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Rosi & Jen's 11 Thousand Beach Odyssey Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you did not do, then the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream...."

"You buy from me?"

VIETNAM | Friday, 14 March 2008 | Views [1634] | Comments [3]

Every day that we spend in SaPa reaffirms that our decision to travel here independently and for 8 days, rather than take a short 3 day organized tour was the right one.  We feel that we have really soaked in the true feeling of the town, the surrounding countryside and it’s beautiful people.

Everyday we find more things to love about it up here. 

We love the colourful hill tribe women and their spectacular embroidered clothes, handicrafts and beautiful silver jewellery, the delicious food, the hectares and hectares of terraced rice paddies that seem to stretch on forever and truly have to be seen to be believed, the multitude of heavily pregnant pigs,  the chilled out water buffalo, the abundance of weird looking dogs, the pea soup fog, the cold, the warm welcoming fires in the bars, the cute little cook, Nguyen, in our hotel restaurant who spends his days smiling, cooking and singing along to his favourite boybands, the h’mong and red dao hill tribe women who carry their adorable babies wrapped in brightly coloured blankets on their backs. 

“Where you from?” they say everytime we leave the hotel. 

“Australia”  we say

“Australia?” they say “oh kangaroooooo!” they say.

I hop up the street whenever they say it which makes them laugh hysterically at the idiot Australian tourist. 

“You buy from me?”  they say.

Of course if you buy from one, you soon have 10 running toward you wanting you to buy from them as well.  We had one red Dao women who followed us into a bar and decided to sit down with us for a while.  She was 52 and had 10 children.  Her name was Mai-li.  She was fascinating.  A great saleswoman, but even after we bought some amazing wall hangings from her, she just wanted to sit with us for an hour and talk. The next day she spotted Jen’s blonde hair and came in again and sat down for another hour or so and when we left she came with us and walked us back to our hotel linking arms with me the whole way and telling me how short I was.  When I pointed out the fact that she was 4 foot 10 and way shorter than me,  she laughed hysterically.

SaPa is built on a mountain.  Everwhere is steep.  Everytime we leave our hotel we have to walk up a steep slope to the town.  If you want to see things you need to walk steep!  Our first walk was about 4 kms to Cat Cat village.  We passed magnificent waterfalls , heaps of rice fields all terraced, buffalo, pigs, geese, bamboo growing wild.  Yesterday we walked for 5 kms to the village of Sin Chai.  Of course after walking there we had to walk 5 kms up steep hills to get back.  It nearly killed me but I made it. 

Today we hired a local h’mong hill tribe guide, Kim, an empowered 19 year old woman, who took us on a 12 km trek across country through 3 villages. We wore expensive hiking boots, she wore $3 bright purple galoshes and traditional dress.   We walked down and up muddy dirt back trails,  we walked through rice paddies and through all sorts of rocky terrain, some of which could best be described as the kokoda trail with frost.  We saw the true extent of the massive terraced rice farming that goes on here. 

The villages around SaPa where the local hill tribe people live resemble depictions of how the first convict settlers lived when they came to Australia.  They use all natural products.  There houses are made entirely of timber slats and most have timber shingle or corrugated iron roofs.  The houses are one big room.  Their fencing is woven bamboo.  There are pregnant pigs and geese and dogs and buffalo and kids everywhere.  They where traditional hemp and cotton cothing dyed with natural indigo plants which they gow themselves and embroidred with brightly coloured fibres.  Their hands are dyed indigo. They lead incredibly simple lives.  They work in the fields with ancient farm equipment.  Every afternoon we see lines of h'mong marching single file through town with old picks and hoes flung over their shoulders.  Like the type you discover in your grandfather’s shed that haven’t been used for 50 years.  THAT’S WHAT THEY USE TO FARM RICE and CORN!!!   They seem like really happy people and it makes you realise how little you need to be happy and how much of what we have is unnecessary.  The one disparity in the whole scene are the Satellite TV dishes that seem to be perched on many roofs.

Our guide Kim told us of another side to the hilltribe communities.  She said domestic violence was high (around 50%) and that a lot of the men have problems with the local hooch i.e Rice Wine.  We also found out that opium is a problem amongst some of the H’mong people. A lot of tourist are offered opium in the streets of SaPa. (Jen was.  I must look to clean cut and hobbity).  Kim said a lot of the women do most of the work and that the women tend to marry early around 15-17 and have lots of babies.  Kim of course couldn’t think of anything worse and was happy making her own living as a guide.  She was definitely the “girl power poster child” for the local hilltribes.

This is also the first time on this trip we have truly seen things we have wanted to buy.  We’ve bought some wall hangings and silver jewellery all made by the local hilltribe villagers.  Some of the work is stunning and it's all ridiculously cheap.  Tomorrow is the big Saturday SaPa markets are on.  All the local villagers come to town to sell their wares including animals and food and handicrafts.

Of course today’s trek has nearly killed the both of us. We’ve both lost weight over the last 3weeks but especially this week since coming to SaPa.   At the moment Jen is asleep and I’m lying in bed next to the fire wondering why I can’t feel my feet.  But we’re so glad we did it.  To get out into the countryside and see how the local people live is to see the true spirit of a country.



Hi Rosi and Jen
You have painted such a wonderful picture of the area - it is truely an amazing place

  Jenni H Mar 18, 2008 1:46 PM


Oh MY! I'm sitting here reading about you hopping out of the hotel Kanga style and I nearly wet my pants!

I can only imagine it :)

  Deon Mar 25, 2008 12:46 PM


well that,s how my country operating .... if u have $ 1000 u can live like King n Queen for at least 2 week . with same that amount i dont think it lasted 5 day in europe ... so that why all the western they keeping coming 4 a good time.....

  nguyen Apr 5, 2008 12:36 PM

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