Tag Archives: Vietnam

Good night Vietnam.

Well hello from Ho Chi Minh City!

That’s a mouthful isn’t it? HCMC is also known as Saigon. I’m scrabbling to stay on top of the blog. We’ve made it this far! So I thought I’d bring you up to date with recent happenings in a more summary kinda way with the help of lots of photos so that it doesn’t drag on too much. We’re heading to Cambodia on the bus tomorrow, and I must admit I’m totally KNACKERED. Over tea this evening, Tom and I decided to calculate how much travel we’ve done in Vietnam…. Drum roll please… Over 24 days we have spent 70 hours on public transport, which is over 11% our time here (that’s including time spent asleep) so I’ve given myself full permission to be exhausted haha. Onwards!

Hoi An
After Hue, we headed to Hoi An, (not to be confused with Hanoi!) which is a beautiful coastal town set upon the river. It’s an ancient trading port and UNESCO World Heritage Site. The old town is really atmospheric and the influence from the trading with China and Japan is still apparent today. It really whisks you back in time, and it ended up being one of my favourite places in Vietnam.

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We had a cycle to the beach one day, then the heavens opened and we sheltered in a restaurant (shame.) We explored the old town by day and by night, which I loved. Hoi An is also famous for tailoring and shoe making. Many people get suits made and sent home. Tom and I decided to treat ourselves to a pair of shoes each. Tom got a beautiful pair of leather and suede brown brogues made, and I went for a pair of sandals. What a luxury to have shoes made to measure for my narrow and high-instepped feet, my toes are singing! (They cost £17 which is much less than I’d normally pay for good shoes) Unfortunately I can’t share a pic of Tom’s shoes as he’s posted them home.

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(They’re dirty already, fingers crossed that they make it home in one piece! Travelling is mighty hard on the old footwear!)

Other highlights of Hoi An were a wonderful musical performance including six musicians playing traditional instruments including a bamboo flute. This then ended up being a game of bingo (I’m not sure why) but we didn’t win…. Also I got a manicure and pedicure. What luxury!

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I was then struck down with some diabolical food poisoning. (From a cheese sandwich, no less) I was very very sicky, so we had to spend an extra night there… Tom eating out in restaurants on his own, bless him. The staff at our homestay were so lovely to me, and kept popping to our room to check on me whilst Tom was out and about. Fast forward a week later and I’m FINALLY back to normal. Oh well…

Nha Trang
We had a lovely ten hour train journey through the day to Nha Trang, which is further down the coast. The train was a nightmare for me, still ill, but I made it!
Nha Trang is a kind of beach resort-like town that is really popular amongst Russian people. This makes it quite surreal because a lot of the writing you see is in Russian, and you have a lot of Russian menus thrust in your face, which makes life even more confusing than normal.

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I spent the day in bed recovering whilst Tom took himself to a brew house he found on the beach (I don’t feel too sorry for him, whilst he sent me photos of his pints haha)
The next day I made it to the beach and drank a coconut at the beach bar. Progress! In all honesty, I didn’t see much of Nha Trang, but I did like what I saw. (Apart from when I saw someone spit-roasting an entire crocodile in the street, which didn’t help my disposition.)

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Da Lat
Next on the agenda was Da Lat, a town up in the mountains that is cool in climate and popular amongst the Vietnamese as a honeymoon destination. Our hostel was a real gem as they gave us free breakfast and dinner, we met some lovely people and the staff were really nice.
On our first day we walked to the Crazy House, a piece of bonkers architecture designed by a female local architect.

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(Above photos are courtesy of google images, as I was still being dopey and forgot to take my phone or camera with me.)

The Crazy House has been a work in progress since 1990, and was really interesting to visit, although it didn’t feel very safe at some points (e.g. When we walked over the roof with a hand rail at knee height) I loved it though. The lonely planet describe it as “imagine Gaudi and Tolkein meeting up and dropping acid together.” Haha.
That evening we went the 100 roofs cafe, a bar by the same architect. This was literally like a maze and it took us a while to find the bar.

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(The best bar I’ve ever been to!)

The next day we took a cable car across the valley to visit a monastery, which was wonderful to get a bit of peace, then we just chilled with people from our hostel and Ruby the three week old kitten who I had to try really hard not to kidnap.

