macado's se asia adventure I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.

2Sep/060

The most beautiful place on earth – Sapa

After being in Sapa for only 2 days I have to say it is probably one of my favorite places in all of Southeast Asia and possibly one of the most beautiful places in the world.  Every view (even from my hotel) looks like it should be on the front of a postcard.  Besides some of the Thai islands, and Angkor Wat, it was definitely the most enjoyable experience so far since I've been traveling and honestly, that says a lot..

While I was in Hanoi, I booked the package tour through my hotel which includes hotel, all means, train and bus transportation, and 2 days of hiking to rural minority villages.  I don't remember what I paid since I did it as sort of a package deal with Halong Bay but I think it was around 75-80 USD.  Well worth it.

The train was an overnight sleeper that left Hanoi at 9:00PM and arrives in Sapa around 6:00AM the next morning.  Not the best train in the world but I had a soft sleeper car so it was comfortable enough.  From the train station, it's then another 1.5 - 2 hour bus ride up all sorts of mountainous roads with breathtaking views until finally reaching the main town of Sapa.  Since Sapa is very high in elevation the temperate is actually very cool compared to Hanoi and Saigon.  There is virtually no humidity which made it quite a change from the rest of Southeast Asia.

The hotel I stayed in was called the Royal Hotel and my view overlooked one of the numerous valleys.  The room was extremely nice like most of the hotels I stayed in Vietnam.  The room had old hardwood flooring and a brick fireplace which gets used in te winter when they occasionally get snow high up in the mountains.  The entire place has a sort of cosy small town feel to it where after a while every local remembers your face and will greet you by name. The included food although very few choices (could only choose from a set menu of 4 things) was excellent and the portions were very large unlike Ha Long bay where the food was pretty horrible and was basically re-heated Spring Rolls.

There are a handful of ethnic village tribes up here that don't really fit anywhere else in the world but here.  They're not Vietnamese, not Chinese, or Laos.  They're just what they are; they've lived here for thousands of years and they don't really fall into any boundary of any country.  The tribes here though are probably most closely related to the Chinese minority tribes than Vietnamese.  In fact, some of these villages here use supposedly speak a dialect of Mandarin (or another Chinese language) and don't speak Vietnamese at all as you get closer to the Chinese border.  All of their clothing is made entirely by them.  Everything is extremely colorful and dyed with indigo. I've got some fantastic pictures. What I found most interesting was the Black H'Mong tribe (as seen in many of my pictures) spoke better English than almost all of Vietnam even though they claimed they didn't go to school for it and learned it entirely from tourists.  Most of the girls all wear their traditional clothing and hike up to the main town every day to sell clothing, bracelets and handbags made of hemp and dyed with indigo to all the tourists.  Even though they live in the villages their entire lifes most of them still have some sort of western influence.  Even in the remote tribes, they have televisions with satelite. I also saw one of them with a cell phone of all things and some of the younger girls even have email addresses! Not too bad for a small little minority tribe.   Still their culture is pretty unique.  I don't know enough about it to explain but it definitely warrants more reading into.  They have no religion and basically worship living ancestors, when people die, they're forgotten about.   Men can have wifes and girlfriends at the same time.

I could have definitely stayed in Sapa for a week, I actually felt bad for leaving and didn't feel like I had seen enough.  The people weren't pushy or aggressive like lots of the Vietnamese people who try to sell you stuff in the markets.  Their smiles were genuine unlike most places in Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam who see you as a walking ATM machine.  One of the girls actually gave me 2 free bracelets because I was talking to her.  In return, I gave her a bracelet I bought in Cambodia; sort of a trade I guess.

Anyway, I got back from Sapa this morning at 5AM on the train and walked around Hanoi until 11:30AM to catch my flight to Bangkok.  Now i'm back in Bangkok. My AirFlight took 2 hours, passed through Thailand immigration without any problems. For some reason, it just feels like i'm coming home.  This was my first place in Southeast Asia I traveled and stayed the longest. Coming back to it has a good feel.  It's funny, if you read my first post about Bangkok, I mention that I thought it was extremely dirty, crowded and polluted.  After traveling much of SE Asia, I have to say Bangkok now feels very clean, modern and certainly less polluted than Saigon. Bangkok is certainly less crowded than Saigon which has 8 million people and 6 million motor bikes.  Bangkok travel and congestion is nothing compared to the small side streets of Hanoi. Bangkok looks like a sterile hospital compared to Phnom Penh.  Basically, you get my idea.  After revisiting this place, it just feels more impressive than it did 3 months ago when I first arrived.

Anyway, feels good to be back in Thailand.  Though it's much more touristy, the people are friendly, you don't get hassled as much, and of course Thai girls are just beautiful to look at.  Staying here until the 4th and then I fly to Australia!    I'm off for some Beer Chang! 8% alcohol.  Stay turned for updates from Sydney