Sapa-What a LOVELY place Part 1

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June 14th 2010
Published: June 18th 2010
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Monday, June 14th

Exiting the night train from Hanoi we were both a little tired. We were immediately bombarded with “taxi, motobike, Van” shouts from groups of overly eager and aggressive local drivers. It was a bit much to handle so early in the morning. We left at 9:50 pm the previous night and managed to get a lot more sleep than on our previous ride from Nanning to Hanoi, but it wasn‘t the greatest night sleep. This train was no smooth ride and we were often waken by severe bumping and rattling from the tracks. Quickly we discovered this train station was actually a good hour ride away form Sapa so we had little choice and boarded one of the many mini busses located in the parking lot. There were tons of tourist piling into these vans making their ways up to the finial destination of Sapa.

The two lane road wound though the mountain side and passed along rice and corn terraces at a pretty steady incline. In standard Asian driving fashion the driver constantly blasted the horn as we passed slower vehicles and motorbikes in the oncoming lanes, as well as the narrow shoulder. We entered the town and were dropped off to a large group of minority villager women and children hawking their goods. “You buy from me?” was the phrase that we would be hearing throughout our stay in Sapa. They were all dressed in their traditional outfits and sold mostly hand-woven bags and bracelets. Many of then had their babies strapped to their backs by what I considered a sort of baby hammock.

It was still too early, Elyse and I hightailed it to the hostel that we booked online the night before. We had directions and headed up the hill. We checked in and were quite impressed with the view. The hotel was a little up the hill from all the crowds and shops, which we preferred since in ensured a better nights sleep.

We ate breakfast at a place called Baguettes and Chocolat; we would end up eating there three times during our stay. We ate eggs, bread and I had some coffee. After breakfast we walked around a small lake at the edge of town. On our way back from the lake we must have walked down a small street that tourists don’t normally walk down since the kids in the small houses that lined the road all came running out to say “hello”. When we responded with a hello of our own they went ecstatic and the commotion caused other kids to come running out from the houses up the road.

We decided that it was best to keep it light for the day and not get into anything too big as we were both pretty tired. We booked a two day trek with our hostel and were pretty excited as we still had a full day. We rented a motobike with no passport or down payment and drove around the town to get a feel for layout of the land. All of the maps sucked, probably because they really wanted you to book activities with a tour group. We ventured out looking for one thing and ended up finding a pretty cool water fall and an entrance to a village we would check out on our last day.

Not much else for our fist day in Sapa. We ate dinner and called it an early night before heading to bed. There was a community event which echoed some Vietnamese guys voice on a loudspeaker throughout the mountain walls and straight into our bedroom. It didn’t really phase us as we were exhausted. Around two or three in the morning I awoke confused at what I was looking at. We’d been traveling so much in the past month that I had to get my bearings before I realized that I was even in Sapa. I believe it was the soft music from downstairs that had caused me to wake up. The light from the hallway let me know that the door to our room was wide open. I asked Elyse “is the door open?”. She responded yes even though I had already known the answer. I guess I just needed to wake her up and was still a little out of it from my sleep.

I opened up our mosquito net and walked to shut the door and made sure it was locked. There was a fierce lighting and thunder storm that was simultaneously taking place outside. This got me thinking to how exactly the door became open. What we were experiencing at that exact moment was a cliché from some awful horror movie. The barely audible singing of some Vietnamese woman that played on the radio in the lobby and the loud storm made me consider that there was a ghost in the hostel. It was pretty creepy but I kept these thoughts to myself since they were pretty childish, but nonetheless would have freaked out Elyse.

Tuesday, June 15th

The next morning we ate at the hostel. We asked if they could make us breakfast and they did., yet they didn’t bother telling us that they didn’t have any food. The owner jumped on his bike and returned a few minutes later with bread and eggs. Later I asked if they had any apple juice which he replied yes of course as he grabbed his helmet and rushed out the door. Elyse opted not to wait for the juice and headed up to the room to pack our day pack. Twenty minutes later well after we both finished our breakfast I enjoyed my glass of apple juice.

