Monday, December 17, 2007

Entering Vietnam and Sapa

I have avoided sleeper buses while traveling in China but my choices seemed limited on getting to Vietnam. I wanted to visit a town close to the Chinese border called Sapa and it seemed stupid to fly to Hanoi and then take a night train to the same place a night bus from Kunming would take me. Even though I dreaded it I went ahead and went with the sleeper bus. These buses are not made for people my size. There are 7 or 8 sets of bunks down each side of the bus and one set of bunks down the middle. When I say sets of bunks this is just one top and one bottom. Each bunk is about 5 feet long and less than 2 feet wide. If I laid on my back my arm was in the aisle and I had to have legs bent. I also could not set up in my bunk because the upper bunk was too low. This all being said I usually sleep on my side with bent legs so the sleeper bus was not that bad. I found most uncomfortable bit being trying to sit up a bit to look out the window. I stayed on my side for most of the time and I slept most of the time when we were moving.

At one point in the middle of the night we stopped because a truck just in front of us had lost a wheel and turned over. The truck was laying sideways covering most of the road so we were stuck waiting for a few hours for a crane to come out and lift the truck onto another truck to haul it away. They swept some of the bottles off the road but most the trucks cargo was still filling the right lane when we drove away. The truck had been loaded with empty beer bottles.

About 15 hours after leaving Kunming we arrived at the town of Hekou which is the Chinese town on the Vietnam border. I filled out the Chinese paperwork cleared China walked across the bridge and filed out the Vietnamese paperwork and entered Vietnam. I was rather glad when all the paper work was done and I was in Vietnam. I kept having these thought about the Tom Hanks movie terminal when walking over the bridge. If I had something wrong with my Vietnam visa and they would not let me in what would I do, live on the bridge? My Chinese visa still had time left on it but it was a single entry visa and as soon as I hit the bridge I had left China so don’t think they would let me back in. I guess maybe I will find out what happens at my next border crossing but it would be nice if this is a mystery that I never solve.

While in a bank changing money 2 of the guys that had been on the bus from Kunming entered and we decide to do breakfast or lunch or whatever meal this would be together. We also met 2 people going to cross the border into China that had been traveling in Vietnam who joined us for the meal. I enjoyed hearing something about Vietnam over the meal and gave away the 2.1 Yuan in small bills and coins that I could not change. I think giving them enough money for their first 4 visits to the toilets was worth the travel advise that they provided.

Over lunch the 3 of us from Kunming said we were all going to Sapa so figured we would go via the same van and we agreed with a guy to take us for 30,000 Dong each. The guy had told us that it would be a 45 minute trip to Sapa but what he did not ell us was that we would not leave until the van was full. It took about an hour for the van to fill up but it was watching the different van people fighting over customers.

The drive to Sapa was a pretty drive and I was not expecting to see rice terraces here but there where a lot of them on the sides of the mountains. It was not close to the number of terraces that I had seen in Ping’An in China but it reminded me a lot of there.

I don’t think it’s fair to Vietnam but I seem to compare everything in Vietnam to China right now. All the prices for hotels and tickets are quoted in US Dollars but I ask for the prices in Vietnamese Dong and then convert it to Yuan in my head to see if it is a price I want to pay.

Sapa is a mountain town with a number of Vietnamese minorities living in and around it. It is a very touristy town but also seems to function as a market town for the villages around it so a lot of the minority people that are in town are not there just to make money off the tourist. I have found out later that the 2 main minorities that are in Sapa are the Black Hmong and the Red Zoa. There are a lot more of the Black Hmong.

I prefer the red hats of the Red Zao and thought the ones that are a single scarf looked like a Santa hat at first.

I spent one day walking down to the village of Cat Cat and the waterfall below it and then back up to Sapa. It is not that far of a walk but is a rather step hill and the walk down was not bad but I felt like it would be cheating to ride on the back of a scooter up the hill so walked up also and it was the hard part.

The next day I walked to a village but I am not really sure of the name. While walking down the road talking to the Black Hmong people I met on the road I picked up a guide that I did not really want. She was Black Hmong and told me to walk this way or that and I kept telling her “No Buy” but figured there was no getting rid of her so just let her guide me after awhile. It was a nice walk mostly down hill and she showed me the plant that they use to dye their clothes and also ends up dying their hands for a large part. She told me the name for Duck, Goat and Pig in Hmong but sorry I forgot them within 5 minutes. This is one of the houses we past on the walk.

When I was ready to head back my guide tried to sell me some stuff but I said no and gave her a little money for guiding me. I then cheated and took a ride on the back of a scooter back up to Sapa.

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