The blog is not finished! But after the Theft (yes, capital letters), the want/need to update the blog took second fiddle to dealing with the Theft and just finishing the trip sans computer. Since being home, it's been hard to get that motivation to complete it. But I will. Ever so slowly. Please be patient!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Minority Villages of Sapa

Besides Ha Long Bay, Hanoi is a great jumping off point to explore the highlands around Sapa. Every hotel and hostel and guesthouse in the capital city are falling over each other to sell you tours to both these places. And while it could be argued that to really see Ha Long Bay with ease, one must go with a tour, Sapa can just as easily be done while on your own as on a tour. I opted to go for a tour as I was unsure of the ease of doing a homestay in the villages surrounding Sapa town on my own. And the homestay is essential I think to really get a feel for the area, and to see even more than you would.

Getting to Sapa is a long journey to begin with. On your own, if you don’t plan ahead, you’re pretty much stuck with taking an overnight bus ride to Lao Cai and then arranging your own transportation from there to Sapa Town, a further hour drive up the mountain. On a tour, you still go to Lao Cai, but on a sleeper train. Only downside to both is that you get into Lao Cai at the ungodly hour of 5am.

IMG_5138Once in Sapa Town and after checking into the hotel, it was pretty much an immediate start to the hiking into the minority villages surrounding the town. There were four of us in my little hiking tour. Tal, a lady from Israel. Chen, a lady from Singapore. And Heather, a lady from Calgary. It was a cool group.

The scenery is absolutely amazing. The only downside was that this particular time of year is past harvest season so the rice paddies weren’t the lush green colour anymore.It was still amazing nonetheless. IMG_5150

The walk was fairly easy. There were only a few areas where it was both steep and muddy. IMG_5202Alone with the guide, we also had four cute villager ladies walking along with us. They ended up helping the girls down the steeper parts, holding their hands most of the way. One offered her hand to me but I refused as I’m more prone to fall when I start to rely on other people. This was probably a smart move on my part in hindsight for, at the lunch stop those villager ladies began to try to sell us some homemade goods.

IMG_5214Maybe I’m a bitch, but I had no troubles or guilt with saying no. The stuff was cool, but I’m traveling for too long to start lugging things around. The girls on the other hand, either felt guilt if they didn’t buy anything(the ladies DID help them out on the walk after all), or just didn’t know how to say no. Either way, it was amusing for me to watch.

IMG_5246The next walk, a new group of ladies showed up to escort us to the next town where we would spend the night. Once again, they tried to sell things to us at the end and once again I succeeded in avoiding it.

Sleeping that night was quite comfortable for being so chilly out. The bed was great and the blankets kept me nice and toasty warm. A quick breakfast of crepes with bananas and nutella was consumed before we took off for the second day’s trek. This time, instead of four ladies escorting us, there were only three. I postulated that word got around that, in this particular group, there’s one guy that doesn’t need help walking and doesn’t buy anything so don’t waste your time. On the other hand, Tal got most of the attention as she was the one that was buying the most.

IMG_5314That second day of trekking felt harder, either because I was exhausted from the first day or it was indeed more pronounced hills. According to my GPS we didn’t gain or lose much in the way of altitude between the start and the finish, but that would mean that we went up an equivalent amount that we went down. Horrible for the knees!!!

IMG_5454I filled the rest of my time in Sapa with solo treks up the mountain in Sapa Town, and renting a bicycle to check out the Ancient Rock Field. The latter turned out to be a bad idea not to rent a scooter. Going to the rocks was easy. I didn’t even have to peddle. Going up seven kilometers on a road with a 10% incline was not fun. I gave up after two clicks and flagged a motorcycle down to take me the rest of the way while balancing the bike on my lap.

I was a little embarrassed to say the least.

IIMG_5497 did manage to go to the Bac Ha Market on the Sunday but I was a bit disappointed. More so for the fact that it's just a big market and I’ve seen my fair share of them. The only thing that made this one stand out for me was the section of the market for selling livestock, much like the Auction Mart back home.

But talk about a small world. It was in my hotel restaurant, while killing time before catching the van down to the train station, that I ended up meeting Dyanne. Still not sure why she thought to bring it up, but as we were talking she asks “Have you heard about this thing called geocaching?” We spent the next number of hours chatting about our separate adventures. It was a good end to the trip.

Sapa is a must see while in Vietnam in my opinion. It’s very different from Ha Long Bay or to the cities. And the people in the minority villages are the most smiley people I've met. You can’t help but smile when you see them smile.

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