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We were up early for the bus the next day. I dubiously had my eye on the street butcher across from the hostel whilst I ate my breakfast. I then saw him pick up an entire cow’s head, snap the jaw bone open and then cut the tongue out. My new found vegetarianism is being reinforced by the day at the moment haha!

Ho Chi Minh City
Our final stop in Vietnam is HCMC. After yet another long-ass bus we arrived and found our hostel.

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What followed was an interesting night’s sleep with rats running around the floor of our room. GRIM.

The following day we visited the infamous Cu Chi tunnels. These were used in the Vietnam war by the Vietcong so that they could hide from and attack the Americans.

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We saw all sorts of horrifically tortuous booby traps created by the Vietnamese. We were then led to a shooting range where you could pay to fire a variety of guns. I wish I’m joking, but I’m not. Seriously. I was just thinking “why the fuck would you want to shoot a gun, here of all places?!” I’ve never heard gunshots before, and they were absolutely deafening and terrifying, and I didn’t like it at all. Then we were shown an American tank, which lots of members of our tour group posed by, smiling for photos and taking selfies.

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I just find this whole mentality disturbing, and I was quite upset that people don’t seem to have a concept that they’re posing for a photo with a weapon of war, in a place where thousands died. Anyway. Rant over.
We then got to the entrance of the tunnels. We were told that it was a stretch of 100 metres, and we could get out at intervals of 20m. I’d been warned that they were small, but I wasn’t ready for how small the tunnels actually were! You literally had to shuffle along in a crouch. There were people in front and behind, and it was hot and so small. Panic started to rise in my throat, my breath quickened  and my chest tightened and I said “sorry, I need to come out!” And had to go back and get out. I just couldn’t do it. It’s a bit embarrassing to admit, but I didn’t even go into the tunnels. I could feel a panic attack coming on and I didn’t want to cause a scene. I’ve realised that I hate small spaces with people in them. I could have managed if it was just me and Tom, but the thought of there being people ahead and behind without being able to get out just…ARGH. The Cu Chi tunnels were an amazing place to visit, and I recommend them to anyone visiting Vietnam.

For the sake of the blog, here’s a description from Tom’s point of view of his trip down the tunnels:

“Claustrophobic, sweaty, dusty and back breaking.”

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(Ho chi Minh city from the view of our rat hotel)

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(My new flutey tute)

On waking in the second morning in the rat hotel I went to the toilet, got locked inside the toilet having made a horrific smell (thanks Vietnamese food) and then had to be broken out by the hotel staff. Mortifying!! To be honest, the hotel wasn’t exactly the best, hence the rodent problem.

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(At least there was a gap above the door so I didn’t get Cu Chi tunnel claustrophobic a whilst waiting to be broken out)

I decided we deserved a fancy hotel with a bed that’s comfortable and no rats…. So spent 17 quid for a night in the Dragon Palace. Yay!

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Our final day was spent in the war remnants museum, which was filled with some really harrowing images. I had a massive lump in my throat throughout. It’s crazy that the Vietnam war was one of the first that was documented by the media.

Overall, I’ve enjoyed our time in Vietnam. I feel most homesick when I’m poorly, so I did struggle with being ill twice. The country is a true mixed bag of crazy hustle bustle in the cities and beautiful countryside. I’m glad we came here.

Things that have surprised me in Vietnam

1) The bananas are green.
2) The oranges are also green.
3) People like crouching. On the streets of Vietnam, you’ll often see people crouched, smoking a cigarette, or chatting. They do it with their feet flat on the floor. I tried this in our hotel room and fell flat on my arse.
4) No one walks really. Scooters are the given mode of transport with locals driving from shop to shop, parking their bike on the pavement outside. This makes it a pretty tricky place to be a pedestrian.
5) Vietnam is home to possibly the world’s cheapest beer. 9p a glass makes a happy Thomas.
6) The gaps between the cities make for a lot of travel time. It’s easy to see why lots of backpackers choose to travel by motorbike. Having seen so many people covered in bandages however, I decided it’s not for me.
7) Families live together. Many generations of one family live under one roof in Vietnam, which is lovely. The Vietnamese are very social and many choose to spend the evenings sat on stools in the street. This makes me want to strive to spend less time in front of the TV when we get home!

