Sapa To
Bac Ha...
Meeting some local villagers.
December 17, 2007

I love Vietnamese overnight trains. Or at least the one that goes from Hanoi to Sapa in the 1st class carriage (which is only $2
more than the level below it so the decision was basically made for me). Pretty dark wood paneling, a bottle of water and a
refresher towel.
And really nice bathrooms at each end of the train carriage. My expectations were nowhere near this level.
What a treat!

Right off the bat I met a Canadian girl, Christine, while on our bus ride up to Sapa from the train station. Upon arriving to Sapa,
I now had a roommate and travel buddy for the day.

After relaxing and getting a nice start to the day at an oh-so-wonderful café called ‘Baguette and Chocolat’ (what’s not to love
about this place, right?), we found motorbike drivers to take us around to different areas. We walked up to a waterfall and then
got taken to a place called ‘Heaven’s Gate’. Quite an appropriate name as we were in the middle of the clouds and couldn’t see
a thing. About ten minutes into our time there the sun burned enough off to give us glimpses of the roads and mountains. And
just a few minutes later everything was invisible again. Time to get back on those motorbikes and make our way down. We
drove through town en route to see some of the rice terraces and villages. At first the villagers all seemed so sweet and happy
to see us. But then common sense kicked in and this ‘kindness’ was all because they were seeing us as walking dollar signs.
After the same questions we have been getting from everyone (What’s your name? How old are you? How many sisters and
brothers do you have?), we were now being shown handicrafts to buy and having to ‘pinky swear’ with them that we would
buy from them when we decided to buy. We decided to end our motorbike sightseeing at this point – even though it was only a
few minutes, we were already done being hassled by the villagers. We got back and now even our motorbike drivers were
trying to scam us out of money by telling us we needed to pay for ‘tickets’ on the road that we were just on. What a crock. We
just used their services for
half of the time we paid for and they are still trying to get more money out of us. The nerve.

But one thing was for sure: the scenery up here is incredible. There’s something so alluring about the patterns the rice terraces
make and seeing them from overhead. For this, it was worth tolerating the annoying nature of some of the people.

We went to grab a glass of wine tonight and the older village women were some of the most annoying touts I have been face-to-
face with. Even after saying ‘no’ ten times and then ignoring them, they would
still try to persist.

So it was official – tourism has arrived here and to sickening levels.

December 18, 2007


After breakfast today, we decided to get the heck out of dodge. We had discussed this last night – and now I knew that was
what we would do as nothing was seeming appealing about this place at this moment – touts were already on the prowl and the
sights of internet cafes and Italian restaurants were far from the scenery I wanted to spend the next two days in. And to top it
off, the landscape was invisible with all of the fog and cloud cover.

So we went to Lao Cai and then hopped on a bus to Bac Ha – a place that Christine’s Lonely Planet had some pleasant things to
say about.

We arrived and were swept to a guesthouse from a woman who came up to us. As luck would have it, this place was also
recommended in Christine’s LP. It said it was clean and friendly. We were down.

Right off the bat, one thing was obvious. Bac Ha was the anti-Sapa. No cute ‘Baguette and Chocolat’ type of cafes (hell, no cafes
at all). No Western food. No souvenir/handicraft shops. No English anywhere.

What Bac Ha
did consist of were people warmly and sincerely smiling at us and saying ‘hello’, locals buying their produce and
meats from other locals (unfortunately, dog was on the menu – luckily it was only Christine that saw it as I happened to be
looking in another direction), small horses carting men and their goods from one end of town to the other, towers on a hill
where the town/country radio was being broadcasted from, stores selling only necessity-like things (sadly for us, m&m’s and
other chocolate bars weren’t seen as necessities), beautiful mountains and terraces surrounding the town and little kiddies
either at school or coming home from school.

But there was a lot of construction being done. Does that mean that it’s only a matter of time before Bac Ha becomes a smaller
version of Sapa? My hunch tells me ‘yes’. The one hopeful thing here was that school seems to be an important part of kids
lives whereas in Sapa the kids lives seem more revolved around acting as touts.

We walked around for a bit and now we are going to head off to dinner. We will definitely be limited by our options. But
hey…when in Vietnam, there’s at least always pho on the menu.

December 19, 2007


I couldn’t even journal last night. I wanted to. Hell, we got back to our room around 8:30pm – though it felt like it was 11:
00pm. But I opened my computer and was loading it up when Christine let out an “Oh my God!” She was almost laughing a bit
when she said it so it didn’t really startle me. But then she pointed to a spot that was two inches away from where I would put
my head on my bed and said “Is that a spider?”

And I have to say…maybe it’s because I’m quite a girl at heart…that this thing constituted as more than a spider. Any time
you have to ask yourself at what point a spider is no longer a spider and might possibly be a tarantula, well, it’s not a really
good feeling. Christine shocked me when she said “Well, I guess we’ll have to kill it.” And then I shocked her when I looked at
her as if she was crazy and practically ran out of the room and said we could have one of the owners of the guesthouse tend to
removing our unwanted roommate. After doing a combination of charades and drawing a picture of a spider, the sweet
Vietnamese man came up to our room with a smile. He smooshed the thing in between the window and curtains. He laughed as
he tried to put the dead spider in front of our faces. I literally ran away from the man. I wonder how many other arachnid
homicides have taken place in here. I was actually thinking of my friend Lori and how she would have freaked out and would
have been fighting for the spider’s life even though she would want it the hell out of the room. As for me, I’m not a big ‘spider
rights’ kind of girl – so its death made me feel a bit safer. That is until Christine started joking around that maybe it had laid
eggs in our room. That didn’t really give me the confidence I needed to shut my eyes for the night. The mosquito nets became
our safe havens to protect us against any other future massive spiders that might be lurking around. I was trying to pretend
that it would be impossible for a spider to crawl underneath a net.

Then for four hours I tried to resist the urge to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. But I finally had to arise because
now not only was I not able to sleep because I kept feeling things on my body (ahhhh, the joys of paranoia), I also couldn’t
sleep because I had to pee.

So much for the ‘clean’ place that the LP recommended, huh? (I say this mostly because of the abundance of cobwebs on the
windows as I understand a spider incident could be likely to happen anywhere.)

But now it’s the morning. And I got through the night. I was awoken by the government radio type-of-thing that blares
throughout this town starting at 6am and finishing at 7am. We only wish we knew what kind of new (i.e. propaganda) was
being told to the people. How incredible (yet bizarre) is it to see this part of a country? Definitely doesn’t exist in places like
Mui Ne, Hoi An and Sapa!

Anyway, I need to stop typing. I can’t wait to get outside just to get out of this dank room.

I will write more about Bac Ha after we get back since, as of right now, my only account has been of that freakin’ spider.


We are now back in Lao Cai waiting for a while before it’s time to get on our overnight train back to Hanoi. Now I have time to
write more about Bac Ha.

Our bus ride was pretty non-eventful (if you don’t include the transport of porcelain squatters toilets and a motorbike that our
rickety bright pink bus was doing…and the delay while we waited for about 45 minutes while a tractor moved a pile of dirt and
rocks from one side of the road to the other…and the squawking chickens).

While I wouldn’t be able to spend much time up there, I was happy that my last stop in Vietnam would have me experience a
true Vietnam town. There’s something to be said that while eating dinner, instead of locals shoving their bangle bracelets in
your face to buy them they were giving us their babies to hold and play with.

Time to play a bit more gin rummy with Christine before heading on that overnight train…
Back to Vietnam.
The terraces in the hills of Sapa.
In Bac Ha.