All around Sapa are the tiny villages of the H’Mong and other minorities, who live mainly as rice farmers. Every accessible piece of land in the valleys is terraced. I spent seven hours walking among the fields and villages, away from the tourist roads.
We had a major thunderstorm yesterday so the paths are soaked. At first I found the dry sections of the paths, but those got scarce deeper in the rice fields. Rice is grown submerged in water. In parts I was slogging in mud halfway up to my knees, and found it got more traction barefoot where it got really steep. But there are many creeks to wade through and wash up, and the scenery more than made up for my troubles.
At some point I got lost but was promptly “adopted” by a group of Black H’Mong who led me on paths in villages and hugging the sides of mountains that I would never have found by myself. Later I had to cross a road construction site and watched them dynamite the hillside. Couldn’t get really close though because the entire crew had only a single hard hat, and after the bang follows a shower of pebbles and dirt.