Day Trippin’

We like to explore Hanoi and the surrounding villages, especially now that we have 2 motorbikes. Yes, Doug bought a used bike and I rent one. A quick jaunt around town and the breeze can lower your temperature faster than you can say whenthehellwillmypersonalthermostatworkagainmaybeweshouldmovetoiceland.

It’s hot. Hote. Heh.

Recently we signed up for a guided ride as a fundraiser for a local organization that helps foster young girls, called Blossom House, part of Humanitarian Services For Children in Vietnam. It’s a good cause, and we would be escorted to places we might not find on our own. We took off with 20 others, and within 10 minutes, Doug and I were on our own, separated from the group. It’s funny; months before we moved to Vietnam I had a recurring dream. It stemmed from reading about the traffic here, that you enter the stream of motorbikes and swim along like a school of fish; these dreams always devolved to being trapped in the flow, getting parted from each other and not being able to stop or find each other for years (YEARS) because we were unable to exit the flow.

Can you say déjà vu?

We were headed down the highway in a giant glob of motorbikes and cars, aiming for the Nhật Tân Bridge, fondly called the New Bridge because it was finished 2 years ago and links Hanoi to the airport. We’ve never driven motorbikes onto this bridge before.

Turns out the onramp from the road we were on is a left turn, not a right turn. I got stuck in the right side of the mob and couldn’t maneuver over to the left. Swimming. There was a left-turn light for the onramp to the bridge (yay!) but alas, no way to get to it from the right side without cutting across 3 packed lanes of swift-moving traffic which never had to stop because that part of the road continues straight through. I finally did it (oh boy you should’ve heard the horns honking at me) and there was Doug waiting on the bridge for me. Swoon.

The Nhật Tân Bridge feels enormous.

This bridge is 2.5 miles long. After a thrilling, noisy ride across, we realized we had no idea where to turn, and no one was in sight from the group.

Luckily, we had a general idea of where we would rendezvous for lunch, so we spent the morning exploring the villages and their temples along the one-lane rural road. The road is similar to Seattle’s Burke Gilman bike trail except with cows, water buffalo, chickens and goats meandering along the way.

A few hours later, we found the Lại Đà Temple and waited for the group to appear. An enormous wedding surrounded it so the wait was fun. It’s impolite here to take people-photos without their permission, so you’ll have to believe us when we say it was loud, lively and beautifully colorful.

The Lại Đà Temple is in the center of the village.

Carved dragons adorn each corner.  The corners are up-turned to deflect evil spirits.

 

The back door to one of the buildings in the Pagoda complex.

 

The group finally arrived and we all enjoyed this delicious vegetarian lunch at the temple, prepared by the buddhist nuns and monks. Tempura seaweed-wrapped mushrooms, tofu spring rolls (fried and fresh), young bamboo shoot soup, noodle salads, mung bean rice, and lots more. My favorite condiment was a thinly sliced root, fried and spiced, that looked like beef jerky, to sprinkle on everything.

Our lunch sampler.

 

Afterwards we all cleaned up and went our separate ways. Our goal of getting out and exploring was a success.

We passed this mural project, about a mile from our house, on the railway wall. This wall surrounds portions of the Old Quarter.  The artist is holding a paper drawing as her painting guide.

Mural painting on the elevated train track wall.

 

Coffee shop sunset, with a fishing pole attached to the railing.

 

A simple dinner of fried rice, caramelized pork and garlic sautéed  water spinach at neighboring Mậu Dịch.

back to bún chả and bum guns

We have happily returned to the chaotic energy, noise and beauty of Hanoi. Adventures are piling up and we will be sharing more soon. Until then, here are a few shots of our recent 3-day excursion south to Ninh Bình. We took the Reunification Express, of course.

We rented motorbikes and found a place to stay tucked in between limestone cliffs and forest. This area was 5 days post-flood. Sandbag dikes were still in place, water was receding but fields were still flooded. The rice had already been harvested, but the sweet potatoes and other tubers were ruined.

We visited pagodas and interesting sights, got off the beaten track, practiced our Vietnamese and relaxed.

