Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Stunned in Sapa

We got off our night train into the cold damp mist and headed by mini bus convoy up into the mountains. Occasionally the mist would clear giving us spectacular views of breathtaking scenery. Even being stuck for a few hours while diggers solved the problem of a land slide did not spoil the romance of it.
We were lucky that we arrived just before the harvest of the rice paddies so everything was carpeted in a lush green
 While walking down to the local village we met these ladies who, with their happy smiles, sing song voices and endless questions are actually very savvy saleswomen who won't stop at stalking you around town to nail that sale (in fact they make the Selfridges beauty hall ladies seem shy in comparison!).
 They are from the Black H'Mong tribe (one of the many minority tribes who live in the boarder mountains of Vietnam and China) and their main source of income is from the rice and corn that they grow on the terraced fields that shape the landscape of this region. The women also make and sell the embroidered clothing that they wear. They are really very poor and still have relatively few rights in Vietnam although hopefully that is now starting to change and we noticed a few new schools in the area. You can't help but admire their hard work and charm not to mention fabulous style.
 On our second day the skies cleared and a couple of the more persistent H'Mong ladies (and baby) led us down though the valley.
 Every view got better and better
 We came to a minority village at the end of our walk and harvest was in full swing, with all hands on deck from six to sixty
 Every available surface (including the school yard) is used to dry their crops.
 These villages closest to Sapa are quite touristy and you can't help but wonder how some of the minority villages that are more remote do when it comes to health and education.
We got a bite to eat at this great commie cafe
 Views down into Sapa town

 On Market day everyone comes from far and wide to sell their wares such as the indigo dye for making their Black H'Mong clothes
 Flowers for the local love market where hill tribes come to flirt and meet prospective matches.
 Red Dzao are among the other minorities in this area (they look a bit like ethnic Santas with their red hats).
Cute mini H'mong.

I think for us Sapa was a highlight of the trip and definitely worth taking malaria medication for!

Monday, 29 November 2010

Hoi An

Hoi An is a great holiday destination (and once considered by China and Japan as on the most important trading post in Asia), it has a bit of everything and although its quite touristy its easy to spend quite a few days there.
The town itself is very laid back and beautiful with lots of really quaint French colonial houses. It is chock full of lantern sellers and tailors (so you can walk away after a few fittings with a very dapper suit for a steal.)
The moment we arrived we hired bicycles (a good way of avoiding people trying to sell you above mentioned suits!) and popped off down to the beach and from there around the local country side.
A lot of the Vietnam war played out in this area and it does have a familiarity from iconic movie scenes and photography. Its hard to imagine what it would be like in that terrible time compared to how peaceful and rural it seems today.

In the centre of town the market buzzes in the morning and afternoons when people (who don't have fridges) come to get their fresh food for the next meal.
 I honestly thought that the national costume of conical hats was a bit of a cliche but no. In a country where white skin is (sadly) prized and sunscreen is relatively expensive the conical hat rules.
 They are all about free range chicken.

And what holiday destination is not complete with out a bit of history chucked in? My Son is the religious center of the ancient Kingdom of Champa and is set in a beautiful valley. What was once something to rival Angkor Wat is now a fraction of its former glory due to American bombing but is still atmospheric in its overgrown glory particularly on a quiet dew drenched morning.
Its mysteries include how they were able to bond their amazing brick work together (new attempts to rebuild look frankly shoddy up close) and their long forgotten language and script.

As i have mentioned before the food in this region is really good. The local delicacies of Cau Lau (a dry noodle dish) and White Rose (shrimp steamed dumplings, below) can only be made in this area as its "secret ingredient" is the water that can only be draw from specific Cham wells.