Sa Pa

Trip Start May 16, 2005
Trip End Nov 01, 2006

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Sunday, August 14, 2005

Following an overnight train journey that involved a shared cabin with an oderous Frenchman, it was great to disembark into the relative cool of the station. A short (but hair-raising) bus journey later and we had arrived in the former French hill station of Sa Pa, a place famed for its excellent trekking. The region is also home to a large number of minority peoples, many of whom act as tour guides. Our guide was a fifteen-year old girl called Ly Ly. Dressed in the traditional attire of the M'Hong people complete with velvet leggings and flip flops, she certainly looked the part. But looks can be deceptive and this was certainly no country-girl, unfamiliar with the trapings of modern life. Quite the opposite in fact. This charismaic, dimiunative youngster's spoken english was excellent if unconventional as Ly Ly didn't speak the way normal guides speak. The reason for this was simple - Ly Ly had learnt all her english from tourists, many of whom are backpackers. The result is a truly unique dialect which would be equally at home on the streets of the Bronx or in the east end of London. Colourful does not really do it justice.

We set off down the valley, through the muddy clay soil, passing water-buffalo, rice paddies and bamboo forests. The going was tough as it had rained constantly for the preceeding three days and people were covered with thick mud.

That afternoon, was one of the funniest that we have enjoyed on our travels. We ran into another small group which was being led by Ly ly's 18 year old friend, So. This double act has to be seen to be believed. The two of them started trading insults at each other but quickly tired of this, prefering instead to pick on Paul, the English bloke on the other tour. I can't really publish the comments on this site but needless to say it hilarious. Two teenage girls, neither of them over 5' tall taking the piss out of a poor tourist. For his part, Paul (or Geeza as they called him) was trying to respond but couldn't really compete on level terms with these masters of street lingo and attitude.

Our home for the evening was a local house complete with bamboo flooring and a lack of obvious walls. Here, Ly Ly and the other guides cooked up one of the best meals that we had in Vietnam, all of it cooked over an open fire and without such luxuries as running water or a kitchen table! After a few beers, we headed to the village pool hall which was cunningly disguised as somebody's livingroom, complete with a bed and interestingly enough, a rice husking machine. The state of the pool table suggested it was left behind by American GIs in the war. For sale was rice wine, served from a dirty old plastic water bottle. Through the doorway we could see the whole village turned out to watch the drunken tourists try to play pool against the local sharks - yep, you guessed it, Ly Ly and So. As we played by obcure local rules and were consistently threatened with death by these ladies with attitude, we were under no illusions that we were dealing with the products of mis-spent youth.

Next day, we visited a waterfall complete with an ideallic swimming hole before heading back up the valley towards Sa Pa. This involved getting motorbikes up the dirt track back to the road - see pictures of what a muddy road in Vietnam looks like! Back in Sa Pa that evening, Ly Ly insisted on more pool and card games where she and her Hmong friends once again proved themselves to be lethal. We listened to the Ipod together and we discovered her tastes ran similar to Sonia's- Venga Boys, Aqua and Brittney, but she also had an especial penchant for singing Boyzone.

On the overnight train ride back to Hanoi we had the misfortune to share our four-berth cabin with a local family of four. They had two obnoxious little girls dressed in green frilly tafetta who were obviously so excited to be on a train that they were literally bouncing off the walls.
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