Thursday, May 15, 2014

Sapa Vietnam Day 3: Another motorbike day

Today was my third and last day in Sapa.  Yesterday had been so productive that I was beginning to wish I could extend my stay here.  Something about the land and the people really spoke to me.  Of course, I knew I would have to move on at day's end, so I wanted to make the most of my final hours here.

As I contemplated my plans during breakfast, a local woman outside fixed and adjusted her long hair.  As a man, I'm sure I don't fully appreciate the nuances of managing long locks, so perhaps that is why I found her ritualized hair styling fascinating.

I was without my translator today but thought I could manage to move around and figure things out on my own.  The hotel advised heading to Ta Phin, and stopping off at the small village of Sau Chau on the way.

I found the village of Sau Chau the more interesting of the two.  Once again, the hard working nature of the region's people stood out, but there was no denying that the country side itself was just simply gorgeous.

Today was a much hotter day, and I welcomed the breeze from riding my motorbike.  I saw this water buffalo first, and then realized that there was a boy watching the beast.  What an enterprising young lad to use the water buffalo as shade against the sun's heat.

Without my translator, I was limited to gestures and smiling in my efforts to communicate with the locals, but once again, I found that friendliness was reciprocated.

Ta Phin is apparently a very popular local village with tourists.  As I approached it, I came across the shell of an old building.  I assume it is a colonial building used by the French in the past, perhaps as a getaway to escape Hanoi's heat?

I didn't particularly like Ta Phin, at least not as much as the other villages.  While not as commercially abrasive as Sapa can be, it was clear that the villagers had grown quite accustomed to tourists.  They were quite forceful in their attempts to sell me their wares.  I appreciate the local need for commerce, so just politely declined and moved on.  As I exited, I noticed a large ceramic urn that appeared to have some historic significance, but I have been unable to figure out what (if any) that might be.

Every waterfall in Sapa had disappointed me, but the most popular still remained.  I had time, so I decided to head off to Silver Waterfall.  The old saying about enjoying the journey as much as the destination certainly applies here.  I took my time heading to the waterfall, because I paused often to take in each breathtaking scene or an encounter with some local people.

It was a long ride to the waterfall, and the topography changed a bit with more rocks and boulders around. More than in other parts of Sapa, I noticed how the locals had carved out stones and rocks to use as fences, walls, and other structures.

Most striking was how some families used the boulders to create makeshift buildings.  I don't know whether this structure, for example, was a home or a shed of some kind.

I took my time continuing down the road.  I was beginning to wish I had hired Cee for another day, but I nonetheless enjoyed meeting people even if I couldn't communicate adequately with them.

Eventually, I made it to the much heralded Silver Waterfall.  I was getting tired by this point, so I debated as to whether I really wanted to get off my motorbike and climb the walkway to get a closer view.  From the entrance, the waterfall didn't seem impressive at all.  Given my prior experience with Sapa's waterfalls, I decided I was close enough, snapped a couple photos, and moved on.

Tram Tom Pass was a bit further up the mountain, but I was running low on gas.  I had come this far, and figured I could always "coast" downhill most of the way back to Sapa if necessary, so I drove up to to the pass which offered some nice views of the valley.

I turned my motorbike around to head back to Sapa.  In fact, just to be safe, I did coast whenever possible to conserve gas, and was always mindful of road hazards, such as...water buffaloes.

I returned to Sapa and reluctantly handed back my motorbike.  The tank was totally empty, so I guess no extra profit margin this time for the owner.  I then walked around town for the final time.

A young couple had stopped by the church to pose for photos.  They attracted a small crowd of others who decided to take photograph the newlyweds.  Of course, I joined in.

All too soon, it was time to board that minibus for the final drive back to La Cai.  I had two hours to wait in La Cai for my overnight train back to Hanoi.  Unfortunately, I found the city of La Cai to be totally unattractive with not much to see or do.  I ended up just waiting at the small train station, wondering why they put so many fire extinguishers in one corner of the waiting room.

As I settled into my bunk for the long overnight train journey back, I reflected on what a wonderful trip Sapa had been.  More than the other Vietnam destinations in this trip, I felt like I could return and spend a couple weeks here to learn and experience in depth this area and its people.  I don't know whether I will have the opportunity to do so in the future, but I contemplated that pleasant hope as I drifted off to sleep.

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