Saturday, August 23, 2014
By Brian Keels
Jacob and I started our 800 km epic motorcycling northwestern Vietnam on a 5 day loop through the rugged mountains and countryside. What started out as one of the greatest experiences of my life, it's definitely an experience I'll never forget. We planned to visit an old French hill station high in the mountains in a town called Sapa which lies near the Chinese border as well as several other interesting towns along the way.
We explored Sapa by motorbike and ended up picking a place high up on a hill (with an awesome balcony) overlooking the cartoon-like emerald green valley. $10 a night between the two of us for a ridiculous view, free internet, and clean sheets -- what more can one ask! Many of the people around Sapa are Hmong, which is an ethnic minority that I believe originated in Mongolia, but over time were pushed further and further south into Vietnam, Laos, China, and Thailand. The town really has an out of this world feeling. The Hmong men wear navy blue French pettycoats with popped collars and silver bands around their necks. Women wear traditional clothing which they make themselves from hemp and dye with local indigo. They are a truly 'ethnic' looking people and those involved in tourism speak excellent English.
We hired a tour guide to take us on a trekking Sapa tritp through the local Hmong villages and the countryside. The views were almost beyond what I can describe. It was the kind of thing that sent chills down your spine. The entire mountain was a network of terraced rice fields framed by impossibly steep peaks . Again, I don't think I can even put into words how beautiful the scenery is and I am convinced there is no other place like this in the world. It's as if the scenery was digitally enhanced by some computer nerd and you're sitting in a movie theatre with 3D glasses just soaking it in. Words really can't describe the place or the feeling, but see the pictures for yourself and just know that pictures can't even do the place justice.
During our time in Sapa, we met a lot of the Hmong women as they were selling handmade hemp clothes, bags, etc. They would all come up and with broken English say "You buy from me?!". It was funny because it was all ages (from 4yrs to 85yrs old), and they would say the same thing. I assume that tourism must be their main source of income, aside from the old days of opium cultivation
The next day Jake and I spent time exploring the town and checking out the local markets, which had some interesting hand made souvenirs we bought. Realizing that we needed to get on with our trip, we left early the next morning for what turned out to be a 10 hour test of endurance. We drove through every type of terrain imaginable: mud, gravel, potholes, washed out sections due to small rivers crossing the road or because of rock slides, dusty back roads, you name it. The weather varied nearly as much as the terrain: rain, cold, and fog turned to radiating heat and humidity. We were literally in the middle of nowhere and due to some major construction on a new highway, we were forced to take all the back roads through small and remote villages.
The hard work was completely worth it though because the scenery was even more impressive than Thailand and Laos with continuous views of the mountains and rice terraces that constantly gave us goose pimples. The elements and construction work slowed us down a lot, and although we tried to make good time we didn't make it to our stop in Dien Bien Phu (the famous site where the Vietnamese won a decisive battle that ousted the French) until 8:30pm. When we arrived we were both covered from head to toe with mud and backcountry Vietnamese dust. To say the least we slept good that night!
That next morning we got on the road early in anticipation for another long-haul day. The views again were absolutely stunning.
I am probably a good 2 weeks behind on the blog, but will do my best to catch up...for some reason I can't access the blog site. Stay tuned.