Good place to learn how to ride a semi-automatic.

 

The countryside was breath-taking.

 

Rorschachs everywhere.

 

Hundreds of monk statues in the Bai Dinh Pagoda, the largest temple complex in the country.

 

We found Black Power monk.

 

Strolled through Thung Nham Bird Park, home to 1000s of herons, egrets and storks.

 

Many caves in this land of limestone. But only 3 choices?

 

Binh Dong cave temples. Lust-worthy floor tile.

 

We had one of these 12 cabins. Hot outside shower, soft beds and electricity. And lizards. And echoing morning rooster crows.

 

The view from our cabin. Yes, two hammocks.

 

Watching the light change was magical.

Atop the stairs at the Bai Dinh Pagoda complex.

 

Oh.  Why bún chả and bum guns?  We missed them SO MUCH this summer. Come on out and you’ll see why.

 

A video clip of ducks on a road.

Don’t fall in

Not a bad mistake

Doug and I have a meme.  It originated from a recording we love, found on a 1940 Smithsonian Folkways compilation, of a young jump-roper named Ora Dell Graham, singing  rhymes as she jumps.  If one of us does something wrong?  Maybe even a little stupid?  Accidental mistake?  I milked that sow.  Pullin’ the skiff.

I made a mistake the other night and milked that sow.

My tutoring job was done for the night and I was headed home on the #1 bus, a new bus to me.  I had an idea of the route but the Hanoi Bus website isn’t updated, so was missing actual validation.  My Vietnamese isn’t good enough to converse about such details with the ticket collector.  I can ask the questions, but I can’t completely understand the answers.  (All part of the adventure, yes?)  I wasn’t worried.  I knew the general vicinity to disembark so that my walk home would be reasonable, keeping in mind that it was after 10pm and it was dark.  Midnight curfew isn’t enforced anymore, but this part of Hanoi is certainly quiet at night.  I watched the penultimate stop come and go, feeling confidant that the next one was it.  The bus took an odd turn, but hey, the streets are a little convoluted and overlapping with ramps and overpasses at that spot.  I convinced myself we were making a loop in the twisty section and would double back and I’d get off at the next stop.  I’d seen other buses do just that.

The curve turned into an extended on-ramp to a long modern bridge that spans the Red River, east of Hanoi.  This is when the song turned on in my head.  I made a mistake.

At this point, still on the bus were one other rider, the ticket collector and the driver.  I tried to text Doug but my data was apparently out (I knew I should’ve topped off my sim card earlier but I relish living on the edge).  I called instead and got a sketchy connection, but did let him know I was taking the scenic route home and would be late…then got disconnected before I could provide any actual details.

I could’ve got off when the last rider disembarked but it was dark and I didn’t see anything on the other side of the street that looked promising. Then the ticket collector got off.  Oh boy. By default, I had decided to ride to the end, subliminally curious to see where I would end up, quietly hoping the bus would turn around and retrace its route back into the city. After riding for what definitely felt longer than it was, studiously noticing the turns as I stared outside in case I had to walk back, we left the mixed residential and commercial areas, then made an abrupt turn into a big, dark parking lot next to a big, dark industrial looking building.  The driver yelled something at me and swished open the door.  I de-bussed and I swear, he zoomed away particularly fast, although it probably was just regular departure speed.

At least it wasn’t raining.

I stood there in the dark thinking about how I love the unpredictable-ness of life, felt bad that I had been a little cavalier when I had called Doug because he was probably worrying and didn’t have any way to actually find me, and then laughing because in one hour’s time I was in a really different place than I thought I’d be.

