Beautiful despite the rain
16.05.2008 - 20.05.2008
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After returning from Halong Bay, because we only had a few days left in Vietnam, we quickly found a hotel and booked a trip to Sapa. After quick showers and dinner, we were on our way to the train station. Our high class sleeper train awaited, a big metal very grungy looking box. In our room were 6 beds topped with an old blanket and small rock hard pillow. Don't go thinking we were in the ritz, oh no. These beds were hard as tables, and the over zealous air con and piercing florescent lights only added insult to injury.
Yeah, I was on the top. Right next to the ice machine of an air con.
"Staff Cabin"- we were in the worst of all seats... maybe they ran out of tickets? That's what you get for trying to save money on tickets I guess.
The best was when Brooke tried to find a bathroom. A staff member kept pushing her back into our room and shut the door. Apparently we are so low we are not allowed out...
Needless to say, when we finally arrived, 12 hours later, I was frozen (I was wearing everything I brought... which wasn't much, since we left our packs in Haoi with Allie), tired and grumpy.
After a bit of craziness, we got onto a van with other tourists and began the drive to Sapa town. The drive was pretty, but was an hour long, cramped, and very windy. Of course, with our luck it was foggy and looked like it was going to rain. When we finally got to Sapa, the bus started dropping various people off at different hotels. We were dropped off last with a couple of other tourists, at a really nice looking hotel... but no, this was not the hotel we were staying at, and after trying unsuccessfully to check in, then waiting for 20 minutes and finally being picked up by 2 motos, we were at the right hotel. Still tired, grumpy and hungry, we were irritated to say the least... oh, and it had started raining, and of course we didn't bring our rain jackets... no those we had left in Hanoi. After breakfast of ramen with a fried egg, we left to go trekking. Our tour consisted of our guide, Ha, and two other tourists, Maily, a girl from Canada and Leigh, a guy from Wales. Ha was very concerned about my lack of appropriate shoes (what, Vans are not muddy trekking shoes?) and since we had no rain jackets either, we stopped in the town to pick up some cheapo-jackets.
As we were walking through the town, women dressed in all sorts of colorful outfits began to follow us. Ha told us they were villagers who would walk with us and try to be our friend and then at the end of the trek try to sell us something.
Even with the haze, the trek was beautiful. Rice patties were everywhere, and the rain was mearly a trickle. The village women kept trying to talk to us, but they all asked the same 5 questions: 1. Where are you from? 2. How old are you? 3. What is your name? 4. Do you have a boyfriend? 5. How long are you in Sapa? I, getting tired of the same questions, started making up crazy answers, saying I was from Zimbabwe and other ridiculous places. In the end, the four of us travelers just ended up talking with each other the whole time, a welcome relief from the banter. For lunch we stopped at a little hut where we ate loaves of bread, cucumbers, tomatoes, hard boiled eggs, and bananas. Simple but good. As if on cue, the village women tried to sell us many things but we said no. I really didn't want the purses and bracelets they were trying to sell. Instead, Leigh gave our leftover lunch to them and they seemed very grateful.
Full, we kept walking along the trail. After another 1 1/2 hours we came to a village. We had chosen to stay at a village house instead of at the hotel. After a quick tea break, the little girls who had been following us since lunch started to talking to us again. We asked Ha what we were supposed to do for the rest of the day, he just smiled, shrugged his shoulders and went inside to take a nap.
With that we decided to have the girls show us around. First they took us down to the river (apparently you go swimming when it isn't so cold). One of the little girls, Chee had "allowed" her 5 year old sister, Coo, to come along which was "very lucky for her." Coo was so cute, and could barely speak any English, and instead she just stood there, watching everything.
Brooke with Chee and Coo
After the river, Chee said she wanted to take us go to her house. Since we had nothing else to do we went. Getting there was a bit of an adventure as we walked through rice fields, up steep hills, in between houses, and around trees to get to her house.
Trekking out to their home.
When we arrived we saw her dad chopping wood. There were 4 foreigners and 5 girls which looked like quite the arrival party. He smiled and motioned that we could go in. We went into her very small, dark, damp house that had no lights and dirt floors. The house consisted of one large room with a television, another room with a hole in the floor for a cooking fire and a curtained off area for their parent's 'room'. On top of the main room, they had built a loft type area, where bags of rice were stored and the girls slept.
It was interesting to see their house, but I felt a bit odd, and kind of intrusive. After viewing the home we trekked back down to the homestay. Again, the trek was super steep, and it is shocking I did not fall in the mud. The views of the rice fields were amazing though and made up for the slightly treacherous conditions. When we arrived at the homestay the girls started asking us to buy something from them. Since they had been our tour guides and entertainment for the past 4 hours we each purchased a little something equaling $1-2 a person. One of the girl's got very upset because no one bought anything from her. She started crying and didn't leave for an hour and a half. We tried to ignore her as to not promote that kind of behavior. Leigh tried to explain to her that he had given her sister double the amount of money so she would share with her. She didn't care. She just kept crying. Finally, after her mother came, she left, and we put our cards away and went inside for dinner.
