Monday, October 3, 2011

Sapa. It's COLD, man.

Sapa is located in the mountains in the north of Vietnam, near the Chinese border. The French built a hill station here when this was theirs -- Indochine -- and it's easy to see the attraction of the place. The mountains are really beautiful, and the views are gorgeous. It's also populated by hill tribes, eight ethnic groups who inhabit Lao Cai province: Hmong, Dao, White Thai, Giay, Tay, Muong, Hao and Xa Pho. The most prominent in town are the Red Dao, easily identified by the coin-dangling red headdresses and intricately embroidered waistcoats worn by the women, and the Hmong, distinguished by their somewhat less elaborately embroidered royal blue attire. Groups of ethnic Hmong youngsters and women can be seen hauling impossibly heavy, awkward baskets of wood, stakes, bamboo, bricks, mud and produce. Deep in the valleys surrounding Sapa, the Muong Hoa River runs a wild, jagged course among Giay, Red Dao and White Thai settlements.

the trees are filled with little cages with birds. i wonder who feeds and cares for them?

it's always a moment of startle for me, seeing the hammer and sickle flag

a Hmong woman preparing flax or raffia, can't tell

so distinctive, i love their garments

lots of Hmong women in Sapa this morning

standard view through the foliage, of the valley

the center of Sapa -- look at the mountains in the background!

friendly Uncle Ho, he's everywhere

the panorama view off our balcony

We were thoroughly exhausted when we got to our hotel, but of course our room wasn't available since it was so early. So we had breakfast, changed clothes, and walked a bit but we were immediately set upon by a bunch of Hmong women who were beautiful and smiling, and oh-so-eager to sell me some jewelry. Well, what do you know: I was in the market for a pair of earrings, so I bought them from this young woman, whose name sounded like Zay.

she was very insistent. i liked her a lot.

We returned to the hotel and hung around until our room was ready, then we crashed a bit and decided to take a car tour to the nearby waterfall. Our guide was the adorable Hmong woman whose name sounded like Che. She showed me how they prepare the bamboo they eat, and her fingers were purple -- because of handling bamboo, she said. Her English was pretty good (better than my Vietnamese, obviously), and she was funny, with a very easy laugh. I liked her a lot.

our adorable guide; we stopped here for the gorgeous view


that's us on the bridge. again: FREEZING. but the waterfall was really beautiful. we can't figure out where the water comes from, though.

marc -- to the left is our driver, and our guide, plus a couple random Hmong women who were standing there.

more scenic splendor

i never EVER get tired of mountains

again, the waterfall

But yeah, it's very cold here. Like, very cold. We weren't really prepared; we'd brought overnight backpacks and left our suitcases back in Hanoi, and the clothing we brought was not nearly warm enough. I have on a number of layers, including pieces that weren't meant to be worn together, and I'm still freezing. My feet are ice cubes. So we're relaxing, and we'll have a bit of an early dinner, then get in bed and try to get warm. Tomorrow we're going on a trek down to a nearby tribal village, and we'll leave Sapa at 4:30 for the return trip to Lao Cai, to ride the overnight train back to Sapa. It's cold, but it's gorgeous and I'm so very glad to be here.

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