We headed up to the former French resort area of Sapa. It is located on the slopes of the largest mountains in northern Vietnam, with great views of a mountain valley with many rice terraces. The local people are mostly of the Hmong minority, along with the distinctly different red Zao people. However, this is a well established tourist town and quickly loses any illusions of ‘authenticity ‘ within ten minutes of disembarking from the bus when you meet a crowd of vendors jostling to get at the fresh load of visitors. The trade off is that this place has some great french bread and a really good bakery, and after China (not renowned for its bread, trust us), we eagerly enjoyed the bread and pastries here.
We were in Sapa for the Autumn Moon festival, which included many people carrying decorated floats with a big bull or a star with a photo of Ho Chi Minh to the center plaza, where there was dancing and general partying. Similar to China, people here celebrate the harvest season and exchange moon cakes for the Autumn Moon festival.
We did one overnight stay with local people, hiking through the valley through rice fields. On our ‘trek’ we went with a Bolivian, German and Frenchman, and we all had a great time hiking through the hills and enjoyed an excellent dinner washed down with a hearty amount of homemade rice wine pushed on us by our host (and now we drink!). We also took a motorbike up to near the Chinese border near the town of Lao Cai. In 1979, China invaded Vietnam and occupied this portion of the country. Of course, both of the communist governments in each respective country claimed victory. If the goal was to needlessly kill thousands of people, both sides did ‘win’. Otherwise, the whole reason for the 1979 invasion of the Communist nation of Vietnam (3 years after completing the conquest of the South) by the Communist Chinese government makes little or no sense to us.
It also is confusing as to why the United States was so concerned about the “domino theory”, as these communist nations couldn’t even get along with each other (China was also busy fighting with the USSR and hunkering down in the great Sino-Soviet split as well), much less work together to take over the world. And of course, we are mildly amused that both sides claimed victory for the “real” communist cause.
The Hmong people enjoy laughing and talking, but they are persistent in trying to sell us the same souvenirs again and again. At least they have a good sense of humor and everyone gets to laugh as you escape from their persistent salesmanship. But the hiking here is great and the colorful outfits of the locals are interesting. The Red Zao people are shy and don’t try to sell as aggressively. They also shave their eyebrows and foreheads, giving them a distinct look.
Best quotes from persistent Hmong sales people:
- Yesterday you say later. Today is later. Now you buy from me.
- But you not buy from me. Now you buy one from each of us.
- You say you buy from me later. You such a pretty boy and you lie to me. You buy from her. Why you lie to me?
- Why you running like a chicken? [said to tourist trying to evade vendors]
***click to enlarge photos below***