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American Invasion of Vietnam: Part II, Tourism

Sa Pa, Vietnam

After five-thousand feet of steep, rigorous and back-breaking journey and Mr Cho (our guide) Cait, Taylor, Emmy and I (
) finally reached the top of Mt. Fan Xi Pan, the tallest mountain in SE Asia at about 11 thousand feet. Nothing compared to our American mountains, but hey, its a different place. Yet Setting, working, and reaching a tall goal in one day left us all with the great sense of exhaustive relief and accomplishment that made it all pay off. We hung around the top for a bit, then ventured downward to basecamp where we ate, drank some rice wine, and then watched the bright Milky Way and shooting stars until sleep. This was our trips last real intensive trek, and of the three options we were given, this was the hardest route.

A vacation town in the mountains of North Vietnam, Sa Pa exudes a very peaceful attitude, and very curious dress customs. The local H'mong peoples who live here (partially pictured right) dress in all black garb with funny hats ornamented with red and metallic things. Many of them try to sell you tribal gifts and thinga-ma-jigs such as bracelets, earings, hats, sunblock, playing cards and fruits, and many of them just hang around the market and the lake chillin'. Tourism has been a particularly good boon for this Vietnamese economy, as their communal farming of the 70s-80s was a failed experiment, and their reliance on opium and timber created a devastating economic void after the government outlawed both practices in the early 90s. The Vietnamese people adapt very well to the market economy, chiefly due to the large influence of the Chinese on the Vietnamese.

Vietnam is very different from the other mainland countries of SE Asia because their society is not as fully influenced by strict Buddhism as are Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand. Much of their influence comes from the Chinese, including their set notion of private property, their nobel dress/palaces/architecture, and their city structure.

I feel these much more Chinese attitudes have made their transition to a market economy much easier than it has been for the other countries in the entire region. The picture to the left shows an interesting cultural influence...Catholicism (see left-the Christmas tree and I, and above-the cave Jesus was born in). Many missionaries from the West worked in Vietnam during the colonial period and today they have 8 million Catholics in a country of 85 million. Even so, almost everybody celebrates Christmas, and there are many statues in Buddhist households to the Virgin Mary, Jesus, John the Baptist and even Santa Claus. The mainstream Buddhism of Vietnam and China are of a totally different breed than that of the other mainland SE Asian countries (Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos).

After Sapa, our group traveled to very tourist-populat Halong Bay. Halong Bay is a 300 square mile World Heritage region where massive limestone cliffs, caves and arches rise from the misty sea all around as far as the eye can see. The 14 Pacific Discovery group members and I had a boat (
) chartered for us while we sailed along for three days, kayaked, swam, and explored limestone caves I spent my free time mostly reading, enjoying the nice scenery atop the boat, and swimming. School can't get much better than this.

Some more pictures for everybody... Click on the photos to make them larger

Taylor, Emmy, Cait and I at the pinnacle of Mt Fan Xi Pan (Mt Fancypants)

Me achieving enlightenment at the top of the mountain of course.

A cool photo of the bamboo forests we tread through. An interesting side-note, wild marijuana plants actually grew around here!

Another mountainside photo, reminded me a bit of Yosemite in NorCal.

Vietnamese love Jesus!

Colin and I inside a cave in a limestone cliff of Halong Bay

More Halong Bay

permalink written by  JohnJack_Crestani on February 23, 2009 from Sa Pa, Vietnam
from the travel blog: I Meet the SouthEast
tagged Vietnam, HalongBay, Trek, Sapa, Hmong and FanXiPan

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Hanoi Value Menu

Hanoi, Vietnam

Ahhh, Hanoi. This is the Asia everyone dreams about when they think of modern Asia. Motorbikes everywhere, dodging traffic, jumping over heaping piles of trash, and swerving from spitballs, Hanoi has it all. Residents of Hanoi were smart to leave intact the remnants of the French colonization period. The French architecture clashed in a beautiful way against the tropical climate. Everywhere people have plants in their apartments that adds a tropical vibe to the city. Another thing to mention are the power lines that blanket the city. Apparently, North Vietnam has not been introduced to underground fiber-optic cable.
After arriving in Hanoi last Monday we decided to get out of the city and trek to the Gulf of Tonkin and visit Halong Bay. There are close to 2,000 islands in this archipelago. It's a UNESCO world heritage site for a reason. It's easily one of the most beautiful places I've ever been. Hopefully, we can get some pictures up in the next couple of days. The first night we cruised through the islands on a boat complete with a dining area and cabins on the lower level. We went to a cave, went kayaking, then anchored nearby to stay the night.
The next day we went to an island where we set off biking. Shortly after we started I helped push a broken down truck filled with sand along with maybe 8 other Vietnamese people to the side of the road. The island we stayed at had been a popular target for aerial bombing campaigns during the Vietnam war. We climbed to an area where North Vietnamese kept watch for bombing raids that were flying to Hanoi. There we had great views of the bay. Unfortunately, the top was infested with mosquitoes so we didn't stay long. Our guide that led us to the top of the mountain might have been a Viet Cong soldier himself. He was genuinely nice to us and the rest of the group. Our other tour guide told us that the North Vietnamese like Americans and don't hold the war against us because of all the protests they saw during the war. That could be true but he might have just been angling for a tip.
After the strenuous hike with our Swedish companions we biked back to the boat. The group that was on the tour with us ended up being very nice. There were 3 Swedish people that were extremely nice. Two of them were a couple in their 60's that were retired teachers. Even at their age they were able to hike a mountain that was difficult for Rachel and I. I hope were in that good of shape when I'm that age.
Then we went to a beach bungalow where we would spend the night. We went kayaking again for a bit but we were too tired to spend much time on the water after the exhausting hike. After a low key evening we retired but not before putting up a mosquito net.
Early the next morning, we rode on a rickety boat a good distance away to meet up with the rest of our tour group. They welcomed us back and we crept back to Halong City. I didn't expect much since we went on a tour group but I'm sure it will be a highlight of our trip.
Yesterday we got shutout of the museums since it was a Monday so we bummed around, took a walk by one of the lakes and caught up on the internet. I almost got burned by flying sparks from a welder on the sidewalk and then we had some great pizza at an Italian restaurant next to Hoam Kiem lake in the Old Quarter.
Last night we hopped on a night train to Sapa and arrived here a couple of hours ago. The touts that were waiting outside were some of the pushiest, nastiest salespeople we've encountered so far. One nice foreigner told us the right price to pay for a bus to Sapa and one of the people slammed his shoulder and yelled at him. We got a hotel room with a balcony and an amazing view. It's not called Mountain View hotel for nothing. It was raining here but the sun is starting to shine so were going to go tour the city. Peace.