I heard the motorcycles before I could see them.  Xe oms.  Motorcycle taxis.  Usually old dudes.  I’ve used them before, and it was never dull.  So…yay!  I wouldn’t have to walk home.   With xe om drivers, I knew it was important to get a good breath-whiff so that the ride can be declined if the driver is alcohol-infused.  I started a conversation with one guy, while other curious drivers drove up and joined in the conversation.  I said my address, he mumbled a price, I negotiated, he didn’t say yes, just ok, ok, ok which I’ve learned to mean let’s go and we’ll renegotiate later when we get to where you want to go.  He’s already on his bike, ready to go.  Nope. I’ve learned to be clear upfront about both the location and the money, resulting in a more direct exchange all around.  I’m feeling rushed.  I decide to slow it down.   I try to talk (all in Vietnamese) to the little crowd that’s formed.  They want to know how I ended up there.  How old was I?  Where from?  Why?  What do I do?  The usual questions that I’ve learned the answers to.  My phone doesn’t work but I do pull up an iBook map detail of Trúc Bạch (thanks, Carol, for showing me that iBook is useful).  Oh…ok, ok, ok.  Someone reviews with the driver exactly where that is, then helps me get him to agree on a fair price to get there.  Ah…ok, ok, ok.  It’s a long way back over the river on the big bridge, which at this time of night means no return customer for the driver.

Ok.  Fare is communicated, agreed upon, reassured by eye contact and smiles, all is well.  One more thing, my arm still doesn’t bend enough to put on my helmet and I need help.  I tell them about my accident (mostly in pantomime and a few key words) and then ask the driver to buckle my helmet.  This requires touching…even more than the usual joked-about full-body-hugging hoped for by some xe om drivers.  Xe om, after all, means motorbike hug.

I’m buckled, loaded, my backpack is adjusted, the other drivers wave and say goodbye like we’re all old friends.  Off we go.  It’s exhilarating, actually.  Except for the fact that I have no idea who this guy is and seriously, I’m totally 100% at his mercy.  My arms are holding tight around his wide waist, his pockets wadded up in my fists for something to hold on to.  No one else is around, the streets here are deserted and I am obviously unfamiliar with the area.  But…nah.  This is one reason why I love it here.  I feel safe.

We’re driving on streets that the bus definitely did not take.  He is chattering away in the wind and I’m sorry I can’t understand much of what his deep voice is saying.  We take a little off-road short cut (what?!) and suddenly, we’re on a bridge.  Not the modern 4-lane bridge I came over on.  This is old.  Vintage construct.  It smells wooden.  We slow way down.

  

I probably squeal with surprise and delight.  He grins.  The center of the bridge is train tracks with the side lanes used for motorbikes and shared with pedestrians.  No cars.   There are late-night workers who actually drop below the span when the trains speed by.  And it’s alive with people and movement.  It’s like a festival.  Couples are sitting on burlap-sack blankets, dangling their legs over the sides, groups of friends are laughing, talking, and eating grilled corn and drinking hot tea from the food carts.

This, I find out later, is the Long Biên Bridge.  It is believed that the bridge was designed by Gustave Eiffel, the man behind Eiffel Tower and Statue of Liberty during the French occupation, then built by the Vietnamese using local wood, lime and concrete in 1889-1902.  It was bombed many times in 1967 and 1972 during the American War, and always put back together.  It is a symbol of rebellion, strength and resilience.

The driver was obviously happy to have shared this bridge with me.  We got to the end of the span and we came out in a place I recognized.  I named it for him and he smiled, đúng.  Correct.  We reached the apartment in about 15 more minutes; Doug was sitting on the balcony, watching, and came down.  Hands were shook, I got out my dong to pay and tried to say keep the change.  But no way, he wouldn’t.  An agreement is an agreement and tipping is not part of the culture here.  The ride cost 3$.

Since that night, I’ve read a lot about the Long Biên Bridge.  Today Doug and I went during the day to see it again.  It is indeed falling apart.  I hope preservation is in its future.  There really is nothing like it.

 

There’s Doug, walking westward, way in the distance.

 

Here’s looking south at the other, modern bridge.  The land (called Middle Island) and water underneath this bridge has become the home of Hanoi’s destitute.  Makeshift homes and shelters are appearing as people get pushed out of the city as the economy burgeons.  There is also a thriving nude beach area for health conscious locals, who bicycle down to swim, relax, meditate and practice yoga.

 

One of the pig (or boar) farms under the bridge.  See the little one nestled between the 2 center sleepers?

