Sunday, July 06, 2014

Sapa, Vietnam--another very special experience

We took an overnight train to Sapa and shared it with two others. We had relied on the staff at Hotel Charming II in Hanoi to get the tickets for us (there are at least 3 different companies that go to Sapa overnight daily.)   and they also arranged for a cab to take us to the station late at night with a staffer going along on motorcycle.   The staffer waited with us to boarding and also took our suitcases to our train car. 
 On the way up we were with a a father and daughter.  The daughter worked in Hong Kong and the father came from Great Britain to visit.  On the way back we were with two young women from New Zealand who had just finished high school who had been volunteering in an orphanage.  They told us some sad but amazing stories of their experiences.  The cabin was small with a bathroom down the hall, but met our needs.
We each had a free bottle of water, and at the start of the trip, a woman came down the hall with a cart with packaged snacks to sell.   It is a good thing we ate dinner before our ride!

In the very early morning, we saw a lot of small villages and rice paddies along the way.

We got off the train at Lao Cai (population 100,000+) which is a bustling cross-border business town very close to the border with China.  The town was pretty much destroyed during an invasion with China in 1979, and the border stayed closed until 1993.   It has been a trading town since ancient times.

 After getting off,  we found the van that we had ordered in advance through Sapa Sisters.  We could have found one on our own, but we were tired, and this was expedient.  The road to Sapa was VERY windy for the 38 kilometers (22 miles) and the ride took over an hour uphill.  The van driver eventually got us to the Family Guest House (Luong Thuy Family Guest House, a clean simple hostel/hotel around the corner a bit from the bustling area of Sapa.  I found out a few days later that the shops across the street were simpler and a bit less expensive than other parts of town.
In addition to the ride to Sapa, the $10 fee entitled us to a meal at the hotel where the Sapa Sisters work out of, so we took adavantage of it.

My meal

Marcy's meal--an omelet, etc.

Cute dining area
Decorations on wall of eating area
 We met our guide, Little Chi, explained our change of plans for health reasons to go on a 2 day one night trek instead of 3 day two nights.  I felt another days rest would really  help me, and it did.

We got a cab to our hotel, the Sapa House, a new hotel a few blocks uphill from the main part of town. We asked for a room with a mountain view, which we would have had if the fog and clouds had lifted, but we were out of luck.  However, our room was huge and lovely.  The screen to the left was actually a shade which retracted, dividing the main room from the bathroom.  What a lovely touch! Note the lovely tapestries and pillows  on the bedwith Hmong embroideries on them.

 The view through the window on a foggy evening.  It looked like a silk screen!
I rested while Marcy went out to explore the town a bit.  I was fascinated by a group of men, given orders by an older woman, who were taking down a bamboo forest across the street, possibly to make room for another vegetable garden.
First trimming and topping the bamboo

Hauling some away
Throwing some down to the ravine behind the stand of bamboo
The boss?


Beautiful pillow cover--yes, I bought it
Woman selling hats along side of the road

Selling items along street down the hill from our hotel
Market entrance area--after going down a flight of steps
Food for sale
Little girl in traditional clothing
Spices for sale, but no details in English
Off to the right side of the main street of the market, we discovered a whole area of cloth items, etc.

 The little girl below was in a shop with her mother.  The Mom left her with us while she went to another shop to find something and Marcy really enjoyed playing with her.
Surrounding a tourist(not a lot in town)
Dad carrying couple's daughter on HIS back
Town center

Typical narrow, hilly tourist street in Sapa

Fire for heating water and getting rid of some garbage
We were in Sapa in a very foggy time.  The evening we got there, the fog kept on going in and out, very quickly.
Tourist boat on artificial (?) lake
 It was cool but not too cold.  I was wearing a fleece.

One of my favorite shots. 

Everyone has a cell phone!

