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Southeast Asia

Sa Pa, Bac Ha |


To get to Sapa you take a train to Lao Cai and a mini bus from the train station up to Sapa. While we were in Hanoi waiting for our night train we experience more of that random craziness of Vietnam. At the train station we found a raised planter to have a seat on while we waited for our train. As soon as we sat down an old woman started smacking me and shooing me away. There was no sign that may indicate why she was so steaming mad and it did not appear to be her tree we were seated under. It was a tree in a public space. She walked away and returned with a basin full of water she tried to throw on us. We managed to get out of the way but are still absolutely puzzled at why she was so steaming mad. We think perhaps she scares people away from the planter so that they will pay to sit in her chairs and rink her overpriced tea. If anyone out there has an answer I'd love to know.

We find a place to sit inside the train station and there is a group of young
girls with a small puppy in a gift bag. Oh, how cute! They start play with the puppy, I give the thing a pet and the girl sticks the dog on my lap. I'm thinking about if such a small dog can have rabies or fleas and decided to pick the thing up and give it back. What do you think the puppy did? You bet! I picked it up to hand it back to the girl and the critter peed all over me. I had to wear my puppy pee pants for 2 weeks before I could get them washed properly.

The minibus from Lao Cai to Sapa was full when we left the train station, but there
is always room for more! We stopped to pick up a hill tribe woman who was wearing brilliant tradition clothing and had 5 20L jugs that we though smelled like fuel. We were close--it was rice wine. After picking up the woman we continued up the steep road and came across a group of 10 woman with 5-6 jugs each. To our surprise the drive agreed that they all wouldn't fit in the car and we kept rolling up the road and the lady we had picked up turned around to us and held up one finger and grinned like a Cheshire cat. "Number one!" she said.

A few moments later we still manged to fit another lady and her 5 jugs. So the 12 of us and 200L of rice wine made our way up the steep road to Sapa. By the time we arrived I was drunk off fumes. I had horrible flashbacks about the day after Doug and Elaine's wedding. It's a good thing no one lit a match during the journey as I expect we would have exploded. Yikes!

The road up to Sapa is something else. The fog was extremely dense and
really did limit the view but every now and then we caught a glimpse. The tiered layers of crops would be spectacular in the summer months. This section of road gives the Kicking Horse highway a run for its money. The road is very narrow and winds endlessly up a decent incline. The farther up you travel, the slicker the roads get. Just outside of Sapa there was about 10m visibility. I sure as hell could
not see where the van was going and by the steady rhythm of the horn I
am guessing our driver couldn't either.

15C degrees isn't that cold. There would be lunatics wearing shorts in Edmonton right now if it was 15C. We figured we would buy some extra touques and some sweaters and we would be ready to brave the 15C weather in Sapa.

As soon as we found a hotel we jumped under the covers and tried to get warm! Sapa is the coldest 15C I have ever been in. There is a constant mist that keeps everything chilled to the bone. We also expected to be able to find a warm hotel room and warm restaurants. The only warm hotel we found was 160 USD a night and every meal we had was ice cold by the last bite. The closest we found to a warm restaurant was buckets of coal strategically placed about a room. We
all know how clean burning coal is. Hello carbon monoxide! We had hoped to do some hiking but Brandon and his appendages don't fair well in the cold. I confess that our sandals wouldn't have been the best foot attire either. We met lady the day we were leaving who told us hiking was great because the climate was much better as the hike descended quickly (don't tell me that!), but she also had full on
mountain hiking gear. It is a bit of a regret of mine that we didn't get out on a hike because the scenery would have been spectacular.

There are many minority people who come into the market at Sapa. They still wear beautiful traditional clothing and the woman wear huge metallic earrings and necklaces. I would have loved to have taken pictures, but it didn't seem appropriate. Tourism has been a real mixed blessing for the area. It is impossible to walk down the street without girls trying fairly aggressive to sell you "silver" jewelery or brilliantly dyed clothing. When the sun sets some of the only
people you come across on the road are old women walk up and down the
misty streets selling opium. I'm sure you could have a lovely time in Sapa, but we were just too darn cold to try!

Our next stop in Bac Ha was a better experience--except trying to get there. You don't buy a ticket from a stand to pay for a bus ride, you pay a person on the bus as it travels. At the bus station we saw a fixed price posted for the bus ride from Lao Cai to Bac Ha, we confirmed the price with a passenger on the bus (who we thought was the ticket seller). Against our better judgement we didn't try to pay before the bus started to move. We hate treating everyone like they are going to rip us off. The bus rolls on 20 minutes out of town into the middle of nowhere and a
guy starts collecting money. He asks us for triple the going price and we try to reason with him. The bus stops and he starts to throw our bags out. Come on. I have never before had such a violent urge to drop kick a human being. We paid the money but I do believe in karma. Dink.

On the bright side, we can laugh about it now, and dammit it do I have patients. Even if I wanted to tell someone where to go and how to do it we don't have enough of a common language for me to get it across. Mom and Dad, can you imagine me not trying to getting the last word in!

Bac Ha is a little town also frequented by minority peoples in brilliant clothing. The scenery just outside the town is spectacular. There are a lot of hikes you can do from the town. It is amazing to see minority peoples living such a traditional life when you can by a flat screen television 2KM down the road. We didn't stay as long as we had hoped because everything was closing for Tet and we needed to be sure we could find places to eat and sleep. I would highly recommend a stop in the town.

Locations Visited: Sa Pa, Bac Ha

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