alison walked me to a moto taxi in hanoi on may 24th were we parted ways and said goodbye for who knows how long. however, we had one last indulgence together before parting ways; watching coneheads, eating pizza, drinking beer and finishing it off with a banana split. if you have to say goodbye i think this is the way to do it. i climbed into my bed on the bus and prepared for the long windy 12 hour journey to sapa.
it was cold in sapa when i arrived and raining, so i hired my first female moto driver to take me to my hostel. she balanced my small backpack between her legs, and i held on at the back with my large backpack also holding onto the umbrella she gave me to hold over us as she drove, im sure it was a hilarious sight. i checked into a room and crashed, later i went to explore the town which reminds me a lot of banff. the cold mountainside mist had moved in blocking the spectacular view of the terraced rice paddy's below. every second store is full of gortex hiking gear, sticks, socks, shoes, northface jackets etc. i knew i was in for a real treat when i seen a service advertising a "steam room" and "shoe drying service" i was ready for the change into a cooler climate. i daresay i felt giddy when i could see my breath on the air! finally a break from the sweltering sun!
i headed up to the pool (as in snooker) room in our hostel and met foster from calgary, dan from the states and a gal named jaa from thailand. jaa was on a short holiday from school where she is a professor and is planning on openinga tourism business and was reseraching vietnam she was so welcomming and we all pitched in for ingredients for her to cook us pad thai!! when i looked at the pool table i seen a few 15 yr old hmong girls, a minority culture who live in the surrounding villages of sapa. the girls spoke incredible english and were dressed in traditional garb as they had been out guiding tourists on hikes. i noticed right away the influence of the western culture and the theme of globalization as the girls had underneith their traditional costumes guess t shirts and cell phones ringing every 2 mins. the girls turned out to be ruthless card and pool players beating us at every game we tried. the girls came back everynight i was in sapa and told us stories of their days and asked us about ours, not trying to sell us anything but just being good friends, welcoming us with hugs and dragging us outside when they thought they seen a falling star. when dan lost his wallet the girls helped translate to the police what happened and took him out for supper. out of all the people i have said hello and goodbye to on this trip they have been the hardest to leave, however we swapped facebook addreses.
my second day here foster jaa and i headed out to check out some of the minority villages. we planned to do this on our own without guides but were soon adopted by 2 hmong women (one with a 2 month old baby strapped to her back), who led us to their village of lao chai. its a good thing they adopted us as we got to take the backroads to the village that had much better views then the paved road. we walked down very muddy roads, in fact i fell not even one foot into the trail. along narrow passageways, down the slopy side of the mountains and balancing on the edges of the rice paddies. it took us about 2 hours of hiking to get to their village. we had originally intended to walk to the cloests village only 3 km's from sapa and soon found ourselves 17 km away....oops! we ate at a restraunt in the village and then the older guide za led us to her home to buy some handicrafts from her in lieu of paying for the hike. i bought a belt, foster a bag, and jaa an assortment of goods! they gave us bracelets in thanks and led us to the village of ta van to hire a moto bike for the road back.
the following day Dan and i rented a motorbike to explore the countryside. he drove and i rode behind. we drove about 25 kms south of sapa on shit roads then turned around and drove about the same distance north east towards lao cai. we stopped at many times to take pictures and soak in the ambiance of the sapa landscape and culture. it was an amazing day but i must say i was abit suprized to get my worst sunburn on the back of a bike in the coldest area of my entire trip. figures. we finished the day with our ushual shooting pool in the common room with the hmong girls who have adopted us.
on fosters last day we spent the day eating and lounging. moving from bar to restaraunt and thento the street vendors, as this is mostly catered towards people who eat meat my only option was purple potatos and roasted corn, it wasnt too bad. we played countless card games laughing and discussing life. when i got back to the hostel i was bombarded by the 54 hanoi university students that had checked in to learn about tourism. i think they were excited to ask me questions as i am a tourist and practice their english. it was a good way to meet some more local people.
yesterday i got up at 630 to catch a bus to Bac Ha market, 3 hours away. here the flower hmong tribe sells their goods, so it was interesting to see the differant garb of the tribe compared to the black hmong tribe. most the booths sell the same thing and so i opted for a bold of indigo dyed fabric (they grow and harvet and use indigo here which is pretty neat to see, and as a result their hands are often dyed blue as well). the market was absolutely insane, full of people and crowdedpeople pushing and shouting and tugging on your arm to buy things. the less hectic way to get here was via tour guide, ours happened to be quite entertaining. he talked a lot about his girlfriend whom he is saving up to buy a bufflo for to ask her to marry him as its traditionto do this instead of a ring. he made many buffalo jokes and we learned that to buy one worth giving as a dowery it costs around $700, so he is torn between this and a new motobike. he then sang us a song he made up about buffalo that was quite entertaining and went something like " i am buffalo, i am ring, i am motorbike, i am tractor, i am hamburger.."highlighting all the uses of the buffalo. he explained that during weddings vietnamese people drink happy water, go to party, sing kareokee, take pictures and sleep with each other. so i suppose tahts not real far off from canadian weddings. we stopped for a quick walk through the blackhmong village where we learned about plum wine (46%) and seen more indigo harvestsing. we also seen tofu bean plants that i had never seen before growing on the rice paddies so that was neat. i returned late in the day and had supper with the guys from spain who i share a room with and then star gazed and chatted with the hmong girls. how sad to say goodbye as i probaby wont see them again.
today i catch the night bus to hanoi, so i spent the morning browsing in the bookstore and then sitting in a coffee shop reading and indulging in french pasteries and vietnamese coffee. a nice way to end a fabulous trip in sapa, one of the highlights of my trip.