Big Question Marks

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Blogging in the Clouds

Hello from Sapa, a cute little town high up in the mountains of northwest Vietnam! It's not very often we can say we're writing from the clouds-- but this is a very special place where you actually can open your hotel balcony door and they come creeping in.

A few days ago, we took the night train out of Hanoi (unbearably hot at the time) and arrived just before 5 a.m. in new world (a chilly one at that!): Lao Cai, where the train dropped us off, sits high in the mountains at the Chinese border. We deliriously hopped on a minibus (45 minutes) to Sapa, and proceeded to do the very thing we hate doing-- accept a room at the first hotel the minibus drops us off at (and makes big commissions for doing so). Usually the commission hotels are duds, but the Darling Hotel (yeah, nice name!) is actually pretty adorable in a kitsch kind of way, painted in a garish orange-and-green palette with a pine tree theme. The beds are fluffy as marshmallows and the rooms are decorated in hill-tribe textiles and photos. And then there's our tiny little balcony that looks far out into the clouds/valley, depending on the time of day. It was just too sweet too resist.

Sapa itself is still a relatively small place, and we were afraid (when booking our return trains) we wouldn't have enough to do to fill four days. Uber-touristy as it is, it's still a real trip to wander down the main street amongst a mix of modern Vietnamese people, camera-toting Western tourists, and tiny ladies from the neighbouring hill tribe villages wearing full traditional costumes.

And so we spent our first day completely enamoured with these little women, and not minding all that much that we were getting swarmed by them. Of the two main ethnicities seen around town, the Hmong women are the most dogged saleswomen. Though the Dzao ladies also sell their wares in their red pouffy headscarves and jingling ornamental coins, they don't approach tourists as much (we were told by a local kid they don't speak as much English). The Hmong ladies, however, wander in small groups, carrying big baskets on their backs and wearing indigo-dyed tunics and circular hats, their legs wrapped in something like black velvet legwarmers. Every one of them seems to have a heap of crafts to sell, and there's not really any escaping them-- even when sitting in the second floor of a cafe they'll call up to you with their sales pitches. That first day, we were followed all around town by a small group of these women, and no matter how much we ignored them or tried to lose them in a market, they kept reappearing. And strangely enough, somehow you never really feel like telling them to piss off, either-- something that would be a very different case if it was a group of motorbike drivers tailing us, anyway...

Since Sapa is pretty moody weatherwise, our second day was a bit of a write-off. Cold rains had us hiding in cafes, where we soaked up the scenery from behind glass. Today was a lot better and we hopped on a motorbike to do our usual somewhat-aimless tour of the countryside. Rivers flowing over the road evoked memories of flooded Aussie Outback highways, and as we descended further and further into the valleys, we wondered if this is what the Himalayas might feel like. Despite the erosion happening from farming the steep hills, and the occasional piles of garbage at some corners, the scenery is stunning in this part of the country-- fat water buffaloes plowing the green rice paddies, little muddy kids running around, and jagged mountain peaks barely visible through the clouds. And with our postcard-cliche levels back at full again, tomorrow evening we'll head back to Hanoi to enjoy our last two days in Vietnam.... before our Air Asia plane spits us out into the chaos of Bangkok again on Saturday night to embark on our next adventures!


Paula said...


Sean said...

Hey guys congrats on the engagement!

Vietnam looked and sounded amazing. I definitely have to talk to Paula about going to South East Asia.

Have fun in're not getting married in some buddhist temple by a buddhist monk dressed up as Elvis are you?

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