In addition to items made by Hmong and (in some cases) finished to make "fancier" pillow cases, wall hangings, etc., a lot of North Face clothing items were also for sale as well as items from other countries that have factories in Vietnam.  We were not sure if they were seconds, last year's stock, or ripoffs.  I did get a Kipling brand nylon multi-pocket fanny pack for about $10 that fit me much better than any ones (other brands) that I had seen in Seattle. (Kipling brand began in 1987 in Belgium).   
There were not a lot of tourists in town when we were there, and the only other Americans we ran into happened to be from a suburb of Seattle!  Although it was definitely a tourist town, it had a special atmosphere, and the people there were extremely nice and friendly. 

Next, on to the final blog from this trip...our 2 day trek outside of Sapa.

Food in Southeast Asia. (and a few flowers)

We really enjoyed the variety of food on our trip, most freshly cooked from scratch. There were also new fruits (and a few vegetables) to try and many I had not seen for years!

 There may be some repetitions in photos, as I took similar photos in different places...hope not too many.  Enjoy!

Food in Bangkok,  Thailand--before GAdvantures Tour officially begins

Selections from buffet at Centra Hotel breakfast.  YUM!

Chicken curry lunch across from Grand Palace

Mangostein, $1.50 a kilo
Apples, $1.30 a kilo

Small weekend food market

Cooking food to sell at the weekend market
Food in Cambodia:
Lunch near Siem Reap--about $4--really tasty
Lunch served in coconut
Sticky rice and red beans cooked in bamboo, on road to Phnom Penh
Special grilled Cambodian fish
Sauteed mushroom and chicken cooked in lotus leaf--pretty but simple, bland dish
Very sour Cambodian fish soup with eggplant--well, I tried it once!

No one actually ordered this
Durian....doesn't taste bad at all
Rambutan...lychee with crazy hair--tasty!

Rambutan inside, like lychee but lots of little white sections, each with a black seed
Jack Fruit, rather dry
Tamarind inside, tastes date-like, yummy
I bought some in Seattle and it was much more sour than the fresh fruit
Crickets, gross
Fried Quail legs
Palm fruit on left, better with inner casing removed between eating
Marcy's first order of fresh spring rolls
Women selling cooked skewerers of meat in a market, no refrigeration
Pig parts for sale--street market

Fruit--not sure what it is--maybe sapodilla?

Tasty fruit, no idea what it is called in English.  Had it in Hanoi hotel too
I usually got water, but I tried this "soy milk."  It was way  too sweet! 

Lunch near open market.  Marcy's dish with tomatoes on top, mine with veggies on the bottom.  Yum!
Got white rice at most meals.  Brown rice is not "known" here.
Buffet at Diamond Hotel in Phnom Penh--more western so carb and meat heavy

Fish for sale--some dried but a bunch fresh and no cooling--at Central Market, Phnom Penh

Fruit I really like and cannot remember the name--help!--anona in Hebrew (custard apple?)
Inside of the fruit above...lots of small black seeds
Delicious curry at home dinner in Phnom Penh
Vegetarian spring rolls at dinner in private home in Phnom Penh

Veggie Dish at private home
The meal was delicious--several vegetarian dishes were made for the 3 of us who preferred vegetarian.  It was a great experience to be in a family home and also have such great food.

Below is a homemade alcoholic drink made from rice, I think, and tarantulas.  Others tried it.  I did not!

Dead (drowned?) tarantulas
We stopped at an open street market close to Kratie, Cambodia for lunch and saw some different things. The people were very friendly and happy to smile for a photo when I asked if it was OK.

 Below--two duck egg specialities (neither of which I would choose to eat): The black eggs are ones that have been stored in jars of salt until the shells turn black.  By that time, the inside has turned into a jelly-like texture similar to a soft boiled egg.  The white eggs are called "duck eggs with duckling," It contains an unhatched duckling which is boiled and served with herbs, salt and pepper, to give strength and good health.

