After returning to Hanoi for a night, we took the overnight train to Lao Cai on the Chinese border, then a hairy bus ride into the hills to SaPa, a small village in what the French called the "Tonkinese Alps." A number of hill tribes come to SaPa on weekends to trade and sell clothes, tools, food, and other items with each other and with the tourists who make the treck. The Black Hmong and Red Zao are two of the tribes who inhabit this area without electricity, running water or any other modern conveniences.

During our stay in SaPa, we spent a day hiking through the valley. This Hmong family took us into their hut for lunch after the mother, on the right, gestured to us to follow her up the steep slope to her homestead. We sat around a fire pit, the place full of smoke, and nodded while the elder men pontificated with great urgency. Exactly what they were saying was lost on us, but their intensity wasn't.