Friday, November 14, 2014

Sa Pa, Vietnam

Arrived in Hanoi on Wednesday 24th of September - my home for the past six weeks - and Friday night already hopped on a night train to Sa Pa. Ten hours in a bumpy train, waking up at every single station, surrounded by 5 strangers snoring next to me. Sounds horrific, but I loved it. I just lay there on my hard bed (shelf would be more accurate), listening to my favorite song on repeat and smiling at the ceiling. We arrived at Lao Cai train station, took a bus to Sa Pa, had a lovely breakfast and started our five hour hike.

Surrounded by the most beautiful mountains covered with rice terraces and guided by a group of locals dressed in traditional clothing, we started our trek. The whole week the weather forecast had said it would rain and thunder, but the weather gods had been kind and the weather was perfect. No hiking in the burning sun nor was it raining, thank god! We made many stops along the way: our guide explaining things about the region, for example how their clothes are made from marijuana, our guide explaining something I still don't fully understand (something about her not being able to walk together with the group as we pass some kind of border where we had to buy a ticket... (was this guided tour legal?)) and us stopping to take photos, being typical tourists. The paths we walked on weren't always the easiest paths. The little girls who accompanied us walked them, barefoot, without a problem. But we clumsy westerners had our struggles. Every time we encountered a small obstacle, the girl would take my hand and make sure I didn't fall. She certainly did save me from falling a couple of times...! The unfortunate thing is though, that at the end of the tour, they force you to buy bracelets and other souvenirs from them. And you feel bad if you don't, as the girl had helped you so much. After having bought a bag and a couple of bracelets, they still did not give up. Sitting at our lunch table in the restaurant, we were still surrounded by the young girls chanting their song which they rehearsed as they don't actually speak English (something along the lines of "will you buy something from me please, very cheap, please buy").

We stayed the night in a homestay in a hill tribe village. It wasn't exactly a typical homestay though, as there were only tourists who stayed there. The beds, however, were typical Vietnamese beds: a hard mattress and an itchy blanket. Oh, and there was a mosquito net. However the greedy and drunk-on-'happy water' Frenchman sleeping next to me didn't feel like sharing.

The next day we hiked another three hours to a waterfall. Hiking up and down hills and through tiny jungles with muddy pathways - again being saved by the young girls, a thousand times. Exhausted and in need of a shower, we got back to Sa Pa where we still had some free time to explore the local market, stunning streets and caf├ęs, before catching our train back to Hanoi.

Ethnic village

Marijuana plant

Suddenly the little girls handed these magnificent creations to us. I had not even noticed them making it, they made it that fast. Skilled little girls!

Julie, Saskia, Thea, Flick, me

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