Hope y'all are doing well, and maybe even still reading this nonsense I'm writing. :-)
Sapa, for those who don't know, is a mountain town in North Vietnam, by the Chinese border, and famous not only for its beauty but also as a place to encounter some of the ethnic hill tribes of
Vietnam (collectively known as the Montagnards or "Highlanders"). While my cries of "There can be only one" met with nothing but puzzlement from the locals, Sapa has so far been the highlight of my stay in Vietnam.
This was the Viet Nam you see in guidebooks - the mist swirling around the mountain-tops, rolling green hills terraced with rice paddies, laconic buffalo showing their versatility by chewing and fertilising at the same time, and of course the local tribes. What the books don't tell you though is that this is also the land that dentistry forgot.
It was magic though - not least because of the respite from the heat, pollution and chaos of Hanoi (leaving tonight, heading
One of the first things you notice about Sapa is that the quality of the touts. In Hanoi, you are subjected to smelly, sometimes unsavoury, men offering you all manner of things from transport to hotels, from drugs to even their daughters, or wizened old women selling fruit as wrinkled as them (they are adorable though). In Sapa though, a new enemy arises - the cutest little kids in the world, with angelic voices, who will actually CRY if you don't buy off them. God, every "please you by from me" is accompanied by a pair of big brown eyes that tug on the old heartstrings, and if you're not careful, not only will you find yourself buying everything they've got, but tucking a couple of the little cuties in your backpack to adopt. Halfway through my trek yesterday I decided that I want all my kids to turn out Vietnamese, no matter what their parentage!
Still I managed to stay strong, and neither buy nor adopt, but instead just enjoy my surroundings and scenery.
Trekking through the hills yesterday with an American couple, we met Black H'mong (I am convinced that H'mong is Vietnamese for "hobbit" - I think being 5 foot gets you onto the local basketball team), Dzai, and Red Dao people. They have very simple lives in idyllic but meager conditions, but they all seem happy. Tourism is of course becoming a large part of their economy, and I hope it does not start to erode their traditions too much. One benefit, if it is that, is that the constant flow of tourists gives the young kids (primarily little girls) enormous scope to practice and expand their English, with many of them proving to be amazingly eloquent and conversant for their age. A gorgeous wee lass called Ve befriend me yesterday, and followed us along for 2 hours talking all the way, with a better grasp on English then most of the Kiwi kids her age (she was 8). There is a big building program to provide schools and infrastructure to the region, with Japanese and American money, which seems to be paying off for the local kids. At the end of the day, as we wandered off, Ve gave me a present of one of the bracelets she had been trying to sell earlier, which was cool. Her little friends then collapsed laughing, so this may mean that I'm now her boyfriend, but I'm hoping I got that wrong!
I'm going to off to have cobra for lunch so I better mosey on, but take care and all that jazz.