Lào Cai Ladies

The next day in Sapa was a longer hike to Lào Cai village near China border. Apparently, it used to be a key trading post and when my google maps showed how close we were to China, I only wanted to hike till the border but that is only wishful thinking.

The beautiful ladies of Lào Cai rule rural Vietnam. From tour guides to vendors to shopkeepers of various kind, it was the women who ran the show.

They would walk alongside the hikers with their basket full of goodies and as we ended our tour, they would try to sell their items to us. Shawls, scarves, table mats, head bands etc. would be displayed and I too bought a long indigo scarf as she tied one of the friendship bands in my wrist which I still wear today.
laocai7laocai8The terraced fields would definitely look different in another season but as we left this border town that afternoon, it was shining under the sunny sky.

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Cat Cat Village, Sapa

An hour after we reached Sapa, we started for our “trek” to Cat Cat Village. It was a sunny morning with blue skies, pretty mountains and lots of tourists. But we had a very friendly guide who looked just like a friend as she guided us to Cat Cat tourism area.

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Walking down the steps, we could see the colourful local attires and the designs. There was also this little kid who looked like a doll selling dolls to tourists.
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Cat Cat Village is home to the Hmong community and it was fascinating to enter their homes and see their weaving machines and how they dye and design their clothes.

catcat15Along the way were many Hmong women selling the little souvenirs they had made. Colorful wrist bands and sling bags with Hmong patterns seemed a popular one as it was impossible not to buy anything from these smiling women.

In no time, we had reached the centre area where a lot of traditional activities were displayed. From spinning to weaving and some live dance performances were held across the waterfall that was quite refreshing after the long walk.

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Then we headed to what looked like a peek into sustainable living harnessing water by creating mini dams and water-wheel for some pulley action…

The corn decors were also very impressive. And there was a museum kind of exhibition inside one of these huts with local edible items; hence the corns perhaps? But what I liked most is how this place creates room for not just foreigners from outside but local tourists who get to come and revisit their culture.
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Seeing Sapa

sapaTook the night bus from Hanoi to Sapa
and arrived in this delightful mountain town.

One of its main attractions is this old church
where Hmong vendors sell little knick-knacks
although they have an allotted market
and they aren’t allowed to sell stuff on the streets
because of some code of conduct for visitors.

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There is a lake and a park
another of their public spaces,
that is well kept and tourist friendly
(reminded me of Boulder, Colorado).

 

Sapa is home to the Hmong community
and we found this grandma making clothes
I had to buy one for myself so I chose one
and gladly obliged from this local tribal designer.

 

Sapa had its leftover French architecture
and looked like there were new hotels coming up.sapa6
There was a square in the middle of the town
a picturesque setting
nice to just sit and watch people
playing football, volleyball and chilling
there were young kids
dressed in traditional attires
who would try sell little trinkets and braceletssapa7sapa12sapa13

Towards the end of the day
we also managed to visit the church
blessed bountifully to be in this beautiful town.

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Halong Bay 2.0

halong4halong3I first heard about Halong Bay
from a professor at a museum workshop.
he talked about ecotourism in these islands
and his involvement with its world heritage move.

I have been here twice now and
it is undoubtedly a museum of its own kind.

These cruises usually take you
to one of the many caves in the islands
and we got to see the hang Dau Go this time.

The best part about the trip
this time however, was the sun.
It was warm and sunny
topped with some wine
towards the last stretch.

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How to spend a full day in Hà Nội…

Walk.
We were staying in Hà Nội Old Quarter
and walked to the infamous train track street
The charm of this place is the train tracks
that passes through the settlements of the people.

There are cafés and food stalls
as people dry their laundry and
go about everyday business like
the trains tracks are part of their cityscape.hanoi18

 

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After our visit to the tracks,
we kept walking, soaking all
the sights and sounds…
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till we found ourselves
in front of the oldest catholic church in Hà Nộichurch3church
St. Joseph’s Cathedral had that old gothic architecture
and an all embracing aura in front of the church.
Travellers, students, photographers, newlyweds
all seemed to find something to do in front of the church
(this is why public space is so important)

 

We too found ourselves a small stall
and drank some yougurt and Vietnamese coffee

Then, we walked some more
in search of a good roadside lunch
and we weren’t disappointed at all…
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one can always do museums and more museums in Hà Nội
but that was taken care of in the last trip so we just walked.

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The best part about walking is
you get distracted by very many things
and while it is a good thing
the Trấn Quốc Pagoda was already closed
by the time we reached there.

But we gathered so much more
in terms of getting to know the city
and I could only be so grateful
for this walking experience.
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hanoi20By evening, the Hoàn Kiếm Lake had lit up
and the square was bustling with activities.

For dinner, we sat by the road once again
in this Cơm Gà corner which apparently means chicken rice
but what were we to know, we ordered beef rice with vegetables
and that gravy chilly chicken which was sweeter than expected
but what a feast to end a wonderful day of walking in Hà Nội.

 

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Huế to Hà Nội

We took the train from Huế to Hà Nội
A very comfortable journey with super friendly train staff
(did I mention how easy it was to book the train tickets too?)

Upon reaching Hà Nội, we walked around the Hoàn Kiếm Lake
which is located in the key area of capital city.
It is another of these public spaces where people enjoy
and that makes Vietnam such a wonderful place.

However the lake. was undergoing some water draining
and did not look as clean and pristine as the last time around.hanoi1hanoi2

As we walked around, we could see that
Hà Nội was also in the mood for tết 2018.hanoi0hanoi4

For dinner, we got to try the famous Bun Cha of Hà Nội
which even Obama enjoyed with some bia (beer) in one of these joints.hanoi3

Streets of Huế

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Since, tết or the vietnamese new year
was round the corner
the stores of Huế were decorated
with artificial flowers that
that looked almost real,
but the real flowers
also found place in nearby corners
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walking around any new city gives us
a sense of understanding the place.
and while travellers could give a miss to Huế
I am glad we got to walk this historical city for all its worth.

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Inside the market was this joint
and we had all that rice and fish for just $1.75

We then walked to a nearby park
and appreciated the public spaces
that exist for children to play and enjoy
as this little one came and displayed
his roller-blading-cum-kung fu skills.
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