We left it a bit late getting train tickets to Sapa, so we had to settle for a sleeper bus. What an experience that was – the sleeping arrangements would be reasonably comfortable if you are built like the average Vietnamese person. For an Aussie bloke who is 180cm tall I am about 20cm longer than then bed was designed to accommodate. As a result I spent the following 12 hours hoping my knees would still work when we arrived.
We travelled to Sapa with our friends Chung and John. Lucky they are both the perfect size for the sleeping bus bunks. When I took a look at them in their bunks they looked very comfortable compared to me. Dancing with the Hmong women
On arrival in Sapa a group of Hmong women met our bus and were pointing and smiling at Lorenza before we had even left our seats. They followed us for many hours after that, making small talk, joking with us and reminding us at regular intervals that they had many interesting items in their back-baskets for sale. One of them had an Aussie accent – she told us she learnt English from a Melbourne
oh my knees
girl called Megan “Do you know her?”
Chung and John found the attention of the Hmong women very surprising. We simply told them “welcome to being a western tourist in Vietnam”. I could not understand why they wasted so much time following us when we had said “No” so many times to their offers of trinkets for sale. I kept asking “Why don’t you go and talk to some other tourists who may want to buy something?” They just laughed and kept on following us.
Oddly, they were very helpful with information about sights to see, places to visit and what to look out for in the market. They just did not seem to get that we were not buying anything. One of them eventually explained to me that “It is not just about selling things we actually like playing games with tourists and just talking. The money just comes in handy. The boys in my village are very lazy and cannot speak any English, me I can speak English, some French and also Chinese. You and your wife have nice faces”.
Our Hmong entourage did give up on us after lunch and went off to do
it all again with another group. (For the record thet did actually wear me down and I bought a small bag, soemm earrings and a purse from them - so obviously their tactics do work).
During a rain storm we took refuge in a café and form an upstairs balcony we watched small groups of tourists wandering the main street followed by large groups of Hmong and a few Dao women sharing their umbrellas with the tourists. It all looked like a complicated dance from above. The sights
We visited the usual sights around Sapa, including the markets, climbed the mountain, cruised through the orchid garden, and walked through the nearest Hmong village. Some of the other highlights included … Mushroom shop
– at the markets was a shop specialising in mushrooms. The aroma in the place was incredible. We bought some “perfume mushrooms” to take back to Hanoi as a gift. They not only had the usual perfume smell but had a great smokiness about them. The smell evoked a vision of the mushrooms being dried in a smoked filled Hmong or Red Dao kitchen area. Fabric stalls
– the markets had a
section for fabrics, embroidered clothing, caps, etc. These stalls also had a smoky smell about them. It smelt like the cloth had soaked up the smell of the area the dyes were cooked up in over wood fires. The ladies in these stalls were also funny and obviously very crafty. They could sell ice to Eskimos. I bought a cap just for the pleasure of bartering with them. The love market
– on the Saturday night the town square turned into a busy spot. Lots of Hmong and other ethnic folk were congregated there to meet a partner. It was very misty and the women in their black clothing made the scene even more mysterious. Steam boat
– Spa is famous for salmon, so we could not pass up the chance to have salmon hot pot (or steam boat). I think in Vietnamese it is called Lau. Tasted great and the one kilo salmon John picked out for us was delicious. Hmong waitress
– at the hot pot restaurant there was the cutest waitress. She was a young Hmong girl who had a habit of skipping everywhere she went. She had a very sweet smile and we
found out she was in her second last year of senior high school. She was working to help her family and seemed to be a very happy and peaceful person. Crafts museum
- we visited a cultural museum that also had a crafts display. The ethnic women manning the stalls there were very friendly and explained a lot about their work to us. One of the Red Dao women showed us how she puts her head peice on. THey were very interesting people. The Sapa version of Jessie J
– late on Saturday night we wandered past a street BBQ vendor. I noticed that there was a young girl sitting at the BBQ stall with a guitar. As a guitarist in a former life I asked her what she could play. We then spent the next hour or so being entertained by 17 year old Linh. For someone who has only being playing for 12 months she was very good. She has a lot of natural talent and a good voice to go with it. Her version of Jessie J’s “Price Tag” was particularly striking.
Linh’s mum runs the BBQ stall and we ate a few snacks
while grooving with Linh. We were soon joined by some other folks who were equally impressed with her talent. Culinary highlight
- rice grilled inside bamboo, tastes great. The company
– visiting Sapa with such good friends was very special. We really enjoyed spending a few days relaxing with Chung and John. Just remember “Every day is sunny with Chung” and Lorenza and John and me too! A downside …
One thing that really struck us in Sapa was the number of street kids. One in particular late on Saturday night had us very worried. She looked to be about 6 years old and was sitting alone near a park. No-one seemed to be looking out for her and she looked very cold. We had also seen a pretty weird westerner wandering around patting the heads of some kids and generally looking odd. So, Chung went and spoke to the young girl to see if she was ok. She did not speak much Vietnamese, mostly Hmong and a few words of English. Chung could not work out if she was ok or not. Then a Hmong woman told Chung the girl was waiting for her parents
who were street sellers. She sat on her own for many hours from what we could tell. We bought her some BBQ skewers and she woofed them down quick smart. She then disappeared into the mist.
I found an interesting video about a village trying to change the way they approach tourists near Sapa .. interesting viewing, must visit there if we are nearby again ... http://vimeo.com/24594769
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