Cat Cat Village

A misty and drizzly morning foiled our plans

I feel so thankful today for how the day turned out. We had planned to take the cable car to Fansipan, Vietnam’s highest mountain. However it was very misty and we decided to change plans and do a hike to the Cat Cat Village – a Hmong village about an hour’s hike down and two hours’ hike up on the return leg. As we walked down the street the drizzle steadily became more intense and we went into a cafe to wait the rain out. After an hour of waiting we decided it would be better to return to the hotel and rest while my daughter went for a shoulder and leg massage.

Scenic views of valleys and mountains as we hiked down to the village

At about 12 plus the rain all but stopped and we decided to resume our planned hike. The air was pleasantly cool and fresh and there were many lovely views of the valley and its rice terraces and the mountains with their summit clouded by mists. We took many photos and about halfway down a kind Vietnamese couple signed to us if we wanted a lift to the entrance of the Cat Cat Village. We went in happily and though they did not speak a word of English, they signed to us their intentions. Ten minutes later we were at the entrance and paid about SGD $6 to enter this Hmong village. We were praising God for this was not incidental but God’s provision.

Happily we entered the village
Rice terraces and corn fields
Elaine near a field of flowers
Numerous photo spots make it fun to look around
There were many stalls selling Hmong traditional crafts
Going down to the waterfalls
Mini falls in the background
The bigger waterfall carried brown muddy water
They used this for irrigation in the old days

It was a route of 2 to 3 kilometres that brought us past a school, village homes, stalls selling similar tribal products, and gardens, waterfalls, a theatre with free Hmong musical and dance performances. It was interesting, engaging, and with the mobile and photo taking opportunities, the minutes passed very quickly. By the time we covered the loop it was about 4 pm and it began to drizzle again. We took a cab for SGD$6 and it brought us back to our hotel. Along the way we passed many tourists who hiked up back to Sapa town. We estimated it would take us 2 hours to hike up, with the level of our fitness and a  4 out of 10.

This was a happy day, a happy Sunday, as we saw the Lord guiding and providing for us. However what disturbed me is to see little children as young as four or five selling sourvenirs with minders, sometimes the mother or grandmother several feet away to watch them. There is obvious poverty. I would have thought that the collection of fees and tourism would have made the lives of the villagers better. It probably does but I wished more education, affordable medical care, and marketable skills could be given to the Hmong people so that they don’t have to be tourist attractions the rest of their lives.

Hiking Mt Kinabalu at age 11

I was solemnising the marriage of two faithful members of the church when during the course of the dinner, I heard a unique name called out that triggered my memory.  It was, “Mao Siang” (spelling uncertain).

Years ago, in 2005, I led some young people from the church on a hike to Mt Kinabalu. it included adults for sure. However, the youngest of them was eleven year old Mao Siang, one of our member’s nephew.

Mao Siang, Rachel the cousin (who got married).Peter Lim and Eunice, the aunt.

It was remarkable that at that young age he had the motivation, discipline and endurance to go through the rigours of weeks of afternoon training at Bukit Timah Hill and finally to summit the mountain. I was amazed. And with such a unique name, I simply could not forget.

Mao Siang (second from left, lowest row) at the Loh’s Peak, summit of Mt Kinabalu.

So I asked the mother to introduce him to me and I learned he was studying in the second year in the National Technology University of Singapore. I could not resist taking a wefie and blogging about this.

With Mao Siang at the wedding of his cousin Rachel

If you are interested in hiking Mt Kinabalu in Sabah, East Malaysia have a look at the blogposts below:

Kinabalu 1 – where Mao Siang hiked with us.

Kinabalu 2 – church youths to Kinabalu and God’s intervention

Kinabalu 3 – the last church hike to Kinabalu

Hiking Mt Hallasan, Jeju Island

I looked up some videos on YouTube about climbing Mt Hallasan on Jeju Island, South Korea’s highest mountain at 1, 950 m. It seems most agree that it is not an easy climb. The ascent and descent together is about 18 km in total and the average person would take an estimated 10 hours.

The ascent map shows your progress

My first reaction was surprise at the elevation. Korea has many mountains yet their highest is only 1,950 m. This cannot be compared with Mt Kinabalu in East Malaysia which is 4,095m high and I have hiked there several times. By comparison, Hallasan should be doable.

