Ha Long Bay
Bac Ha
Hoi An



Dec. 21, Sun (cont'd) - Our ride from Bac Ha to Sapa took on a different character particularly because the roads have recently been paved and widened, trees planted, and turn-outs provided due  to the government's recognition that an increasing number of tourists come to Sapa as a destination town.  However, the driving is still unpredictable on the these two lane mountain roads.

Our first impression of the mountain town is not what one would expect of a Vietnamese mountain town.  If we did not know any different, the town is more reminiscent of a European Alpine mountain village.

The Catholic church anchored the town and was one of the few places where there were signs of the upcoming Christmas holiday.

When we pulled up to the Victoria Hotel, we definitely thought we were in Switzerland. Situated on top of a hill overlooking the town, it had all the amenities of a western hotel including conference center and spa.

The old town of Sapa is giving way to the modern development which we witnessed while exploring on our own. 

The Sapa market has been in existence for over 100 years.  Such items as miniature topiary reindeer and jars containing snakes aimed at enhancing sexual prowess are a sampling of the items aimed at the tourist population.

We dined at a small restaurant in town - a fish hot pot- and returned to our hotel to get ready for our three day hiking sojourn in the outlying hills the next day. Dec.  22,  Mon -  By 9am, we met Hian and continued to the local government tourist office where we picked up our permit and our government employee who would be our cook(?) and watchdog for our trek through the highlands.

We set off down a dirt mountain road behind Sapa and immediately came upon the construction site of a new resort hotel, designed more in the vernacular architecture, slated to be opened later in the year.

While walking, our route consisted of the road bed under construction.  We were faster by far then most motorized vehicles, with the exception of the motor bikes, whose engines are shut off, in an attempt to save gas, as the bikes cruise down hill.

Although it was not rice harvesting season, we crossed  through the hillside paddies, as do the locals, on our way to mountain villages.  We shared the paddies with the local livestock of buffalo and pigs.

We descended down the valley and stopped for lunch beside a bridge crossing the river.  Local women and children greeted us in an attempt to sell their needlework.

The Black Humong are of Chinese decent but speak French phrases learned from the days of the French occupation. 

The flow of the mountain streams are captured and harnessed for use in flooding the rice paddies as well as providing water for cooking and cleaning clothes.

A sewing machine is shared by women of village as they teach the young girls how to sew their traditional dresses.  The women's' fingers are blue-black from the dyes used in making and coloring the fabric for their traditional dress.

Along our walk, we visit a school, funded by the government, with minimal furnishings.

By late afternoon, we arrive at the home of our hosting family for the evening.  Notice of our arrival has proceeded us and local women are waiting to sell us their needlework: hats, belts, pillow covers. We take lessons in bargaining from our guide.

Our host family consists of the parents, 3 children (2 boys, 1 girl), dogs, chickens, and birds. We are joined by two Australian sisters (a nurse and a teacher) who have been traveling in Vietnam for almost a month, along with their guide.

Dinner has been predetermined by the company who arranged our trek. The guides have carried our food along with them and consolidated the cooking for the sisters and us.   Our sleeping quarters are upstairs on mattresses laid on planks covering the joists.  It is much colder in the mountains, so we hop in bed early to get warm and read by headlamps.

Dec 23, Tues -  We are awakened at 4am by the family rooster.  We are greeted by local women who seek a final sale from Jon before we depart.  Breakfast is pancakes, bananas and chocolate syrup.

We are covering 20km today (~12 miles), mostly up and down the hillside. We traverse rice paddies, streams, and villages along with our Australian companions and set of guides. 

Our Gray host family for this evening includes the Vice President (Minister) of Ban Ho. They greet  us from our dusty walk with beer and rice wine.  The women of the house are in the middle of making rice wine in preparation for Tet.

The house situated on a hill side with the kitchen located on the ground level.  The living areas are raised above the ground (slatted bamboo) and our sleeping areas are under the eaves.  An out-house consisting of stream water passing under the floor is situated downhill from the house.  We are able to grab a quick cold shower in the shower stall attached to the main house.  Electricity was available during the evening hours.  Our guides again prepare a gourmet dinner for us capped with plenty of rice wine.

Dec 24, Wed - We walked around the local village in the early morning. People were already working in the fields and moving cattle on their property.

We saw the framing of a house that the whole community had been building during the previous night.  People were shouting and beating drums in the darkness which was a little intimidating since at the time we did not know if it was a political rally or some sort of domestic disturbance.

Our climb out of the valley for our return trip to Sapa was a brisk 1000 foot climb within 60 minutes.  Along the way, children stopped to view us and adults attempted to make one last sale.

We took a group picture on the climb out.  The Australian sisters had a change of plans and accompanied back to Sapa.

Road construction was challenging at best and did not provide a sense of stability or comfort when the road was being blasted out as we waited.

Sapa looked like a major city when we arrived later in the day. We had a cold shower in the backpacker's hotel, Royal.  Once presentable, we wandered around town and stopped in at the Catholic Church to listen to the Black Hmong and Yellow Zoe children celebrating Christmas mass.

After a return trip via Soviet jeep to Lao Cia, we boarded the Ratco train to Hanoi at 9:15 pm.  It was no comparison to the Victoria. Although it was also a sleeper, we had very little shut eye before we pulled into the Hanoi station at 5:30 am.


On to Hue, and Danang

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