Saturday, October 25, 2008

Sapa, 10/24 & 10/25

We departed Dien Bien Phu at 7:30, and made it to Lai Chau for lunch. Lau Chau has significance to Dien Bien Phu, as there was a force in Lai Chau when the French started to reinforce Dien Bien Phu in November of 1953. When the French intercepted radio transmissions indicating that the Viet Minh were increasing their activity in the area around Lai Chau, they decided to abandon Lai Chau in favor of reinforcing DBP. They were a little late though, as the Viet Minh ambushed the column numerous times, and only 185 out of 2100 men made it to Dien Bien Phu after covering the 40 miles in about two weeks. We also learned some current significance of Lai Chau. A few kilometers north of the town we crossed the French bridge shown above. Long said it was built in 1945, and was one of the few bridges in the north that were not damaged during either war. It looked much older than that, probably because of lack of maintenance. The bridge crosses the Nam Nu River (picture below), which downstream flows into the Black River. The Black River is the location of the new hydroelectric dam Long told us about, which will be twice as big as Hoa Binh. Construction has apparently started. When the dam is filled, this whole valley, including the town of Lai Chau, will be submerged to a depth greater than the height of the present bridge. A new bridge will be built higher above the river, and all the inhabitants of Lai Chau are being moved to higher ground some 35 miles closer to Sapa.

It was after dark by the time we arrived in Sapa, after more adventures on the roads. More construction, and it had rained the night before so there was lots of mud in places. On the paved sections, the pavement is slightly wider than one lane, so our bus and a motorbike could pass head on, but two larger vehicles both had to move over onto the unpaved shoulders. Add to that the upgrades, down grades, and twists & turns, and you can see why average speeds are only about 25 mph.

Unless you got up early on Thursday morning, you missed the view of the valley from the hotel, as Sapa was in the clouds the rest of the time we were there. The picture to the right was taken from the deck outside my room. The other direction is even more spectacular, and you can see Fansipan (3143m), the tallest mountain in Vietnam, on a clear day. The clouds were even lower over there, so I opted for the southern view.

The hotel itself is sort of quaint. It looks like it might belong in Switzerland, but at the same time is a hodge-podge of added on wings and twisting, uneven corridors. The food was excellent, and the rooms acceptable.

The picture to the left shows the entry portal, the dining room on the second level, and part of the wing where most of the students stayed.

The other wing juts out perpendicularly towards the valley. The railing at the top is where I took the picture of the valley and the entry portal.

Six students opted for a two day hike up Fansipan with a guide and H'mong porters to help with the food and equipment. They set off at about 9:30 in a steady drizzle. The rest of us were to leave at 1:30 to visit some local villages, but at that time it was still raining, as you can see in this picture of Long, Tom, and Michael if you look carefully. We had scheduled a free day for the people saying back for exploring the town and the market, so we decided that we would make Thursday the free day, and try to do two treks on Friday.

Friday morning dawned overcast, foggy, and drizzly, but the rain stopped just about at 9:00 when we set out for a local Red Dao (pronounced Zau) village named To Phin. On the way we passed a burned out Catholic church that had been destroyed by the Chinese during the 1979 border war with Vietnam.

Long and I knew what to expect, but the students were surprised when they stepped off the bus and were mobbed by the local women asking them all sorts of questions in almost perfect English. At least two women attached themselves to each of us.

As in Dien Bien Phu, even the little ones get into the act. This little girl is only two months old.

The women escort you all through their village, and one showed us through her house. Lots of interesting sites along the walk, including baby pot belly pigs and

scenes like the one below, that with the mist remind me of Shangri-La.

Once we got back near the buses the ladies put on the hard sell. It reminds me of the tag teams that try to sell you time shares. Jared and Tom seem a bit overwhelmed, while Carley appears to have everything under control

Even Long got into the act.

If you actually buy something, you are in double trouble, as several more ladies will come up to you and say "You buy from me also?"

After a lunch break, we headed back out for a trek down into the valley. As we descended, we got out of the Sapa cloud, so even though it was hazy, it was a big improvement. In the hill country they have to terrace the rice paddies, as you can see in this picture, and others to follow.
It was raining when we first started out, but tailed off as we walked.

Below you see another good example of the terraced rice paddies.

A ways down the road we stopped

at a house where a young boy was playing with a dog.

The rain didn't stop the selling brigade. They use their unbrellas to protect them from the rain, and also to shade themselves when it is sunny.

The picture to the right shows how they get the water from one terraced paddy to the next. The soil has a high clay content, so they can form the dikes easily.

We walked by a new school building, with students hanging out, and Uncle Ho encouraging them to learn as much as they can.

Even the preschoolers get into the selling act. The youngster at the right convinced me to buy a woven arm bracelet.

After the rice harvest, they let all manner of stock graze to get the last bits of goodness.

Towards the end of our hike, Carley is still negotiating, Tom is playing with a baby, and Jared is getting as far away as he can.

We had to climb up a little to reach the bus, and as you can see of this view back down, the ladies disappear as soon as the clients move on.

At 5:30 the interpic Fansipan hikers returned. All were tired, but proud of their achievements. The last six pictures are of Cat, Jill & Cat, Kate, Katherine, Julia, and Josh as they entered the hotel lobby. Josh has promised to give me pictures I can add of their ascent.



Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home