E: Paddy Fields and the Indigo People of Sapa, Vietnam

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Of the places I visited during the winter break one of the most touching locations I had the pleasure of witnessing was the Sapa district in northern Vietnam. Although weather wise the coldest of all my destinations, I was pleasantly warmed by the scenes throughout Sapa town and the surrounding villages.

People here are poor, and although I have witnessed poverty before I’d never seen people living off log fires and mainly consuming food they’d produced themselves. Various ethnic minorities inhabit the area including the Black Hmong, Dao and Phu Lo people. Many of these speak languages other than Vietnamese. The changes brought by tourism are noticeable, but no so prominent to ruin the area’s authenticity. Many families have converted from farming to selling souvenirs with examples including, indigo scarves and various carved stone objects. It was refreshing to see the majority of what was being sold out of houses and on the street, were products produced by the people themselves.

Exceedingly obvious is the ethnic minorities cheekily ripping tourists off, our guide gave us an indication of what we should be paying. Unfortunately I found it difficult to stop the woman selling me an indigo scarf, purchased as a gift, from overcharging me by two pounds while she was sat smiling bleakly underneath a tin roof, without heating in the middle of winter. I didn’t have it in me to refuse, especially when I thought about how little two pounds is to me, compared to what this woman could use it for.

If you plan to visit be wary not to buy from the local village kids, as although they’ll give you cheaper prices than the adults, this encourages them to skip school and continue attempting to make money from western tourists doing no good for their future. Besides any money lost whilst buying gifts I definitely made back on the food, where else can you get 73p beer?¬†Apart from the eerily lit church located centrally in Sapa town it seems due to the French’s presence in Vietnam they left some cultural characteristics such as aspects of religion behind, our guide told us that many of the villagers refused to use contraception as they were supposedly catholic, yet still maintained some Buddhist beliefs.

Breathtaking scenery in the nearby mountains means the majority of our trip was hiking and admiring the views, with the occasional stop at some of the local villagers’ homes where our guide allowed us to ask questions, try some local tobacco and test our skill of using various farming utensils. I’d like to return to Sapa, 2 days wasn’t enough. If returning I would visit again in September during the harvest season, where apparently all the rice fields evolve into a glowing gradient of yellow. The trip ended with a farewell to our guide and boarding the night train (which one day I’m sure will become my permanent type of accommodation) back to Vietnam’s capital Hanoi.

 

E: Streets of Hanoi

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Hanoi is an undeniably beautiful city. Some people may fail to see that initially due to the noise, pollution and litter but having come face to face with those issues everyday at home meant those factors were easily to looked over.

Let me explain why Hanoi is such a great city, firstly and most importantly, crossing the street has never been more fun or dangerous anywhere else in the world. You don’t wait or follow instructions from crossing lights to cross a street in Hanoi, even looking isn’t exactly essential. Just start walking and the oncoming vehicles as if by some magic force, manoeuvre around you. Leaving you feeling a little like Moses.

Another of my favourite aspects of Hanoi is just how much time the locals spend on the street, during walks it wasn’t uncommon to pass people going about their daily business such as cooking, eating and washing themselves on the streets. It’s genuinley nice to see people spending time outdoors even if it’s not too far away from their homes. Get used to the little stools around town as they are your best and only friend when it comes to sitting down in Vietnam and are a standard features of most of the best restaurants for local street-food.

It was interesting to visit the Hoi Chi Min Mausoleum, (for those of you who don’t know what that is like me initially, it’s where the body of Hoi Chi Min (An important Vietnamese political figure) has been preserved and is stored in a glass chamber.) Another interesting cultural thing to see was the planes on display captured from the Americans by the Vietnamese. The number of planes and way they have been arranged indicated the persistence and strength of the people during the vietnam war.

The cafe culture and warm bustling streets make Hanoi one of my favourite places so far. Currently I think it has a tenancy of being overlooked due to the mass tourism funnelled into the bigger city located to the south (Hoi Chi Min City) yet I think in the future, with the right sort of growth, it could attract a lot of attention as a more ‘trendy’ type of destination, it brings so much of the Vietnamese people’s culture to surface and the city feels ‘lived in’ and ‘real’. I have no doubts I’ll be returning to Hanoi relatively soon.

Thanks again to my brilliant pen pals for guiding us almost everywhere! (Minh and Khanh)

 

E: Rainforesting

IMG_8286 IMG_8284Still uploading pictures from Tioman, whilst we were there we went for a little hike to see the waterfall. The waterfall was beautiful, the trek totalled roughly three hours. What never occurred to me about being in a rainforest is everything surrounding you, wants to kill you. I got some lovely cuts from the vines and even the palm trees were loaded with thorns. When finishing there was nothing better than jumping into the sea, of course from the amount of sweat on my shirt it seemed as if I’d already had a swim.

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E: Back of a Pick-up Truck

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I have just got back from literally 24 blissful hours in Malaysia on the island of Pulau Tioman. It was the most captivating place I have ever been in my life (sorry Colombo). After a painful 3 hours by coach from Singapore and 3 more hours on the boat we finally arrived on the island. Within a few steps we arrived at a few parking bays. “Ok who’s going in which car?”. The pick up trucks were for us! Complete surprise.

It was probably one of my favourite parts of the trip. We sat being shaken uncontrollably by the dodgy Japanese built concrete tracks as we climbed up some of the steepest roads I’d ever seen. All the while surrounded with abnormally large plants, bird song and stunning treetop scenery. Was not what I was expecting in the slightest.IMG_8061 IMG_8033 IMG_8057Below are some photos from near the port in mainland Malaysia

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