India| Vietnam | Cambodia | Laos | Thailand | Malaysia | Indonesia | NZ | Fiji | Cook Islands | USA

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Day 82&83: Kiss me - 60,000 OK?

And so it was that we made our way the 300 km up to Bac Ha; almost on the Chinese border, we arrived on a packed bus in a beautiful town with wide roads, a humid atmosphere and, most notably, barely any people.

It was Saturday and this was about to change for Sunday was Market Day and the sleepy town soon filled up with colourfully dressed Hill Tribe folk, locals and tourists. Though it was a little more touristy than we had hoped - the souvenir stands far outnumbered the water buffalo for sale - that said, there was indeed water buffalo (and other livestock; puppy, anyone?) for sale.
To my mind the Flower H'mong people - the predominant tribe of the area - have the right idea; they wear amazing clothes (pics to follow shortly but think bold prints and bright colours), tie their hair with ornamental combs in gravity defying swirls right above their foreheads and come into Bac Ha town to work on only one day of the week.
The down side of this is an increasing reliability on the tourist trade and you do kind of get the feeling that from Monday to Saturday they're hanging out in the hills in their knock-off Nike shirts and joggers like everyone else.

One thing that is definitely not for show is the Vietnamese ability to drink; the market starts at 6am and locals can been seen enjoying a bia hoi right from the off. We also had the ...erm...experience of drinking a local speciality, ruou, which is so potent it can actually ignite. And it tastes it. The locals sample sips from the lids of each jerrycan for sale before buying the stuff by the litre.
After the market we made our way west to the bigger mountainous town of Sapa. It was in this exchange that title of this post occurred. You see, the naturally tonal Vietnamese pronunciation of 'excuse me' sounds exactly like 'kiss me' and in a country with inflation that means the smallest denomination is a 1,000 dong note, prices can quickly escalate into hundreds of thousands. We had bargained our bus down from 100,000 to a much more sensible 60,000 dong or 2 British
pounds and 40 pence.

The landscapes here in Sapa are incredibly. Every view looks like a postcard. At 1650m above sea level, the carefully farmed land sits just below the clouds that act as temporary peaks to the tops of the many mountains that surround the town.
We took a long walk (it would be ambitious to call it a 'trek') to a few of the local tribal settlements. Unfortunately some of my fears were confirmed when we found tickets actually being sold for entry into one, Cat Cat - we didn't go, and an array of satellite dishes on the sides of corrugated metal homes in Sin Chai.

As a tourist in the area, it is perhaps to hypocritical to complain about the adverse affect of tourism on locals. But it pains me to see that here, as in India, there a girls as young as 10 walking the streets all day every day selling their wares to westerners. Is this just a natural evolution of a tribe that once made its living in other ways or the gross and progressive destruction of the culture of a sacred tribe? For me, it's a bit of both.

The natural landscapes are what brought Team 365 here and it is these that we have enjoyed the most; tonight though we're happy to embark on a long journey to the East coast and a totally different type of vista...


  1. you should have been born 50 years ago!!! Tourism and 'progress' is getting everywhere and obviously in Vietnam (after having Americans there for so long don't forget). Even Africa is becoming more touristy (or so libby tells me). Lookng forward to the pictures and enjoy - plese check my facebook queries to you Kat!. Love

  2. three kat five17 July 2010 at 10:17

    it's true...i've said a few times that i wish i was around at least 30 years earlier, ah well! still so much to see and do...

    i've replied to your messages, hope all is cool xx