Tiny river clams in the sun on a tablecloth

A Woman selling dried fish as she talks on her cell phone
A woman chopping fresh fish.  She is dressed in traditional clothing that looks like pjs to us.
Selling live fish--picking one out from her water tank
Eating a fried spider leg in "Spiderville"
Fried crickets
Insects fried in lots of oil

Boy selling small bananas
Beer I tried--tasty!  Much better than our amber-colored beer and no hoppy aftertaste
 Below:  beach picnic food:  very chewy half chicken with very spicy sauce and salad.

Breadfruit--quite large
Woman peeling pineapple to sell

Man working in market....selling spices and herbs
Some fish concoction....looked a bit gross sitting in the hot weather.
Kakada eating water buffalo
 Food in Laos:
Beer Lao--Richard liked it but I didn't.
Chicken or fish larb or laap, the national dish of Laos

Woman opening fruit and selling it by side of road/river
Cooking vegetables at home stay
 Some of the dishes we were served for dinner.  YUM!!   Veggie melon included.

Morning glory?
Tiny mangos that fell of the tree.  Local women collect the to grind and use as seasonings.
Food in Luang Prabong Market:
Fresh fish

Sugar Cane?
Herbs, etc.

Donuts!  What a surprise to see....
River Weed as Laos is landlocked.  A bit more sour than seaweed
Mango drink at hotel in lovely setting
$1 vegetarian buffet at Luang Prabong night market--safe street food and owners are also caterers
Yum!  Nice choice of food!

Buffalo skin snack

Tumeric Tea
Jack Fruit in buffet at Pakse hotel--bland
Cut fruit for sale on road to Vang Viang--didn't buy as was not sure how safe it was
Sababa hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Vang Viang

In Vietnam:
First dish of Pho

Delicious latte in Sapa
Yummy pumpkin soup--key ingredients were coconut milk and fish sauce?
 Lunch at Sapa--chicken above and vegetarian below.  Mine included the pumpkin soup for $4 total.

Asian breakfast at Sapa hotel
Egg and veggie breakfast at Sapa hotel
Delicious eggplant dish--at least it was the first time Marcy had it
Two dishes above served at restaurant for training disadvantaged youth to work in a restaurant.
Lots of spices for sale, but none marked in English
Skinning sugar can to sell on road out of Sapa
Vegetarian lunch at restaurant first day on trek
Hostess cooking at homestay
Close up, with long stick of wood gradually pushed in
Yummy vegetables
Dinner--at least part of it--note electric rice cooker and Coke (which was extra)
Almost forgot:  before dinner after we arrived, we had something to drink and French fries.  I normally do not eat them, but these were delicious and not at all greasy.  The sauce was very spicy....definitely not catchup!

Then we went to hostess's daughter's home for a special meal honoring the new truck the son-in-law got for work and ate (or tried to) again.  What a feast!!

Purple rice.  I didn't get to try it as it was at  the mostly men's table.

Mushroom dish
Morning glory?  Very common vegetable in Asia.

Rice noodles and ???

Chicken--tough, I think.
Pork ?
Our hostess was going to make banana crepes for us for breakfast.  We asked what she and our guide would eat and she replied they would have left over dinner.  We said that we would be happy with that (and I preferred it), but she made both anyway!

I really enjoyed the soup and vegetables as well as the hard boiled eggs!

Here are a few photos of fauna that I took along the way. I either took fewer photos of flowers than usual (but I doubt it) or there were less to photograph.  When we were at nice quality hotels for lunch or coffee, I often found flowers to photograph.    I did get some nicely detailed photos with my new camera.
Water flowers in Phnom Penh

Frangipane flower--very fragrant
For sale at Wat Phu--for gifts for Buddhas

Buganvilla on Don Khong Island, Laos
Varigated flowers all over overnight island homestay

Water lily cafe pond by hotel
At organic farm near Vang Viang

 Top and bottom photo from hotel gardens near our hotel in Vang Viang
Insect on lily