Sunday, December 22, 2013

Vietnam (pt. 3/4 Sapa): An Excursion Through South East Asia

As we digested the king cobra dinner, we hopped a cab to the train station. We climbed aboard a sleeper train headed  north to the Vietnamese mountains of Sapa. This was my first time riding on a train so I was really looking forward to the experience. The sleeper train is a cool way to travel because departing at night, you fall asleep and when you wake up you're at your destination. The ride was bumpy, the mattresses on the bunk beds were stiff as boards, and we had to share our four bunk cabin with a stranger, but besides those minor inconveniences the ride was painless enough. The train ride lasted about nine hours and once we arrived we took an hour long bus ride out to our hotel.

We had been told there were some really nice waterfalls in the area so after the trek we had lunch and set out to find them. We hired a couple scooters and rode up the mountain side to the spot we had been told about. We followed a trail down to a small water fall accompanied by a swimming hole where other people were already swimming. The water was ice cold but the beating sun dried us off quickly once we climbed out. After swimming around for a while we continued on the trail until we came upon a massive waterfall just over the hill. We snapped a bunch of photos and soaked in the scenery. 

We returned to the hotel to get cleaned up and next was dinner and drinks. We headed down the hill into town to find a massive cultural festival happening that we were, up until that point, totally unaware of. There was easily 100,000 people in attendance celebrating one hundred and ten year aniversary of a now deceased figure head. 

Everywhere on the trip people would approach us to get a photo taken with Bango and this festival was no exception. Hundreds of floats built by children and designed as a competition weaved down the city streets. As we walked through the crowd we were mobbed by people and before we knew it we were absorbed into the parade.

 We were dragged behind one float and after a few minutes of walking behind it the generator that powered the float sputtered out and the float along with the rest of the parade screeched to a halt. In the chaos and celebrity Bango was shoved up to the generator and begged to restart it by its pull chord. The energy through the parade line was really hectic and intense so Bango had no choice but to give it a try. He grabbed the pull chord, placed his foot up on the generator for leverage and began to pull. Bango yanks the chord once, nothing happens. More and more eyes move onto us. He yanks the chord a second time and while movement is heard within the generator it remains lifeless. The anticipation peaks. Bango yanks on the chord a third time and rips the pull chord right out of the generator. A moment of stillness fell across the crowd before the generator sputtered back to life and the crowd lost it. A huge crowd swarmed around us and were hugging and thanking Bango. We partied with the townspeople for a couple more hours and called it a night. What a night. 

The next morning we fueled up with breakfast before embarking on our scheduled 12km trek to another local village. Our guide named Chu was decked out in traditional clothes as she led a group of seven or eight of us through the mountains. The trek wasn't too difficult but the sun was beating down on us the whole time. There was a rice harvest going on while we were there so we got to see how much work goes into collecting and preparing one of the worlds most popular grains. The billion dollar per year rice industry requires lifetime dedication from many.

After a paddy is cleared of rice the ground is scorched and prepared for the next growing cycle. Rice is a main food source as well as the primary income provider. For the people of Sapa and so many other villages around the world, rice equals life.

Bunches of rice stalks are slammed against wooden crates to loosen the grain from the husk

 We stopped for lunch about 8km into the trek. 

 The building we stopped at ran parallel to a river where Jon, Bango, and I noticed some local kids rock jumping from under the bridge into the water.

We scarfed down our food and headed down to the river to join them. The water was great and was just what we needed to cool off before finishing the hike.

Our tireless guide and homegirl Chu in the middle

 We wrapped up at Sapa after the trek and that night caught the sleeper train back to Ha Noi. 

Fun and games with some fellow travelers and new friends on the sleeper train

 We arrived at 5am and waited around the city a few hours until our flight to Ho Chi Minh city. 

Saying goodbye to our friend Tam. Ho Chi Minh, here we come

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