 

I had hoped to get a shot when the train went by, but maybe it was better to miss that.  Just walking on the bridge was a little unnerving due to the constant vibrations, shaking and big gaps and cracks in the concrete pavers.

 

Discovering the bridge at night, the way I did, was the perfect introduction.  A little mistake that turned out not too bad after all.

 

(These videos are visible only if you view the post from the website, not from the emailed version.)

Doug on the Long Biên Bridge

Drone fly-over of Long Biên Bridge

Pullin’ the Skiff by Ora Dell Graham

Solstice

It’s here.  The shortest day of the year.    A few thoughts:

Living here with our ingrained western perspectives in a fairly unrestricted eastern country continues to challenge our ideals and beliefs.  That, combined with the disastrous political changes taking place in the US and around the world, plus understanding the pending climate disasters that will befall us sooner than we expect…gak.  We should be depressed.  Sometimes we are. But life goes on and the gratitude meter reads high.  Life really is the little things.  Here are some of our daily little things.

We have teeny weeny tiny ants that live with us.  They are unnoticeable until they move.  Sometimes they remind us of the scope and breadth of life on this planet.  Other times they remind us to not leave food out on the counter.

New noodle discovery  ON OUR BLOCK called Ngu Xa style.  Hot oil, batter, noodles and egg are involved.  We also stumbled upon banh tom (shrimp and sweet potato fritters) and fried swan (meaty white duck) with lemongrass.  3 blocks away!

Together we bought a cheap motorbike (Yamaha) then discovered it’s a money pit.  It is for sale.  We are now renting a Honda.

Beth continues teaching English to a class of 13 year old teens.  They are not accustomed to adults asking them about their feelings, so of course that’s how each class starts.  They like it and even the shy quiet ones are finding their voices.

There are still things we absolutely do not understand.  Like midnight fishing.  A small, mysterious group of men and women appear about 1am with boats, bins and a large net.  They pull in hundreds and hundreds of fish, toss back a few live ones, then cart them all away on motorbikes and evacuate the area at 5:30am, when the morning loudspeakers start playing music. Who are they?  What do they do with the fish?

Doug should be receiving an advanced degree for all the climate change research he’s been doing.

Beth’s primary transportation is một chiếc xe đạp.  A bicycle.  She’s recuperating after experiencing a Hanoian rite-of-passage.  An accident.  One evening, bike, body and a slow-moving swarm of motorbikes collided at a ginormous intersection.  It could’ve been a lot worse than it was.  The bruises are amazing.  (Direct hit to elbow and knee, bones intact, cartilage…not so much.)  She is looking forward to being able to touch her nose once again.  A human element to that story:  the swarm included a group of singers returning from rehearsal.  They helped clear the mess and stayed until help arrived.  And serenaded her with love songs filled with grandiose passion.

Buses work well and cost 7000 VND (30 cents) per trip. If your arm is in a sling, the bus attendant will yell at someone to move and make a seat available.

While walking around the city, sometimes it smells so bad that we can’t inhale.  The beautiful aroma of a bloom emerges.  The balance between the two is astounding.  And instantaneous.  Sometimes life here feels like that.  Contrasting and alive, changing in an instant.  Dynamic, scary and invigorating.

Mận.  Our newest fruit.  Called a plum here.  Called a water apple in other places.  Gorgeous red, looks almost like a red pepper.  Crisp, tart, sweet and crunchy.

We often get stared at.  Not because we’re white. Because we’re old, and together in public.  Yesterday we were informed by the banh mi shop owner that we were the cutest old couple he’s ever seen.  He sat down with us to explain that we give him hope.  He’s been married 10 years and thinks life is hard, so seeing happy old people warms his heart.  Then he dragged his mom out to meet us too.

These interactions warm our hearts, too.  The human connection is not trivial.  As for juggling between the eastern and western cultures?  Pick and choose from both.

Thanks for being our friends.  You matter to us.

Happy Solstice, with love.

 

Music sharing with another musician.  The smile says it all.

