So, after a long day using various forms of public transport, we crossed the border from China to Vietnam on foot.
From the border town of Lao Chai, we got a taxi to the former French hill fort Sa Pa. It was pouring of rain when we arrived here, and very foggy so it was a mad dash around taxis to get the best price (as they vary so much with tourists) to take us to our destination – a rural village called Ta Van Day.
Our hostel here deserves a mention as it was very different from the others we had stayed in. In was a built in the traditional style of the village, very simple and basic. The building was built of wood, and the whole upper floor was the dorm – areas were sectioned off with colourful material drapes to give some privacy, and beds were a simple matress on the floor (with a mozzie net above).
We loved it. Away from the main tourist hub of Sa Pa, right in the middle of the rural villages. In the mornings you’d wake to the sound of cockerals and the daily goings on of the villagers.
A stones throw from our hostel were rice paddy fields, many types of farm animal wondering around, and some beautiful views. Basically a great place to start exploring Vietnam.
On our first day we accompanied Mary, a volunteer who was staying at the hostel. She ran an art class every weekend for the local kids, and if she has the money makes them lunch too (their diet consists of only rice as they’re very poor, so a lunch of pork noodles was very exciting for them).
Now as many of you will know kids aren’t really our strong point (especially Gem), however we were both pleasantly suprised with how well behaved and polite they were. They shared out the paper and crayons themselves without the need for help, and just got on with it! The same goes for lunchtime – they all got themselves a place at the table, sat and waited for us to dish out the noodles. No impatience, no bickering…just waited quietly! You could have heard a pin drop when they were eating – they must have been so hungry. They all had seconds and some had thirds! Even more impressive was that they helped clean up after (mainly the older kids) – helped wash up with us and even swept the floor.
Interestingly i got talking to one of the mums who came by to get her little lad – she spoke very good English. She asked how old i was, and i found out she was 23 years old. She told me i was young (even though i am 28) as i am not married and haven’t any children. She was married at 20, and has 2 children under 3 years old. She was extremely friendly and i enjoyed talking to her.
We were fortunate to be invited into a locals home – as you can imagine it was very basic. For example, the kitchen consisted of a fire pit with a big iron kettle. That was it. Oh, and a buffalo right outside the front door!
What struck us the most during this morning was how happy and smiley the children were, even though their clothes were grubby (in some cases the only clothing they have), they have limited toys (if any at all), and do not have the array of food and drink on offer to them like kids back home. And they are happy.
Our second day was spent trekking through the villages and surrounding countryside, at times it was very muddy due to the previous rain, but it was a very enjoyable day.
We covered 16km in total. All the time passing by buffalo, pigs, ducks, chickens, goats, and of course plenty of dogs.
Another random photo bombardment happened when a group of about 20 teenagers on a school trip caught sight of us, crowded around us shouting ‘photo photo’ – phones and camaras right in our faces, peoples’ arms around us….we had a small glimpse into what it must be like for celebrities being mobbed for photos, we wouldn’t recommend it. It was quite full on.
We did see an unfortunate sight on our trekk – we passed a few houses which had a cockeral in a small cage by the path. They looked scarred and pretty battered. Our suspicions were confirmed later on our walk as we came across a small ring with a crowd huddled around it – a cock fight was in progress. The disturbing fact here is that the majority of the crowd was made up of young boys of about 10 years old, with only a handful of adults present (all male). Both cocks looked like they were nearing the end of their ordeal. We just don’t see how watching this depressing ‘sport’ is enjoyable in the slightest.
To end on a better note, the scenery was beautiful, and exactly how you imagine Vietnam to be, and we did throughly enjoy our trekk!
Our final day we rented out a motorbike from the hostel and took a trip to a scenic spot an hour away. Now, Paul was very excited about driving a motorbike, but i was a little nervous! However, i really enjoyed it – and Paul was a very safe driver. It was great fun!
We drove up into the mountains, parked up, and walked to the main attraction within the scenic area, the ‘Love’ waterfall.
On our way back we stopped off in Sa Pa to have some lunch, and to see the town in sunshine instead of rain. The French influence could be seen in the buildings and the small lanes. Definitely a tourist trap though, every other face was a Western one.
On our return to the hostel, we had a task to achieve! There is a lovely little puppy who has been hanging around the hostel for a couple of weeks, and we were informed that she just turned up one day and hasn’t left since. Paul and i nicknamed her Sapa, and she is a cheeky monkey! Quite regularly a flip flop or pair of socks will go missing…..then we find Sapa has them. Basically we love her and wish we could have taken her with us!!! The hostel has begun to let her sleep inside now, so she’ll be fine – she’s more fortunate than most street dogs. However, she is a little stinky, and another couple we met there also thought the same. So the solution – lets give her a wash! Paul kindly donated his Head and Shoulders to the cause, and Aiden and myself gave her a good wash – she was very good!
On a finishing note, if anyone is feeling charitable, the weekend art school always needs more art materials, whether it be paper/felt tips/rulers, and toys such as footballs and bat and ball games, or money towards a lunch (to feed 20 kids pork noodles cost £5 in GBP). Seriously these kids have nothing except what is given to them. If you wanted to send something the hostel will pass it on, the address is Sapa Volunteer Homestay, 01 Iron Bridge, Ta Van Day, Sapa, Vietnam. Just pop a note in saying it’s for the art school 🙂