The guide books will advise you that there is no dominant Religion in Vietnam. That is not true. 95% of Vietnamese are Buddhist. It is just that theirs is a more private form of Buddhism compared to their neighbours; they visit Temple only twice a month but pray daily within their homes. So, it was with some form of cruel irony that the one Catholic Church in Sapa peeled it bells with vigour to jolt Mark and I awake at 5.30am this morning. Further sleep was impossible. Hence, this blog of today and the lengthy recount of yesterday!
Mark eventually went down to collect our laundry whilst I blogged. I had also put Tom’s and my sandshoes, complete with water buffalo remnants, in for a clean as both were black after yesterday’s adventure. It was the best USD $4 I have ever spent. Both pairs of shoes returned white, sparkling and as new!
We ate a leisurely breakfast, I haggled with a nice H’mong girl over a hemp jacket (yes…hemp) and Tom beat Mark in a game of pool.
Heading out for a walk now…then more of Huy, our guide. More later.
Our walk didn’t last long as Tom felt unwell so Mark took him back to the hotel for a rest. Mark and I then wandered the narrow lanes making up the Village wondering at how such an amazing lot of plastic junk, clearly from China, has made it’s way here to be peddled to tourists. I suppose the question it not so much ‘how’ but ‘why’? Who here, visiting and trekking around a remote Vietnamese village would really want fake wooden plaques and ornaments, fake designer sunglasses and T-shirts etc? Anyway, on we wandered.
Our guide, Huy, picked us up from the hotel at 11am to take us to visit Tha Phin Village, home to the Red Dzao people, about 10km south of Sapa. We spent about an hour wandering the Village and observing their basic and impoverished living conditions. This, like so many other experiences in our short time here, was very humbling and caused us to pause and give thanks for all that we have, even if just by virtue of our birth place. Mark caused great local excitement on our departure when he pulled out his wallet and proceeded to pay way too much for 3 traditional Dzao caps.
From Tha Phin we headed back down the mountain to Lao Cai where we had several hours to wait for our 9pm overnight train back to Hanoi. There would be few places on earth where you are more likely to see a water buffalo along the road side than a dog or cat. Sapa is one such area though. I would imagine that they figure prominently in the road-side statistics for Vietnam too, that is, if any statistics are kept.
We said goodbye to Huy on arriving into Lao Cai and passed the time in a simple hotel room and at the one and only air conditioned restaurant near the station. We kept bumping in to the same few tourists at most places we went to in Sapa and, sure enough, more were here too. Poor Huy had told us that he wanted to start his own tourism agency one day. The guy has no chance as he hardly spoke the whole time he was with us, only when spoken too or on his mobile which took up much of his time. I can’t imagine what drew him into this profession. Lao Cai was hot, humid and smelly and would be an extreme challenge for any tourist organisation to promote other than being the gateway to Sapa.
We had to share our 4 birth cabin for the trip back to Hanoi but this was no problem as we all just attempted to sleep for the journey anyway. Our carriage was located behind the driving carriage for the trip down and this made sleeping a challenge. Like all car drivers in Vietnam, our train driver honked his horn for most of the 8hr journey which punctuated our sleep. He was either a frustrated taxi driver or there was a lot of traffic along the tracks. We arrived in at Hanoi at 5.30am and, luckily, we were able to check in early to our room back at the Hilton.