Coo, eating sticky rice at her house.
At the homestay, a woman and her son lived, and served as the cooks for the evening. Oh my goodness, the dinner was amazing! It was a delicious spread of rice, vegetables, meats (which I didn't eat) spring rolls, and beans. I ate so many spring rolls, and loved every minute of it. After dinner we played some more cards, watched a bit of soccer, chatted and then went to bed at 11pm... not much to do in a quiet village without electricity at night...
The next morning, we had a very sweet breakfast of crepes with honey, lime, sugar, and bananas.
Notice they are all just hovering, the only way to get them to not try to sell you things was to completely ignore them. I felt bad, but they are intense and it is the only way.
After breakfast we headed out trekking to a waterfall. It had poured rain all night, making the trail awful, muddy, wet, and dangerous. Again, we had our village women guides, but this time we needed them, as each basically held our hands as we made our way down the super slippery trail through and between the rice fields. It turned out that my trekking Vans served me well, as I didn't even fall (not because of me, but because my little lady held on tight, and caught me from falling multiple times)- Brooke did take one tumble, which Leigh stealthily caught on film, but for the most part, the trek was uneventful.
Lunch consisted of another bowl of ramen with an egg and cabbage. Simple, but it was warm, so it was good. We saw the waterfall and then took about a 20 min trek up to a main road where a van took us back to our hotel.
After a warm shower (it was more eventful for Brooke, as it broke, and she had to just use a hose) we went downstairs and had a disgusting dinner. The first dish they brought out looked like pieces of dried chicken coated in something. Brooke and Leigh tried it, very chewy they said... because it wasn't chicken, but fried frog. Yummy! Yet again, another reason I am glad I am Vegan. Brooke ate a few pieces but I don't think she liked it all that much. Everything they gave us was gross. I ended up eating rice with soy sauce.
After our dismal dinner, a bus came to take us back to the train station. A woman on the bus got sick, and threw up (gross!) LUCKILY, she threw up right as we were pulling into the train station. Since we arrived over an hour early (another common thing about booked tours, they always drop you off super early in front of a restaurant in hopes you will buy something) we walked around a bit and bought some snacks for our trip.
Because our trip there had been so comfortable, we tried to upgrade our tickets, but were told we would have to pay $15 to be in a VIP class because all the seats were sold out (doubtful, but since we can't speak Vietnamese, we couldn't really say anything). Not wanting to spend that much, we resigned ourselves to another crappy ride, and at 7.00 we met up with the man who was to get us on the train. Some of the other foreigners in our group were getting very anxious as they wanted to be holding an actual ticket to know they would get on. They were yelling and arguing with all the Vietnamese men and everyone was getting frustrated. We decided that as long as we got on the train it would be fine, since we knew our seats sucked anyways, and they wouldn't be giving those away. It did seem though that the men gave our tickets to the angry foreigners, but the man came over to us and said, "Stay here, no worries, no problems." Again, we decided getting frustrated would get us no where, so we did. We really weren't worried anyway, since it was 20 min before the train left and lots of people were still waiting to get on. Finally, he walked us over to the train, discussed with a conductor the situation, and we were put on a much nicer car. Nice beds, only 4 people to a room, and soft blankets and pillows. We did have to move once which was a bit of a scare because we were obviously in someone else's car, but after moving, we settled into a car that was pretty much empty -- so much for all the other classes being "sold out" -- There were tons of open beds. We made friends with the Vietnamese man in our car who was a little to friendly and an hour and a half later once we could get him to go up to his bed, we went to sleep.
We arrived in Hanoi on Monday morning at 4.45am and took a moto-taxi to our hotel which we had prepaid for. They told us we could check into our room at 8.30 and that we could sit at a table and wait. The whole day we did pretty much nothing. Which was nice... though our room was crazy, as the ceiling was leaking, and we didn't have hot water until 2 pm. The hotel people were not to helpful, and kept saying everything was fine... which it wasn't. We got some extra towels to catch the water spots... which quickly soaked full of water. At one point the cleaning ladies saw that we were using towels on the ground and got angry and stole the towels, seriously what else were we supposed to do? I promptly re-stole the towels from them and placed them back on the floor.
Brooke wanted to see the water puppet show, so I went out and got tickets. The show was interesting to say the least.
Water puppetry at it's best. I think he is chasing a frog in this one...
Weird, and slightly creepy may have been a better way to describe it. It was funny though since Brooke had been talking about it for 2 weeks and it turned out to be so weird. The most exciting part of the show was when a giant rat ran up the wall and the crowd got a bit excited. Regardless though, it was good to see, I'm sure we would have regretted it if not, but if you visit Vietnam, I would probably skip it...