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Last Days in Vietnam

VIETNAM | Thursday, 28 March 2013 | Views [696]

Its been a while since we posted, so here is a quick recap.



Sapa, in the hills of Northern Laos, was a retreat for French colonialists when the plains became too hot. We could see why they chose the spot. The beautiful views of the surrounding steep mountains and rice paddies were spectacular.

We stayed in Sapa for a full week, with 4 days of trekking and followed by 3 days teaching English to local Hmong children. Both the trek and teaching were through an amazing organization called Sapa O'Chau. If anyone feels so inclined, they are starved for resources and could use some help! http://www.sapaochau.org/

The town of Sapa has become pretty overdeveloped and overtouristed in the past few years, and we could see this even on our trek in the outskirts of the region. Until our third day of trekking the path was well trod by countless other westerners, in varying degrees of physical fitness, and the food options presented (french fries and pancakes in a traditional homestay?) pointed to picky eaters gone before. However we really enjoyed our trek with our young guides Lam and Lu. We had great fun walking along winding paths, chuckling at the many baby ducklings and piglets, and fighting off the attentions of the older Hmong women, who follow you with their souvenir trinkets (all cheaply made and really unappealing) for literally hours. It seems like a bad business plan, but after talking to other trekkers it sounds like almost everyone gives in and buys stuff to make them go away!

Our third and fourth days of trekking were my favorite. The paths, always on the rustic side, turned into steep trails also used by the water buffalo. At each homestay we were made to feel very welcome, but the last homestay was especially nice. The lovely Tay (pronounced Thai) family we stayed with let me attempt to help cook the evening meal, all over a wood fire. We all sat down together, laughed, and drank lots of rice whisky well into the night. 

After our trek we asked to stay to volunteer at Sapa O'Chau. The organization was established because Hmong children are often kept from school in order to work on their farms or sell trinkets at the market to support their family. Even though children with education would end up earning much higher wages, most families are too poor to plan for the future. Sapa O'Chau gives the students an education, particularly in English and computers, so that they can take advantage of the tourist industry in Sapa in a more profitable way. So, back to the volunteering: We have no teaching experience and were thrown in without any supporting structure (their is no regular teacher, no lesson plan, and all the students are at different levels) but we made do and had a great time. The kids we taught were exceptional. Their warmth and eagerness to learn were amazing to see. They are in class six days a week: Four days of English and computer skills followed by regular Vietnamese school on the weekend. We will miss them!


With just a weekend left on our visa we still had not seen Hanoi, so after a great week in Sapa we boarded the train to go south. Hanoi is a great city. It is Vietnam's capital, and you could see the city's wealth and importance in its citizens. The old quarter, which is the main tourist area, was great to explore... but even compared to Ho Chi Minh City the traffic was terrifying!! We made it out alive and had some terrific bun cha (vermicilli noodles and grilled pork dipped into a sweet/sour sauce), bia hoi ("fresh" beer), a mochi-like jelly dessert, and more.

We visited a prison museum and saw John McCain's flight suit from when he was a "guest" there during the war. We went to the first university in the country, literally called a "temple of literature," which was operational from the 11th century to the 18th. There was also an amazing Fine Art museum with a collection that spanned decorative arts to modernist works.

That about wraps up our time in Vietnam. We took a bus to Vinh (not worth an update) and made it safely into Laos, where we are now. We never did make it to Halong Bay, the Mekong Delta, or the DMZ... We are saving those for our next trip!

Tags: busy, food, hanoi, hmong, homestay, sapa, trekking, vietnam

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