 

 

 

 

Tailored

After one week back in the city we wanted (needed!) some beach time.  This coincided with our friend’s existing plan to visit An Bang Beach and Hoi An.  Off we went together.  An hour-long flight got us from Hanoi to Da Nang City.  This sprawling city, 3rd largest in Vietnam, is situated on an expansive beach.  This is looking north.  See Lady Buddha in the distance?  At 220 feet tall, she’s the tallest buddha statue in Vietnam.

da-nang-city-north

Flying in to Da Nang was emotional.  I couldn’t NOT think about the American War (called the Vietnam War by the US).  This was the major air base for the US and the South Vietnamese air forces.  On average, there were more than 2500 air traffic operations every day during that war.  That’s something every 3 seconds.  This area (called China Beach, but only by the US) is where US troops were sent to relax.

Looking south.  Our destination, is 15 miles down the coast.  And yes, all that water is warm and swimmable.

Da Nang City beach

 

Before leaving Da Nang we met up with a friend at a fancy bar on top of a fancy hotel with a fancy infinity pool.

infinity pool A La Carte DaNang – Version 2

 

An Bang beach is a traditional fishing village that is on the brink of change.   Guest house and restaurant/cafe construction is booming as tourists (from inside and outside Vietnam) opt for beach vacations.  We stayed at a friend’s 4-room inn.  Quiet, close to the beach, and relaxing.

 

First, Doug needed something to swim in.

trouser swimming

 

The beach 2 blocks from our inn.  Yes, the water was heavenly.  Yes, that’s us out there .  And a local fishing boat.

an bang boat douglas beth

 

An Bang beach is 5 minutes away from a UNESCO world heritage site called Hoi An.  This beautiful port city is loaded with old buildings, canals, temples, and has become known for paper lanterns that light the walkways at night.  Tourists visit Hoi An in droves.  And then they shop.  10 years ago, there were 20 tailors in town who could make you anything.  Today, there are over 650.  It’s hard to keep track, because as soon as someone gets reviewed on Trip Advisor, another new business opens up next door using the same name.  Anyone who speaks a little English can open up a tailor front, so things change fast.  Did we know this before we went there?  No.  But that’s ok.  We gave ourselves a day of shopping and just dove in.

This is a typical tailor’s shop.  They will copy any clothing item you want, or create for you whatever you desire.

tailor shop hoi an

 

She took all the measurements, then he created 2 pairs of linen pants, using my favorite pants as a pattern. $20 each.

tailor

 

child seatThat was fun.  We sat down on a stair step to rest and observe things, like baby seats on motorbikes like this one.

Then, before we knew it, we were in the “tailor hustle”.  A friendly young woman struck up a conversation.  Soon, she locked arms with us, friendly chatter turned into telling us about her sister’s shop, then she was dragging us to “just look”.  Sure, why not.  After getting tugged through a maze of shops in a cavernous marketplace, we arrive at number 46.  The iPads come out, latest fashions were flipped through, measuring tapes waiting, with fabrics stacked all around.  You need? Come on!  A new shirt?  Pants?   Dress?  My eyes lingered on some photos of linen tops and boom, I was hooked and the 4 personable women standing around us knew it.  Sure, why not.  While I was being bombarded, Doug was, too.  Of course he needs a new shirt and how about some shorts, too?  We stopped for a moment to breath and talk about what was happening (we truly could just say thanks and leave) but we thought, why not?  It’s their livelihood and we really did need some clothes.

tailors

We made our choices, and picked the fabrics (linen!).  One person quickly drew the designs in a notebook while 2 others measured us and chanted out the numbers.  We were told to come back in 5 hours for a fitting.  Here’s my one (blurry) photo of the indoor tailor shops.

We returned, tried on the clothes, adjustments were made for fit, and we were sent away for a few more hours and the clothes were motorbiked back to the sewing center outside town.  At the end of the day, we had new shirts, shorts and a simple dress.  And an understanding that if we really want perfectly fitting clothes, we should spend a lot of time (3 fittings instead of 1), find someone of our own choosing, and avoid the “touts” and commission buying that we were tugged in to.  All in all, it was a good day, we practiced our Vietnamese and we helped the economy in Hoi An just a little.  And one of the shirts is my new favorite.