The guide Lonz (pronounced Long) arrived at our door close to 9 am. We anticipated getting in a jeep and riding 12 km to our hiking spot since that was what our package described. That wasn’t the case. There would be three others accompanying us on our trek; Laura from Canada and Alice & Ludik from Czech Republic. We walked about 3 km on the street before veering off on to a dirt path. The entire way from our hostel three minority women followed us. Well four technically as one had her infant strapped to her back, and the other two were actually ten and eleven years old. They hadn’t tried to sell us anything but simply followed us.

There were a group of small children selling bamboo walking sticks. I thought that it would make a good story and good prop in our photos so I bought one for Elyse. It was by far the best purchase we made in a long time. The trail was steep and muddy as hell. There were quite a few other tourist on the trail and it was apparent that someone was going to take a nice little spill in the mud. I was hoping that it wasn’t going to be us.

The path was slow going and at points followed along the ridges of the rice terraces, so one false step and you were in knee deep water. Lonz didn’t really say anything and kind of kept to him self at the head of our pack. It was the local girls that followed us who provided Elyse with a helping hand here and there as we traveled down the path. These natives spoke excellent English as their livelihoods depended on conversing with tourist so that they could sell their goods.

We ate lunch near a river in a small village with a few houses or huts scattered about the mountain side. Elyse gave the three girls $5 for all of their assistance on the way down. She really didn’t want anything they sold but one of the little girls insisted that she at least received a small woven bracelet. We were joined by a new group of minority women dressed in different outfits, another tribe, for the next leg of the trip. We followed the river and it was pretty easy going until we reached our next village and final destination for the night. We would stay in one of the homes in this village. It was clear that Sapa had become a little too commercial, even for these villages as they had signs for cheap beer, pool, and even karaoke. Our house was a little down the hill away from the main path. It was inhabited by a husband and wife and their little 4 year old daughter Nguyen (pronounced Wynn).

There wasn’t a lot of light and it sort of smelled since this family owned several pigs. The smell wasn’t that different than Elyse’s parents farm yet we didn’t typically hang out right next to the pens all day either. We got situated and it was still pretty early in the day. Two of the trekkers, a couple from the Czech Republic only took a day tour and left to get a ride back to Sapa. We sat around, drank a few beers, read some books and chatted with the remaining guest Laura. A Canadian girl in her 30’s that was a traveling nurse that had just finished a year in New Zealand. Instead of going straight home she typically took a few months off to travel.

Nguyen did a good job filing in the gaps to keep us entertained before dinner. She spoke a little English but was flawless at repeating what we said. This is how all the villagers learned English. They had schools yet were only taught in Vietnamese, their second language, their tribe language being their first. We tried to get her to learn the word your since she pointed at people and asked, “what is my name?” It was really cute but she didn’t quite get the lesson.

The husband had disappeared shortly after we arrived and was not seen the rest of the time. The wife Tuong feed us and gave us multiple shots of homemade rice wine. We took about six or seven shots of the stuff before dinner had concluded. After which Lonz put on a World Cup match. Electricity was new to the villagers, only two years old, and many of them proudly displayed their televisions. Even with homes that had no power, rest assured they had a cell phone. Sleep came easy for us that night since we had a full day, rice wine and another day of hiking was still to come.

Interesting Facts of Hill Tribe Life:
54 ethnic groups in Vietnam, 26 in Lao Cai province and 6 in Sapa
Girls get married between 14-21, can't get married after 21
Love Festival is every Saturday night in Sapa for singles to meet. A guy will bring home a girl to stay in the Love room for 3 days without talking or spitting and if she does this that means she wants to marry the guy.
Tribes came from China around 400 years old, cleared forest and started to make the rice terraces.
Women have the babies at home, not at a hospital and no drugs of course

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Walked to entire 1st morning with usWalked to entire 1st morning with us
Walked to entire 1st morning with us

30 yr old with baby, 10 & 11 yr old girls-very short

18th June 2010

We've been enjoying your posts and I loved this Vietnam one, about the Love Festival. How interesting! Keep having fun, and we look forward to reading more! Heather and Eric

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