Chuck Hillig's Travel Blog

Well, I'm going to be doing a lot of traveling over the next 6-7 months so I thought that I'd better re-activate my travel blog. The last time I posted anything here was way back in 2006 when I was traveling through SE Asia. Feel free to read my entries back then about my earlier adventures through India,Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, the Philippines and Hong Kong. This time (at least for the next six weeks), I'll be traveling through Greece and Turkey.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Taking the train to Sapa...

On Wednesday evening, I hitched a ride on the back of a motorbike over to the train station in Hanoi to catch the overnight train up to Sapa, a beautiful and mountainous area northwest of the city. I just took a daypack and left my much- larger backpack at the hotel. The first class compartment on the train consisted of two bunkbeds, individual lights, blankets, pillows, etc. I shared the rather crowded space with two men and a woman...none of whom spoke English. No worries. By the time the train left at 10 P.M., I was kicking back with my iPod and quickly drifted off to sleep. By 6 A.M., we were pulling into the train station where the tourists get their vans and buses for the 25 mile ride up the mountain to Sapa. Many of the people in this region dress in very traditional and colorful clothes that reminded me of how the people dressed in Guatemala. Sapa is only (I think) about 20 miles from China and so the people around here look like a mixture of Vietnamese, Chinese and definitely a strong Tibetan influence. Very beautiful and dignified. According to one of the guides, the Vietnam war left this area mostly untouched as it apparently had no strategic value back then. Sapa was bigger than I had expected it to be and there are many tourists hotels and cafes around with full access to the internet. Unlike Hanoi, the kids up here easily approach the western tourists and try to persuade them to buy some of their handiwork. Many of the kids wanted to practice their English on me and some of them pulled me over to the nearest internet cafe to have me help them write better English to some of the westerners that had come through the town earlier. Amazingly, many of these kids had already established email addresses through yahoo or hotmail. Most of these young girls (ages 8-14) were all dressed in a similar kind of school uniform. Their English was certainly passable and you could tell that they had spent a lot of time interacting with the tourists. Surprisingly, I saw no boys hawking stuff on the street and, when I asked the girls where they were, they indicated that the boys mostly had to stay at home working with their parents. So it seems that, around here, the boys are handling the family goats and water buffalo, while the girls are on the internet and learning English. In the afternoon, I took a 3.5 hour trek with two Kiwis and a Buddhist monk. The local guide took us down a path to a waterfall in one of the canyons. The guide said that the elevation of the town was about 1500 meters, and, although it is hot during the afternoon, the temperature drops quickly as soon as the evening mists showed up about 5 P.M. I've got an excellent corner room at the Grand View Hotel that looks out onto the green-covered peaks surrounding the town itself. Many of the hillsides around here are farmed by terracing the areas in order to make the best use of the available land. I'm going to head off on a 6-hour trek tomorrow morning and then catch the overnight train back to Hanoi. More later...

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