 

Hoi An is both peaceful and bustling.   Authentic wooden architecture from the 15th century, a structural and cultural mashup with Chinese, Japanese, French and Vietnamese influences.  Temples, pagodas, humble inns and now large, modern hotels are there, too.  A little bit of everything.

Hoi An canal

 

Baskets of pasta drying in the afternoon sun.

noodles

 

Fishing boats line the canal.

boats

 

Incense and alters are everywhere.

horses incense

 

Doug and Douglas along the canal.  Probably discussing politics.

Dougs

 

Temple courtyard looking out at the street and the wires, which we don’t even notice anymore.

temple wires

 

Back to An Bang Garden Inn, the hammock, fruit for breakfast, and best of all, wave-diving at the beach.

An Bang Garden

garden

breakfast fruit plate

an bang beach with chairs

 

Hoi An Tailoring insight

…summertime and the livin’ is (was) easy…

We are back in our lovely little apartment in Hanoi.

True Bach apartment

Autumn is racing in, dragging the temperatures down to 85-90 degrees F.  We’ve adjusted our days so that we rise early, return home by 1:00 pm, siesta (play music, study Vietnamese, obsess about climate change, try not to succumb to the US political mania), then back out after 6:00pm to scour the city for food and drink, soaking it all in as we go.

We want to share a little about our summer on Lopez Island.  This count-down is as close to an annual Christmas letter as we’ll ever get.

 

#5  Upon returning to the US, Beth visited Whistler Mountain in the Canadian Rockies for a week with Kathi.  This beautiful distraction was the ideal immersion back into western civilization.  Fresh air, blue skies and endless people-watching.  A remarkable contrast to Hanoi.

Whistler gondola

Whistler Rendezvous

Whistler Peak to Peak

 

#4  The future is bright in our single-wide because we

  • can now wash laundry  (dug a dry-well and carted up a billion rocks from the beach to fill it)
  • repaired the washing machine by taming the agitator dogs and motor coupling (thanks, youtube)
  • re-caulked, re-hinged, repaired, painted, planted and toiled
  • finally moved mini-moby (after 30+ years)

pull mini moby  passing  push it      mini moby

  • continued the repairs (thanks, Alex) after a march windstorm deposited a tree on Moby
  • now have free firewood (thanks, windstorm)

timberrr     tree

 

#3  We started building something.  It’s going to be a 16′ x 20′ shared studio.

Had gigantic stumps removed, hand-dug trenches for underground utility lines and holes for 12 pier blocks.  Materials arrived.  Hard to imagine this orderly load of lumber can become our shop.

img_6510              wood

 

Dug.  Swore.  Leveled.  Tamped.  Leveled.  Untamped.  Shoveled.  Leveled.

img_6554       img_6556 img_6570

 

Lured friends over to help when possible.  Labor day.  Heh heh.

floor   floor

 

Later there will be two windows in the east side and two windows in the west side.

img_6606

 

South facing front will also have two windows.  Scored two fire-proof dutch doors from a neighboring job site for free.

img_6619

 

It’s starting to look like a saloon.  Slanted shed roof.  Ideal for collecting water.

front rafters

 

Battened down for the winter, awaiting plywood sheathing and a new metal roof.

almost a shop

 

#2  Family and friends came to visit.

lopez-island-campfiretrio

grand

Doug Cary seestor-and-fam

We ate from the local bounty, and played music as often as possible.  Lopez has a lively music scene.

oyster dinner

come back crabby lady

img_6378     3 crabbies

 

#1  Annie, the reason we came back early.

