Monday, 15 June 2015

Sapa and beyond.


Red Dao, I think.

Hmong (maybe).

This is very high up.

Got to Sapa yesterday afternoon, after getting up at 5.30 for the bus. The place is 1,600 metres up in the mountains and the journey here was very spectacular indeed, with rice terraces everywhere and water buffaloes at the side of the road. As we neared our destination, I started to see people who looked completely different to the Vietnamese. These are the Hmong, Dao,Tay, Giang and a few Xa Pho. They all wear different and very distinctive traditional costumes, some of which are already on sale for tourists.

Rice terraces.

Had a look around town and at first wasn't particularly impressed. It's very touristy, with the locals all after your money.
After a meal, (a hamburger, if you're asking, as you need a break from rice all the time), went back to the hostel, where I met an Irish lady called Sinead. She asked me to play a song or two, which attracted the family running the place. I was immediately served some 'happy juice,' a type of strong rice wine. They gave me a teacup full of the stuff and were quite clearly curious to see what effect it would have. Some more tourists joined the party and things were kicking off when there was this terrible screeching sound. The owners are quite western, compared to the majority of the locals, with a lovely house and two newish looking 4x4s in the drive.
It turned out that some other members of the extended family were in the process of slitting a pig's throat. Not that they were doing this away from the gathered public, but in the drive in full view of us tourists. Now I'm not particularly squeamish about such things, but the noise of the poor creature was very distressing. A few people around the table looked a bit green about the gills. Personally, given the choice, I'd have gone and photographed it. Part of the culture after all, but I was in the middle of playing some songs to the good people around the table and like a pianist in a Wild West saloon, thought I'd better offer some sort of distraction.
When I handed out a few records, the effect was incredible. The family were delighted with the offering and talked about it for the rest of the evening.

Sapa Town.

This morning, I took the bus to Ha Giang, which is very near the Chinese border. Had to change buses and met two French girls. The bus wasn't as comfortable as any of the others, with no wifi and for some reason, polystyrene sheets stuck across all the windows. There were hemp sacks on the floor everywhere, which were deliveries into the mountains.

As usual, I took a seat at the back and was soon joined by two ladies from one of the hill tribes; Tay, I think. On most of the trips I've taken, the locals seem to get travel sick. The buses carry a large supply of plastic sick bags. After about an hour, the lady next to me in full traditional costume and with lots of gold teeth started looking panic stricken and made a gesture to me. Just in time, a bag arrived and she started vomiting into it. This caused an outbreak of communal throwing up - half the people on the bus joined in. To accommodate all the passengers, many of the buses have folding seats. They were all in use and so the aisle area was completely blocked, leaving me trapped at the back. I dutifully passed the bags around and looked straight ahead to avoid the scene. The normally sun weathered locals had all turned a funny shade of green.

Luckily, after about an hour of this, most of them alighted, much to everyone else's relief. We stopped in the middle of nowhere amid rice fields and water buffalo and the remaining queasy types stayed put, while we had coffee.

Just as I was thinking how good the road was, it petered out and became a dirt track full of deep pot holes. At one point there was an avalanche of soil, where some locals were doing their best to make the road passable. We stopped for five minutes as they cleared a space to let us pass. It was like something out of Top Gear, except for the absence of the Roger Mellie character.

Finally got here at seven in the evening and managed to find a comfortable hotel. Went out with the girls and had a local dish, a type of soup, with lots of coriander, lime juice and a type of local pork sausage cut into pieces. To this we added rice noodles. It was delicious.

Only problem now is that the village which was recommended to me and only 10km away, is right on the border and therefore considered a bit sensitive by the authorities. It seems you need some sort of permit, which is just a formality. My visa runs out on Saturday, so we'll see. Otherwise, it's another vomitarama back down the mountain in order to get to the Lao border.

Will keep you informed.





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