SaPa is located in northern Vietnam just a few miles from the Chinese border. While the town could be as picturesque as any location I visited…
…the entire experience was not amazing.
We boarded a sleeper train in Hanoi at 10pm and arrived in SaPa at 5am. The train shook me to the bones allowing me only an hour or two of sleep. And as it was night, there was absolutely nothing to see out he windows. Once we arrived at the station we were greeted and transported up to SaPa; an hour car ride. (And we reversed this entire procedure on the return trip back to Hanoi.)
The town was undergoing a transformation with every building under construction and every other road being repaved (supposedly there is a lot of money coming in from China to help) but this left the air sooty, dirty, and I constantly felt that I had just licked an ashtray.
We took a tram ride up to the top of a local mountain. While the views were spectacular the temperature and high altitude kept our stay to a minimum of time.
Apparently the locals enjoy dancing with Americans
On our final day in Vietnam we headed off to a sport’s bar to watch Vietnam play in the semifinal 23 and under soccer tournament against Qatar. The Vietnamese tied the game with minutes left in regulation time and, after two overtime periods, the game went to penalty kicks. Vietnam won on the very last kick of the game. To say that the city erupted would be an understatement. I estimated that over 250,000 people were in the streets celebrating. Their enthusiasm was off the charts. I’ve never seen anything like this. Not for a World Series. Nor a Super Bowl.
This went on for hours and hours and hours. The streets were so chaotic that we could not get a cab to drive us to the train station (we are heading for Sapa in northern Vietnam by the Chinese border) so we had to walk a mile and a half dragging our luggage behind us (dodging scooters, cars, and people) to get to the station on time.
On our second day in Hanoi we visited the Ho Chi Minh museum. An interesting perspective on how the Vietnamese viewed the Vietnam War (of course that’s not what the Vietnamese called it…)
On our third day we visited Hoa Lo prison (also known as the Hanoi Hilton). A sobering reminder of the cruelties of colonialism and the injustices of war. Yes, that is a real guillotine.
From Laos we took an hour flight to Hanoi, Vietnam. Late Friday evening, after a little snafu, we arrived at our hotel, located smack in the middle of Hanoi, right next to Hoam Diem Lake. Every weekend, Friday night through Sunday night, the streets around the lake and the surrounding area are shut down to traffic allowing for a party atmosphere. There was music, dancing, artwork, exhibitions, vendors, street food and a lot of other wild stuff: Here’s a brief inventory of some of what I saw going on over the three days.
Martial arts exhibitions. Models being photographed.
Children Ballroom dancing.
Kids driving tanks. Students talking to me to improve their English skills.
A student graduation ceremony. A Jenga competition. A blind guy playing a flute through his nose.
Brides and Grooms everywhere. Sweatshirts that were lacking in translation (perhaps?)
Long Conga lines.
And music everywhere
Wonderful commentary from Michael, the father of the three students I’ve been educating as we travel the world.
Same same, but different
I continue to have an amazing time in Laos. On our second-to-last day we crossed the Mekong River and explored the Botanical Gardens where we were introduced to Bamboo Art.
On our last day we woke up very early and headed into town for the daily Buddhist Monk Ceremony. The monks walk the streets before sunrise collecting food (typically sticky rice) before ending up at their temple for chanting and prayers.
After lunch we headed off to the UXO museum (Unexploded Ordinance) for a sobering reminder of how the Vietnam War is still killing and maiming the Laotian people.
Later in the afternoon I took a final stroll around town.
And climbed up to Phou Si, a Buddhist temple, at the top of a mountain that overlooked the entire city.
A wonderful article written by my school newspaper, The Beachcomber, about my travels.
Hats of to Ben C. who wrote the article and Josh D., the paper’s editor-in-chief.