She died August 8, the day before her 11th birthday.  She taught us a lot over the summer.  Slow down, take long walks, don’t hurry.  Do what you want.  Don’t do what you don’t want to do.  Listen to the birds.  Relax when the opportunity appears.  Play music.  Sing.  Stretch out on the couch.

annie couch

low tide annie

doug-annie

 

Thank you all so much for the visits and help over the summer.

thanks

Now think about a visit to Vietnam!

tile-and-door

Ethno – Tourism

Ta Van

If you visit Vietnam, you will be told to visit SaPa. To see the endless natural beauty, to rejuvenate yourself via the fresh air, to hike through the local villages, experience the sounds and smells of this unique landscape, and to explore new cultures.  Of Vietnam’s 54 ethnic minority groups, there are 9 in this area alone.  This breath-taking mountainous area 380 km northwest of Hanoi is near the Chinese border, and can now be accessed by the newly completed toll-highway.  6 hours of driving.  1600 m (5250 ft) high.  The SaPa District has about 55,000 people;   over 50% Hmong, 25% Dao, and 10% Viet Kinh (lowland Vietnamese), the balance Tay, Giay, Thai, Muong, Hua and Xa Pho.

sapa from Dave's

Brochure sunrise photo (above) of the terraced rice fields.   Starting in May, there is only one rice crop planted per year due to the high elevation weather conditions.  As early as possible, seeds are sewn in the lowest beds, then when the weather is warmer and the upper beds have been prepared and flooded, the seedlings are transplanted.

 

Second brochure photo (below) taken in early summer, of a mother and daughter (Black Hmong) walking and working along the growing rice.  We’re told these fields are brilliant shades of yellow and green beginning in July, until the harvest which starts in September.  We are hoping to visit again the end of August.  Join us.

SaPa from muonghoa

 

The true original inhabitants are unknown, but left rock carvings thousands of years old.  Over time, land has been illegally taken, villages bombed, indigenous peoples forced out, and repeatedly resettled by invaders. From the 1920s-1950s the French built villas and used the area as a hill-station, which is a resort area in the mountains created specifically to escape the seasonal lowland heat.  After they were ousted, many ethnic minority tribes returned from China, Laos and Thailand, using SaPa as a meeting and market location.   Sa means sand, pa means village so SaPa loosely translates as the place to trade goods and services.  Agricultural collectives were offered in the 1970s-1980s by the government.   After that, collectives were scaled back, perennial crops were encouraged and land rights were doled out.  In 1993 the first foreign tourists (since the French overthrow) were allowed up there.

Sapa

 

In February, we had the chance to hitch a ride up with an agency car that was going to SaPa to fetch clients, and we wanted to get out of dodge.  The landscape became rural as soon as we left Hanoi.  It was misty and overcast, strikingly, like the Pacific NW.  Except for the rice fields, the water buffalo and the palm trees.  These low-land rice fields were recently flooded and readied for seedling transplants, the first of 3 annual rotations.  Here’s the scene from the car outside of Hanoi. When we came back through here the following week, all the fields had been planted.

north of Hanoi

 

The final 60 kms from Lao Cai to SaPa is narrow, twisty and congested.  Crazy commute to school.

Lao Cai to SaPa

 

SaPa bustles.  Hotels, restaurants, schools, banks, bakeries, North Face outfitters, massagers, trekking companies, hardware stores, auto shops.   You name it.  The trick is to try and find what’s locally owned.  Responsible tourism can be hard work but is essential.

Sa Pa Town

 

Our morning phổ restaurant in SaPa.

SaPa pho house

 

Local Red Dao women, our talking companions on the edge of SaPa.

Beth Doug S and S Red Dau – Version 2

 

Near Lai Chao.  See the 2 people walking up the terraced hill?

 

hill climb

 

Mama Lili, a trekking guide and homestay provider, with her phone number.  We are the same age.  We shared stories and entertained each other using pantomime, truncated English, and Hmong.  Ua tsaug (wa chow) means thank-you.

Mama Lili

 

The villages are all connected by hiking trails.  Passes are purchased before entering the villages.  The foot bridge in the center was built by a neighboring Dao family.  They charge 5,000 VND per person (US 25 cents) to use it.  When it’s warm enough, locals avoid the fee and wade across instead.

outside TaVan

 

Take the time to hire a local guide and directly support the local economy.  We were lucky to connect with Zu, the best guide ever (on the left).  She spent the day with us, made us lunch at her house, and answered (and asked) more questions than you can imagine.  She is Black Hmong, and lives in Seo Mi Ty, her husband’s village. While taking a break, we ran into her sister, who lives in a different village and was passing through.

