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Published: September 21st 2012
At the beginning of the week I took an overnight train from Hanoi to Sapa, a town just a 2 or 3 kilometres from the border with China. Sapa is one of the most popular tourist destinations in northern Vietnam and it's easy to see why. The scenery is beautiful- green rice paddies, mountains and waterfalls.
We started our walk at about 9.30 with our guide who was a member of the local Hmong people. The walk took us through the town, up and down some fairly steep hills and alongside rice paddies. In one particularly rocky steep part I thought I'd use the bamboo trees that lined the path to help me down. Little did I know that they would cover my arms and hands with splinters. Probably some sort of survival mechanism to stop tourists using them like out of shape Tarzans. We were accompanied by 4 or 5 other Hmong ladies, one of whom used a leaf and then her own hair to brush the splinters away.
Having the Hmong ladies with us was really helpful. They knew the roads like the back of their hands and scurried about like mountain goats while we slid and stumbled all over the place. The ground be be tough going in places and slippery. At times the 'bridges' were hardly wider than your foot. At one point the ground I was stepping on began to crumble away under my feet. I tell you, little else will motivate you to diet more than the day you cause an actual landslide.
We arrived at our homestay in a Hmong village, tired and sweaty, at about 3.30pm. We were given a delicious meal, local rice wine ( like vodka only it burns more) and most of us were asleep on our mattresses by 9.30pm.
My next trip was to Halong Bay and Monkey Island. Our first night was on Monkey Island and on the wise advice of my friend Roz I had booked the deluxe sea view challet. And it was great. I could walk out of my challet and on to the beach. The sea was the warmest I've ever swum in. None of that edging yourself in inch by inch over half an hour and pretending you're loving it. As cliché as it sounds going to sleep and waking up hearing the waves was pretty amazing too.
Our second night was spent on a boat in beautiful Halong Bay. The boast of this trip is that you can, should it take your fancy, dive from the very top of the boat in to the sea. I decided to go for the safer option ( I thought) of using the ladder. After swimming about for a few minutes I decided I'm far too short sighted to be swimming around a UNESCO heritage sight without my glasses. So I climbed back up to the boat ( a challenge in itself) to get my glasses, all the while thinking " Imagine if you accidentally dropped them and they fell to the bottom of the sea".....I think you can see where this is going.
I began to make my way slowly and carefully back down the ladder, but then, about half way down, my foot slipped and I fell back and into the sea. I don't know how far exactly, perhaps 5 feet? Felt like 20. Now, when most people fall in to deep water instinct takes over and they stick out their arms and start pulling themselves to the surface. Not me. My mind was still on my glasses, which I was now clamping to my face with both hands as I continued to sink further. Eventually my brain woke up and I kicked my way to the surface. A little bit shocked but able to see. Mercifully most people had gone to get ready for dinner so nobody saw me fall and my dignity was maintained.
I decided to get showered and changed. As I left my room had that sinking feeling that comes with the realisation that you've locked the door but left the keys in the room. I went up to speak to the tour guide thinking that in the spirit of customer service he'd say "Don't worry, I have a spare/master key, I"ll let you back in". What he said instead was:
" Oh, hmmm, maybe the window is open and you can climb through?". Of course, silly me, should have thought of that. And if I have a heart attack whilst doing so, don't worry yourself, I'll perform my own CPR.
I went back to the room and thankfully the window was open so, with one leg on the edge of the boat, I managed to pull myself up to the window and lower myself in to the room (slowly because I couldn't remember how high up the window was, the room was pitch black and I felt a broken ankle could easily round this day off). It was actually quite easy apart from half way through the window when I got the giggles, triggered by the ridiculousness of the past 2 hours.
So that, ladies and gentlemen, was Sapa and Halong Bay. I highly recommend both if you're ever in Vietnam. Just watch your step.
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