However, as the day drew near my anxiety increased. I hardly could train as I had originally planned. Saturday church ministry meant I was available for training intermittently. Thus, I tried to squeeze in some training on days and times different from the rest of the Saturday hiking group. I did make sure I had at least one endurance training which went from 7.45am to about 12.45pm. I remembered how a lack of training ditched one of my earlier group hikes in Hong Kong on the MacLehose trail. And I was not as young as before when I did my earlier hikes up Mt Kinabalu. What made things worse were weather forecasts of cold weather! That worried me as I hated cold!

When the group gathered together at the airport most of us knew each other. Some of us had hiked together for years. Others were new. The oldest was Jenny Teo, 75, the leader’s elder sister. The youngest was Eunice Lian, about 23. Most of us were in their 60’s including me. With mixed ability and levels of training, the challenge was obvious, “How can we keep the group walking and summiting together?”

We stayed about five nights in Forest Hostel (photo: Yenny)

It was good we had a few days in Seoul to relax and carbo-load before the climb. I will blog about our days in Seoul in a later blogpost. We took a Jeju Air one hour flight to Jeju island and settled into the Forest Hostel. The weather was often on our mind, so we flashed our requests up to God about this.

The light of dawn revealed the beautiful autumn colours of Hallasan
At 1,200metres
Our hiking group leader Linda Teo with her elder sister Jenny (age 75) (photo: Jeffrey)
Jessie (who surprised us) and her strong husband Jeffrey who carried her backpack!

We decided to take the difficult Gwaneumsa trail (8.7km) up, and the easier Seongpanak trail (9.6km) down. We started our hike early at 6.45am. We wanted all in the group to be able to make it by the time fixed by the park. For safety sake, they turn back hikers who cannot make it to the three quarters point by a certain time. So the leader, Linda Teo, appointed Brian to be at the front and nobody was to overtake him. He would pause and regather the group at various points up the route. She took the rearguard. The route was straightforward and no guides were required.

Steps – wooden, cement, stones, rocks, mud. Be prepared to step up!
The vegetation gets wiry the higher we go
It was cold as we got higher and there was melting frost on some parts

As light gradually shed its rays on the forest we saw how beautifully the valleys were dressed in their lovely autumn colours, set in the midst of grey rocks and dried stream beds. Taking our time to enjoy the sights and take photos, the hike seemed quite leisurely during the early part of the hike. And I was thanking God for the fine weather: it was not as cold as weather reports predicted! The terrain and vegetation changed as we hiked up the route. We paused to drink, snack, take pictures, use the toilet and to regather the group.

The rangers offices and resting and toilet area where people are turned back at a specific time.
Hong Kwen and Brian 
Eunice the baby among the seniors (photo: Eunice)
Nellie and Tan Jee Lian (photo: Eunice)
Bibi (photo: Hong Kwen)
Plodding the upper stretches before the summit
A few bridges but this was the most impressive near the summit

The last stretch was deja vu for me. It felt like that last stretch before we reached the Laban Rata rest house at Mt Kinabalu. All of us made it on time except for a lovely couple who did not meet the time requirement. They were advised to go back down the same route. Later, when they heard stories of the rest of our hike, they were glad they were turned back. It would have been impossible for them to ascend to the summit and down the trail without great difficulty. By the time they were turned back, the rest were already hiking the last uphill climb to the summit. It would be another hour and a half before we reached the summit at about 1 plus. Someone brought a Singapore flag and we took photos and looked around the summit, peering down the crater lake (more of a pond), and the cotton clouds below us.

Another mountain nearby. Good thing it wasn’t Hallasan.
Another unknown mountain. Is this the Hallasan?
The summit area
Joy Lian (photo: Yenny)
Yenny and Y.K. (photo: Yenny)
Kenny, Jenny and Beng Chai (photo: Yenny)
At the summit of Hallasan with the clouds below eye level
Looking around at different directions at the summit. Some were on the way down.
The crater lake or should we say “pond”
Filled with excitement, satisfaction and relief at the Mt Hallasan summit with a Singapore flag. (photo: Linda)
Descending was difficult for the first kilometre
This was what 5.37pm looked like near the end

Then the mountain ranger hurried us off. We were at risk of hiking in the darkness if we did not hurry. Darkness fell early at about 6pm. We raced down even though we carried LED torches with us. If we could, we would rather not hike in the dark on uneven stony paths. By 5.30pm it was already dark. We reached the car park at about 6.45pm. Others in the group returned later. I thanked God for Beng Chai and Brian, who helped one of the hikers, who sprained her ankle at the summit area, down the trail at her pace. When all were in the bus, we were happy to return back to the hostel with a great sense of satisfaction, and exhaustion. I was so thankful to God during the climb for the fine weather and the strength to summit and descend safely.