Over Hill, Over Dale, Over the Mountain Pass We Go

Trip Start Feb 17, 2013
Trip End Mar 21, 2013

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Flag of Vietnam  ,
Thursday, March 14, 2013

Our little hotel in Lai Chau turned out to be a nice little place.  Poorly managed, as are most hotels in the old "North Vietnam."  The graduates of the schools of hotel management haven't arrived at the hotels up north.  Here in Sapa they have gotten the idea, more or less.  In Hanoi they are starting to get the idea, but in the rural areas where we have been this week, they are clueless.  While the country grows and grows, what is already here seems to have no plan for maintaining standards, so the past three nights we have stayed in hotels that were once very nice but are now going downhill.  

Our little place in Lai Chau, though mismanaged, was clean and had all of the requirements of a three star hotel.  To get service, it seems necessary to stand around and yell, whistle, or wave until someone in authority can make a decision.  Then it gets done -- if they understood you.  English in the big cities and, of course, down south, is spoken and understood everywhere.  Here in the northwest of the country (except Sapa), English is not a language of familiarity.  If you are not good at charades, you are screwed.

After a confused but decent continental breakfast we were off this morning.  The drive was about 100 kilometers of nearly decent roads and one major pass to climb.  Every day here has been an adventure, and today did not disappoint.

As we passed through the town of Tam Duong, our driver got pulled over by the police.  First, let me explain how you get pulled over.  They have no police cars here.  Mostly they drive little pickup vans that couldn't run down a water buffalo if the trucks were empty.  There are usually two or four cops in tan colored uniforms, with batons about 24", who run out in the street waving and pointing.  You DO stop!  Now, the reason they pull you over is really of no importance because it is bogus anyway.  It's an old fashioned shakedown.  They keep asking for something until you finally strike out.  In this case, the policeman wanted the contract that this car company had to take foreigners around the country.  The documents are probably in some drawer in Hanoi.  In any event, the goal is harassment and then a payoff. This is a Socialist Democratic Republic.  Years ago they forgot what socialism was, they never were democratic, and couldn't figure out what a republic is if they had a dictionary.  It is a good ol' corrupt dictatorship by committee.  It doesn't take long here to figure out that it is corrupt from the top to the bottom.  

Dayna's note:  Vietnam is Communist -- The Communist Party is all there is.  The citizens vote, but every person on the ballot is of the same party -- Communist -- so they all think alike and there really is no choice.  I asked one of our Hanoi Kids and that was the answer.

After sitting on the side of the road and watching other cars with "out of state plates" getting pulled over for more dubious reasons, we were finally released.  As they say here, Ho Chi Minh had a talk with the police and corrected the error.  By the way, Uncle Ho is on all of the currency.  About $50 later, we were on our way and the boys in tan colored suits were starting the day off right.  Just our bad luck, according to one who should know.  Another check mark on our Adventure List.

The rest of the trip was almost a letdown.  We stopped at a pretty little waterfall -- Silver Waterfall.  It probably really rolls in the wet season but not this time of year.  However, it does give the local Hmong a place to peddle their wares.  Previous to this stop was a trip over Tram Ton Pass.  At about 6,000', it is Vietnam's highest pass.  Before we got to the pass it was pleasant and sunny, after we passed over, it was cool, cloudy and misty which is what the weather has been in Sapa since we arrived..

By noon we were checking into our hotel, the Sapa Elegance Hotel.  It is a very nice three star hotel with a nice view down onto the town square, with the mountains in the background. We will be happy here for the next two nights.

We had this afternoon to ourselves so we explored the town, found a nice little place for lunch, and enjoyed the afternoon shopping for nothing in particular.

This evening we succumbed to our taste buds and found a place that served pretty good pizza and beer.  A pretty good day! 

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