So, on Friday, Tamara and I found ourselves back in Hanoi a day earlier than we’d planned. We asked the bus driver to drop us off at the train station… and proceeded to have to walk half an hour to the station! We organized train tickets to Sapa, a small mountainous town, known for its rice terraced hills, and the numbers of people who come into town from the surrounding hill tribes.
We took the overnight train, followed by a bus, and were in Sapa by about 8AM on Saturday morning. We found a hotel, ate some breakfast, and decided to rent motorcycles to explore the surrounding area. In short, it was a terrible idea to rent motorcycles. Paved road quickly becomes nonexistent as you exit the town, as is replaced by gravel roads. After riding for what seemed like forever, I took a bit of a tumble. I was OK and said that I was fine to keep going, but then Tamara discovered that her motorcycle had a flat, which meant that we absolutely could not keep going. We were in the middle of nowhere and hadn’t seen a town in at least twenty minutes. Tamara at this point started to panic, and curse Vietnam, declaring that she hated the whole country. We were able to stop a man driving by, and he helped us get successfully back to Sapa… bless. So, the solution? He parked his bike and left it by the side of the road. He took Tamara’s bike with the flat and rode it. Tamara rode my motorcycle, and I rode on the back. There was a small town fairly close by, but there was no mechanic. I stayed in this town while they went further on. While I sat and waited for their return, the local children all came to peek at me. They were absolutely darling, and let me take their pictures, laughing and posing and playing for the camera. It was wonderful. After about 80 minutes, Tamara and our hero came riding back. They had gotten the motorcycle with the flat onto a van that would drive back to Sapa. I was going to ride in the van with the motorcycle, while the other two would ride back on the motorcycles.The whole thing ended up being a tremendous debacle, but we made it home, and by that time were ready for a good meal.
On Sunday, Tamara decided to take a tour, but I wanted to see the area by myself. I explored the markets and some of the surrounding scenery, but took it fairly easy. When Tamara came back, she had befriended one of the local Khmer women. The Khmer are one of the local hill tribe groups. We went for tea with a group of them before it was time for us to take our bus to the train station and took a night train back to Hanoi.
On Monday morning, we arrived back in Hanoi. Our first order of business was to sort out train tickets for our journey onwards. We secured tickets down to Hue for yet another overnight train; this journey was scheduled to take fourteen hours! With our tickets sorted, we walked to the hostel where we’d stayed before. They were very kind and helpful and were happy to watch our bags during the day. We went for breakfast and then to the Temple of Literature, which is devoted to the memory of Confucius.
We headed back to the hostel, where we were joined by Ross, a friend we’d made in Sapa. We got a taxi out to “Snake Village” where we were going for lunch. So, what follows next is rather gruesome. They bring out a snake, cut out its heart, and drain its blood into rice whiskey. You then take a shot of the blood and rice whiskey, and the snake’s heart. This is what we’d gone to do, and I actually felt quite terrible about it when he sliced open the live snake. Its heart beat for minutes after it had been removed from its body. We then had lunch of snake prepared in a variety of ways. Lunch was superb, but the whole ceremony around it didn’t sit well with me. We got a taxi back into town, and Tamara and I headed to the station to catch the train down to Hue.
Children in the town where I stayed while Tamara sorted out our motorbike situation
Roses at the market in Sapa. The tips are wrapped in newspaper to keep them from opening before they’re bought.
Sapa’s surrounding mist shrouded hills
Terraced rice fields
Hmong women outside of our hotel
Our snake! I have some really gruesome pictures, but I don’t want to offend, so I shan’t post them.