The Vietnam Diaries 2011: July 21st – Sapa

The way to Cat Cat lies through a winding path in the mountains. We’re surrounded by a multitude of rice paddies and Katka is so busy snapping pictures that she sees things almost exclusively through the camera lens. Well, peripheral vision is overrated anyways!

In the village we get to visit some homes of the Hmong. They live in wooden houses in spartan conditions, with only the bare necessities available in terms of furniture and household items. We also stop by a small market selling different handicraft and pictures. The most curious to me are the leaf paintings, which are exactly what they sound to be – paintings made entirely out of coloured leaves.

Totally not Photoshop

We rest in a small local “bar” by a waterfall to take some photos and enjoy an ice-cream. I hand out candy to local children, teaching them that it’s OK to accept sweets from a stranger, as long as the stranger is a foreigner and the sweets are delicious! One of the children is a girl of about 5-6 carrying her brother behind her back, which is impressive since he is about two-thirds her size. Hmong women aren’t to be messed with!

Our guides take us to a nearby river where a bunch of local children are swimming. They tell us we’re welcome to cool off and do some swimming of our own. The water is ice cold, but we don’t want to look like sissies in front of children, so we jump in. We realise that we’re sharing the river not only with the kids, but also with a few buffalo doing some cooling off of their own further downstream.

After the icy swim we’re taken to another nearby village of Sin Chai. We conclude that we’ve seen quite a few animals with younglings – dogs with puppies, hens with chicks and even boar with shoats. Not to mention the many newborns being carried around by the Hmong. Seems like summer is birthing season in Sapa.

“They’re taking our picture. Quick – look busy!”

At Sin Chai we’re served spicy noodle soup with chicken for lunch. Then an old model Jeep picks us up and drives us back to Sapa. It suddenly starts raining heavily when we get into the Jeep, so the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. Right back at you, fate!

When we get to the hotel we’re ambushed by a large group of Black Hmong, including Ping and her friends. We keep our word and buy a few bracelets and earrings from them. As I’m about to start negotiating the price I get unexpected help from the Hmong women themselves, in the form of “500,000 dong – you go down, we go up!”.

I can honestly say that this is the first time I get explicit directions on haggling from a party that should, in principle, be completely against negotiating the price. It’s like being mugged on the street, with the mugger providing detailed instructions on the use of pepper spray and offering self-defence tips.

“Alright, my face is wide open – now would be a great time to stab me in the eye!”

I knock off about 30% from the asking price for the jewellery. It is quite likely still overpriced, but our main motivation for the purchase is to support the Hmong community, so we don’t press the issue.

Since it’s still raining we spend some time at the hotel drying up and relaxing. When the rain stops we go out to explore the small town. The town is currently built with tourists in mind, so the majority of buildings are either hotels or restaurants/bars/cafes. There are street vendors grilling what looks suspiciously like dogs, but could possibly be boar.

We reach the Sapa Lake, which lies in the middle of the city. Here one can rent a pedal boat in the shape of a swan and take it for a quick tour around the lake. Of course it’s mainly meant for families with young kids. However, the two of us go for a half-hour boat trip, because fuck it – I like pedal boats.

“So I’m talking to my lawyer and….holy shit – that boat is totally shaped like a swan! Can we try it?!”

After my inner child is silenced we briefly check out the town’s Catholic Church from the outside. Then we stroll down to the market selling more handicraft and various trinkets. As darkness sets in we return to the hotel and have a free dinner. We’re joined by a stray dog that turns out to be a bit of a gourmet. She only eats chicken and outright rejects the offerings of sweet potatoes and pork. We have a longer trek tomorrow to our homestay with the Dzao, so we pre-pack our bags and go to bed early.

The journey continues right here.

Remember to check out Katka’s photos from the trip. A picture paints a thousand words, especially when it’s a photo and there are over 400 of them!

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