... and this is where it started going wrong...

Trip Start Sep 09, 2011
Trip End Jun 29, 2012

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Flag of Vietnam  ,
Thursday, November 10, 2011

Sapa… don't really know where to begin with this… we had a bit of a disastrous trip sadly, starting with us being given the wrong tickets for our train and leaving much later than planned; my phone being stolen; the itinerary being TOTALLY different to what we had paid for; the hotel being in the middle of renovation; and ending with our tour guide disappearing on the last day so having to find our own way back to the town and to our hotel!

This is all a real shame, because Sapa itself is incredibly beautiful. It has also sadly become a hugely commercial tourist trap

On the first day we hiked through the Muong Hoa Valley, looking at staggered rice paddies and a fast running river over the rocky valley below, heading down small trails to the Ylinho Village. The Black H’mong tribe live here, and we were in fact accompanied for the whole trip by a host of H’mong women. One of them had the most adorable baby, 'La-La.’ They all seemed to have very short names, only one or two syllables.

We carried on down to Lao Chai village and had lunch in a strange sort of dining hall near the Muong Hoa River. And this is where sadly we started to really experience the horror of mass-selling Sapa… while we ate Black H’Mong women descended like vultures trying to sell jewellery, crafts, fabric… anything and everything really. They were very pushy and very intrusive, and it was really unpleasant. This was something that was repeated for the duration of our time in Sapa, even beginning again while we ate breakfast at the home stay. There were even little toddlers coming up to you with friendship bracelets to sell.

We carried on to Ta Van village and en-route we did visit this really lovely school. Apparently the Japanese Government had funded it entirely (not sure why really?!) and it was really bright and clean.

The home stay was very basic, freezing cold, and the sink wasn’t actually connected with a pipe to the wall, so when you ran the taps the water fell through the plughole and splashed onto your feet. It was also kind of cute though, and after I had had a little cry about the loss of my phone, I really enjoyed hanging out with the other people on the tour, playing drinking games with a deck of cards, and necking ‘happy water’ (rice wine… at least that’s what our guide assured us it was).

The group of people was nice, and one of the guys Julien, who was from Switzerland, was a big Eddie Izzard fan, so shared lots of impressions with me. He was in Vietnam as part of a placement for his degree. He was training to be nurse and working in a regional hospital near Saigon. He had been helping in a maternity unit and told us all about it over lunch… not necessarily the best time to talk us through the kind of stuff that goes on there.

They very rarely give painkillers to pregnant women in this hospital, and if they need to ‘cut’ the mother to help get the baby’s head out, and she cries then they generally just shout at her to stop being weak and to be quiet. He had also seen them frequently use the umbilical cord of the born baby to pull the placenta out of the mother. This placenta was then dropped into a basket which had other placenta’s in from earlier in the day!

He also told us that you have to pay for all medical care in Vietnam, and that there had been a man who came in after a motorbike accident with his arm hanging off, but that they refused to treat him because he could not pay for treatment.

Once we were back at the hotel, I was feeling pretty dejected with both loss of phone and the fact that the tour was so different to what we had been promised. Bec and I stayed in and watched TV in the hotel room and eating chocolate to cheer up. Sadly the film we managed to find was Pulse 3. Now, I have seen some really bad films, but this was categorically, the WORST of them all. I cannot stress to you enough how poor it really was. Do. Not. Watch. This. Film… Seriously.

We were fairly optimistic for our final day in Sapa, but sadly it was not great. We were taken by a new guide to Cat Cat village, which seems to be actually established specifically for tourists, and almost exclusively made of shops. Then as we were walking back up a long steep hill back towards Sapa our tour guide just disappeared. She had seemed bored and disinterested since we’d met her, so I think she just got a lift back. Not exactly the best tour we have been on.

Wandering back into town was actually quite nice though. The market was on… yet more BUYING… but there were parts of the town that were quieter, including the only Catholic church in the region, which had some really interesting stain glass windows.

That evening we were headed back towards the train station, hoping that Hue, the next stop for us, would be a fresh start.
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