Monday, February 28, 2011

Sleepless in Sapa

As the bus lurched around the windy mountains through thick fog I wondered what I'd been thinking when I booked a two day trek in Sapa, north west of Hanoi.  It was freezing, I was operating on no sleep and could see absolutely nothing of the picturesque green rice paddies plastered over all the tourist brochures I'd been shown.  However, I hadn't endured the most painful 13 hour overnight train trip of my life for nothing, I was going to do this trek if it killed me.

I arrived in Sapa for breakfast, a cold shower and a gumboot fitting (best dollar I ever spent - it was muddy!).  My group and I were greeted by a gaggle of local ladies from one of the surrounding minority villages, baskets on their backs and grins on their faces.  I assumed they were there to try and sell us something before we headed off.  However, when we jumped on the bus down to our starting point just out of town the same ladies mysteriously reappeared.  Then, as we started trudging down the hill in the mud, our new friends followed us like lost little puppy dogs.  Barking at my heels was a woman with a leathered face and traditional dress.  Along the way I learnt her name was Sai, she was from a local Hmong village and had two young children.  She did a good job of maintaining conversation and putting the hard sell on me once we reached our destination for lunch.  This is how the trek would continue for the next two days.  For each leg of trip we had a group of ladies in traditional garb following us in an effort to drain us of every last vietnamese dong in our wallets!

I eventually saw the rice paddies that the Sapa brochures are made of.  More a muddy brown then green but beautiful all the same.  We stayed altogether in a wooden house in one of the minority villages (minus the ladies, although they would have stayed if they'd been allowed) and polished off a few bottles of local rice wine to keep us warm.  In the morning a new group of ladies was waiting for us while we ate breakfast.  We set off up and down the slippery slopes back to town, where we stayed another night. 

The town of Sapa itself was amazing.  Day turned into night numerous times as thick fog and mist blew in and out in minutes, leaving me wondering how we'd find our way back to the hotel.  There was no escaping the ladies from the minority villages either, as they followed us up and down the streets insisting we buy something.  At one point I showed interest in buying a skirt from one of the ladies in the main square but after failing to get it over my jeans I thanked her and proceeded to walk away.  However, the lady was determined to make it fit and spent the next five minutes trying to stretch it over my shoulders and hips.  Eventually she had to concede defeat and I left empty-handed.

Despite the cold, the fog and the somewhat annoying ladies, I left Sapa wishing I could have stayed longer and vowed to return at a time of year when the rice paddies are postcard perfect!

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