Thursday, 9 July 2015

Sapa, part I: Among the H'Mong

Sapa, Vietnam

The mountainous town of Sapa was next on our list. The colours would be green and white - green for the sprouting rice paddies and white for the low cloud that hangs over the hills and valleys. We arrived at our hotel after an overnight train ride and an hour-long twisty-turny van journey (the driver overtaking trucks on blind corners in dense fog) from Lao Cai, where the train station is located. As soon as we arrived we felt that the air temperature was more to our liking than Hanoi, though the humidity remained sky-high. 
The centre of the town was a jumbled heap of crumbling apartments and grandiose hotels bunched together on the side of the mountain. Tourism has and continues to boom, meaning that there are endless stores selling The North Face knockoffs as well as local hill tribe craftspeople following you around with beaded purses greeting you with "Hello, shopping?"
The Black H'Mong are the most populous of the vendors, but among them are the Red Dzao. Rounding a bend on the main street, we saw this woman asleep on her handicrafts. I bet it's tiring hassling tourists for money. Joking aside, though it gets frustrating quickly to be mobbed by them, it is their only source of income in many cases. Because of this, English is widely spoken. I told one woman no thank you, and she said "Pretty girl, you don't like me?" Cong had told us that if you try to take their picture, they will call out "one dollar, one dollar!" Most of the women also carry adorable babies on their backs, which I'm sure doesn't hurt their trade. 
Aside from some... interesting pastries at Baguette & Chocolat (a French-style cafe that has not held onto croissant recipes from the French colonisation), our first excursion was a half hour walk to Cat Cat village. Unfortunately our experience was a let-down, as the rice terraces here were pretty but not as amazing as we had been promised, and the village itself was a long line of H'Mong salespeople offering blankets and bracelets. As this was the closest village to trek to, we decided to go much further afield the next day in attempt to see more authentic surroundings. 
The church in the main square has contradictory information regarding its year of construction. The only thing I know for sure (or at least suspect strongly) is that it was built by the French sometime after 1922 when Sapa was established as a hill station. As we took a gander around the base, we witnessed some kind of spiritual healing ceremony and moved quickly on, feeling as though we were invading their privacy. 
There's a mixed food scene here, with a plethora of both Vietnamese and Western options. This guy was roasting a suckling pig with a table full of grilled meats next to him. Some genius came up with a method to keep flies away by tying a ribbon to a fan hub so there was constant movement over the goodies. If I ever need to do something similar, I will employ this method. 
Occasionally you'd catch sight of someone who wasn't there for the tourism. This old woman glared down at us from her balcony, and I felt an unexpected kinship with her - I'm sometimes grumpy with tourists too. 
We started the following day with muesli overlooking the foggy valley. When I find myself in such a place, I give myself a pat on the head and say "Not bad, Necia. Not bad." Though the journey can be the scariest part of an adventure, it's worth it to experience new places.