Zu and Sister

 

This is Doug’s hiking helper, Mai.  We all had someone to help us navigate through the mud and over the steep terraces.

Doug and his helper

 

Family photo.  Jenny and Steve came to visit from Seattle!

family photo outside TaVan

 

Ubiquitous water buffalo.

water buffalo outside TaVan

 

We had lunch at Zu’s home.  Yes, that’s a sharp machete and a (skilled) 5-year-old.

machete and dishes

 

Corn grinder at Zu’s house.  She says they grind corn every day.

Version 2

 

Jenny gets a corn grinding lesson from Zu.

(This video is visible only if you view the post from the website, not from the emailed version.)

 

Here come the kids, running up the path and yelling something we never figured out.

here they come

 

Animals roam the villages.

pigs

 

The pig pack followed us for a while.

pigs

 

Surprise meeting on the road with friends we had met the previous day in town, 20 km away.  Ma is due in one month, and explained how her husband will help deliver the baby.  It was hard to say goodbye.

Mama on road

 

Ma’s village, down the hill and up the ridge.

Ma's village

 

Congestion at an intersection outside the village of Lai Chau.

bus scooters cars

 

Bamboo and ankles.

bamboo road Doug

 

Bottle section of a barn wall in Ta Van.

barn wall in Ta Van

 

The mountains outside SaPa were cloud-covered and hidden except for this brief moment.

mountain sighting

 

Making a note of the hotel in the foreground to check the prices.  EcoPalms Hotel.  $115 US/night.

Ối Giời Ơi !  Expensive.  Still trying to find out who owns it and where the money goes.

beth hotel notes

 

I would love to live and work here.  These state schools are all painted yellow.  Why?

school near Bac Ha

 

I spy water buffalo grazing, slash pile burning, brush clearing by hand, and a horse.

I spy

 

Watching, as we walked by a Flower Hmong village, outside Bac Ha.

watching

 

30 minute walk north of Bac Ha.

Bac Ha

 

Buy from me!  Seriously, we could’ve talked for hours with these 2 young women.

SaPa

 

Her mother told us about this sweet baby’s ear piercing ceremony at birth.

Kim's baby

 

Mooo.

cows

 

Something is in the air.

cat

SaPa and the surrounding area is magical.  And complicated.  Responsible tourism is hard to recognize here.  It’s a free-for-all.  The new road will bring even more people, expanding the impact with no end in sight.  Of course there is a move towards reviewing current social and economic development plans but there are so many conflicting factors and obstacles.  New construction is booming and there’s even a cable-car to the top of Fansipan Mt, above SaPa, that just opened in February.  It’s imperative that growth occurs in conjunction and cooperation with the local people, so that their rights, customs and privacy can be maintained and not exploited and their livelihood be preserved.  SaPa O’Chao is a social enterprise organization that I hope to spend some time with in the future, and I’m looking for others.  We’ll keep you posted.

 

Hunger makes a great sauce, quotes Doug, religiously.

hot steam   Doug steam

 

Sa Pa The Beauty That Has Turned Beast

Here’s a blog with descriptions and photos of the different tribes in the North part of Vietnam.

Annie, an original Red Dog

Annie 1

Life is full of ups and downs.  We are experiencing one of those “downs”.  Our sweet dog Annie has been diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a nasty, aggressive and painful bone cancer.  It’s in her front wrist.  She is responding well to her pain regime, so she continues to be her charming, energetic self.

We will be back in Seattle on March 20, staying at various  friends’ homes, with Annie.  We’re looking forward to lots of couch time, treats, and an abundance of dog love.  She and we will welcome visitors.

We’re so grateful she is in good hands right now and we look forward to seeing her soon.  We couldn’t do this alone.

 

IMG_3706

 

Annie rock star