Now many of them have cell phones! We picked up Vietnamese SIM cards for our phones, so it’s much easier to reach our friends.
Yet another change is the hydro-electric plant the government is building in Lao Chai. It makes for some interesting landscape.
Building a Road for the Power Plant
The walk down to Lao Chai provides a great view of the beautiful rice fields.Of course, we saw a little bit of the local wildlife on the way down.
The rice fields serve a multiple purposes. Certainly, they grow food for the people who plant them, but they also provide food for the farm animals. Both ducks and chickens feed on the small animals in the wet paddy (which helps the rice too) and water buffalo feed on the greens once the field is harvested.
After a half hour of walking, we reached Gom’s house. Here you see her parents, Yang and Vang, along with her two younger sisters.
We walked for another half-hour to reach their rice fields. It was a narrow, slippery, dirt (m path (the morning rain certainly didn’t help).
I don’t have any pictures of us planting as it was too muddy. But let’s just say that Tadashi and I are not very good farmers. The shoots usually get planted in a straight line, but Tadashi and I managed more of a zig-zag pattern. Unfortunately, it started raining about ½ hour after we began planting. Yang tried to get us to go before the trail got too bad, but Tadashi and I said, “No! We just learned how – you can’t make us go now!” And so we donned our plastic sheets and rain coats, and planted for another ½ hour until all the shoots Yang brought down were planted.
We were originally thinking to help them the next day, but then thought better of it – we don’t want their entire crop to be bad!Because it was so slippery going down, Yang held my hand much of the way down. I had a bamboo walking stick for the trip, and was so afraid of falling, my forearm and hand were more sore than my knees the next day. I guess I was a little worried about falling off the cliff and becoming rice fertilizer.