You will not believe where I am right now. I am currently on an overnight train in Vietnam. With two friends, we are going from Hanoi, the culturally rich capital city, to the agricultural villages in the town of Sapa. It feels very surreal! And as I don’t have my laptop with me, as a backpacker, I’m writing this blog entry on my phone for the first time. But I digress. Taking a cross-country train into the rural area was something that I had wanted to do for a very long time. I’m believe that the inspiration came from watching Arthur on the kids channel as a young child, where the characters would go travel to far away places, sometimes taking the train. And it’s really cool to think that, this time last year; I had absolutely no idea that I would ever be in Vietnam. Throw in the long distance train with two other friends, and you have one heck of a spontaneous adventure of which is the stuff where movies are made from.
The last two nights in Hanoi have been extremely alluring. It was surprising seeing uniformed men with olive green suits and Vietnam communist caps. From just looking at the way they portrayed themselves, it felt like the Vietnam War was still going on. Also, from exploring the French style architecture in the Old Quarter, sitting in the people and-traffic jammed streets on a little plastic chair slowly sipping Bia Hoi (homemade watered down beer), devouring copious amounts of “banh mi” and “phó”, taking a day tour to Ha Long Bay (UNESCO World Heritage Site), feeling the darkness inside the former Hoa Lo Prison, and negotiating with seven different fake north face vendors, it has all been a wild ride.
Speaking of wild rides, just crossing the street is crazy enough. There is a special way of crossing the street. You don’t look out for the cars and motorcycles. Rather, you just walk, and they look out to avoid colliding with anyone. And that’s the way it works, especially in the city center. Just today, Tino, Manuel and I had to cross a highway with motorcycles going at least 60-70 km/hr. We had the objective of satisfying our fervent curiosity of egg coffee. And to our fulfillment, the egg coffee and egg chocolate were as tasty as my friend had promised. It was a blended egg mixture on top of hot coffee, and looked like a drinkable tiramisu. After that delectable snack, we got on board our overnight tourist train to the northern mountains.
(2 days later)
Sapa was incredible. It was unique, and a place unlike anywhere else I’ve been to before. From the moment we got off of our taxi minivan, we were, quite frankly, mobbed by local Hmong people. They wore woven patterned scarves, hats, and dresses. And they all asked us to buy their local woven goods. However, as we had just set foot into this unfamiliar place, we quickly went to check into our hostel. It was quite cold, so I was glad I had purchased the extreme winter jacket for a fraction of what I would pay in the U.S. As got ready and headed outside, we a few local village people followed us and offered us a private walking tour of the village. We obliged, and spent the whole morning until late evening exploring as much of the rural countryside as possible. Along the way, we captured gorgeous photos of rice terraces, trekked along very muddy rocky paths, found a lot of farm animals basking in the sunlight, and also found ourselves the center of attention for buying local wristbands from the villagers.
The best part was getting to step foot into the home of our tour guide. Her family grew rice on the terraces, and it was very cool to be able to see her children, husband, and animals. As the village people are considered an ethnic Hmong minority of Vietnam, she often referred to “my country” when talking about the villages. Being able to see and experience this farm and nature scenery feels refreshing, almost nourishing to my soul. It feels like the clock went back decades, even hundreds of years, as if nothing had changed. The only difference between the past and now in which I could point out was that she had a prepaid cell phone, and that there was a working light bulb in the home. Other than that, the meals were cooked by lighting up a piece of wood and starting a fire under the iron pots.
As she was heating up the water, I was left wondering if I would be able to life with such a lifestyle. It was the complete opposite of the modern life I have grown up with in the U.S. However, her farm life is something my parents have had similar experiences with before they came to America. And I am glad I have gotten the opportunity to get a little bit closer to a resemblance of the life my parents once had.
Anyone who ever comes to visit Hanoi should take at least two days to come check out Sapa. Even then, it felt like it was not a long enough stay, but I am happy to have found this rural haven.