permalink written by  zachel on March 30, 2009 from Hanoi, Vietnam
from the travel blog: Zack and Rachel's Asian Chronicles
tagged HalongBay, Hanoi and Sapa

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Lao Cai, Vietnam

Sapa is one of the most popular destinations in Vietnam for a reason. The city is nestled in the northwest mountainside region. It's views of the largest mountains in Vietnam and its terraced rice patties that descend down the mountain make it a premier spot.
Getting here, we took an overnight train to Sapa on the friendly express. After our debacle of a train ride from Beijing to Zhengzhou, we now only travel in style. Soft sleepers all the way.... There is still a danger though. A soft sleeper holds 4 people so you never know who your going to get along the way. Luckily, a great couple that were English teachers in Japan landed in the cabin.
After a bumpy ride throughout the night, we arrived in Lao Cai, a sleepy border town connecting China and Vietnam. Here we were accosted by overeager van drivers wanting to overcharge us for the hour ride it would take to get to Sapa. If we had read our bible (Lonely Planet) we would have known that the cost of a ride was only 25,000. (just over a dollar) Luckily, a westerner helped us out by letting us get on a bus that was leaving just a few minutes later. After he told us about the real price we should be paying one of the hecklers shoved him violently in his shoulder. The ride from Lao Cai to Sapa was stunning. We could get a glimpse of the terraced rice fields coming down the mountain as the fog started to roll away.
Once we arrived we had to find accomodations. Of course we soon had people shoving cards advertising their hotels in our faces. We ducked into a hotel the lonely planet recommended. The place is called Mountain View Hotel for a reason. When fog hasn't enveloped the city you have a front row view of the breathtaking landscape.
After we rested for awhile, we ventured out and started to walk towards one of the villages. Scattered throughout the city are the indigenous Indian women and children, the H'mong people, hawking their goods. A nice thing to say about these children is that they are persistant. You can use your imagination for other words that would describe the children. We ran into what had to be the spunkiest tribal member selling her goods. Here is an excerpt of the exchange:

Indian: You buy from me?
Me: No thanks.
Indian: Why not?
Me: (Tries to avoid her)
Indian: Why not?
Me: I don't have any money.
Indian: If you have no money how you get to Vietnam? I'll take you to ATM, You think I'm stupid, Never forever we be friends. Liar liar pants on fire!!

We really admired her spunk but still didn't support her abrasive selling style.
After we had lunch we started towards one of the villages. Once we began to descend down the mountain the fog began to lift and we feasted our eyes on some stunning vistas. As far as the eye could see were mountains with terraced rice patties. In some of the rice patties water had flooded the areas which gave off beautiful reflections while glancing down.
I have to say that the tribal people were much more friendly as we passed down the mountains. Most didn't even ask us if we wanted to buy something. All of the female indians wore traditional indian garments. They are black with vibrant colors in a reocurring pattern. We're not sure if the reason that they wear these outfits is because of a desire to keep their traditions intact or if it's because of the tourism boom.
After a 5km walk down a mountain we opted to have a couple of the villagers drive us to town on the back of their motorbikes for just a little money.
Today we decided to get a motorbike to cover larger distances. It was so much fun driving throughout the countryside. We toured one of the traditional villages called Cat Cat. Water buffalo were walking all around us, along with boars and chickens everywhere. After the village, we retraced our steps and took the same path as yesterday determined to make it farther. Again, just as yesterday, once we descended, we started to get great views of the valley. Part of the road was a little treacherous but we managed to drive through the base of a small waterfall unscathed. I think we're going to stick around for another couple of days here before heading south. We love it here!

permalink written by  zachel on March 31, 2009 from Lao Cai, Vietnam
from the travel blog: Zack and Rachel's Asian Chronicles
tagged Sapa

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