8) There are over 54 ethnic groups living in Vietnam today. I really enjoyed meeting some of the Black Hmong tribe whilst we were in Sapa. It was a lovely experience.

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Tam Coc and Hue

Hello dearest reader! We are currently sat in our hostel room in Da Lat, sheltering from a rainstorm. Once again, I’m playing catch up on the blog… One day I’ll be up to date! Imagine that!

After beautiful Halong Bay, we were off on the bus to Nimh Bin. After about six hours, our bus stopped in apparently the middle of nowhere. It was pitch black outside and completely tipping it down. We asked the driver if it was the final stop, to which he nodded and so we jumped off into ankle deep water.

After consulting Tom’s phone we discovered we were in a small town called Tam Coc, miles away from our original destination (and pre-booked hostel) in Nimh Bin. Once again, the travel gods were smiling at us and we managed to cancel our hostel without getting charged and stayed in the hotel next to the bus stop! That was a relief. We ate in the restaurant opposite whilst we watched everyone running around in the rain. We weren’t expecting rainy season whilst in Vietnam, but most days it chucks it down for a couple of hours. In a way this is a good thing, because it clears out the stifling heat!

After some rest, we woke up the next day and realised we were in such beautiful surroundings. The landscape was filled with huge natural stone blocks similar to the ones in Halong Bay, and it was also quite jungly.

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We went downstairs for some breakfast (which was grim) and as I was poking down some kind of cremated egg, a woman on a bicycle pulled up and started screaming and pointing. We were like “what.” (My coffee hadn’t kicked in at this point.) After a whole chorus of people started shouting in Vietnamese we finally noticed the large snake that was in the bush by our table. I was like “do you reckon it’s dangerous?” Tom said “yep!” One of the staff came over with a big stick and poked the snake which leapt a few foot in the air and out of the bush towards our table. Tom jumped on his chair and I started running around the restaurant like a headless chicken. And thus, breakfast was over. Nothing like a brush with death to start your day!

We hired some bicycles from the hotel and went to look for some caves. The cycle was nice because it was flat and it’s nowhere near as hot as Thailand. So, no death threats for Tom this time!
The cave was a bit disconcerting as we just walked around on our own. We were the only ones there, and I couldn’t help but picture that scene in The Descent when the cave collapses. Anyway, we made it out alive and headed up 520 steps to a view point over the river. It was hard work, but worth it as the view was amazing. We could see people enjoying a row on the river, so decided to do that the following day.

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The boat trip was incredible because the woman rowing the boat used her feet to row which I just found absolutely fascinating! The landscape was stunning, and we had a really nice time.

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Weirdly there were all these paparazzi men taking photos of us which we got bullied into buying. (Silly me for imagining you can do ANYTHING in Vietnam without being bloody hassled to death.) oh well, the result is a hilarious photo to put on the fridge. We look so unimpressed!!

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After a few hours of waiting around and rinsing the hotel’s wifi, we got a taxi to the train station. Our taxi man was the smiliest man I’ve ever met, and spent the whole journey offering us pineapple. We arrived at the train station, and boarded the sleeper train with much trepidation on my part.
We found our carriage, slid open the door to find a family of four on the bottom two bunks and the top two bunks clear for me and Tom. After trying to silently shove my backpack under the bottom bunk I faced the challenge of getting onto the top bunk without the help from a ladder. The bunk was at chin height, and those of you who know me will understand that I’m very athletically challenged. I didn’t dare put my foot on the bunk below as it was full of people, so in order to get on to my bed I had to get my foot above my head – think John cleese’s Ministry of Silly Walks with Tom pushing my bum upwards. Utterly ridiculous. Luckily the family were asleep so no one saw the display. I lay there trying not to be sick (damn motion sickness to hell!!) and praying I didn’t need the toilet in the night.

The carriage was okay, very basic, and the sheets weren’t at all clean…. But I value my own life enough to avoid taking the sleeper bus in Vietnam. After a few minutes, the door opened and a guard came in, and gestured for Tom to follow him. I sat and waited for about ten minutes thinking “what the hell is going on?!”
It turns out, Tom was taken into a “posh” carriage, the guard closed the door behind them and patted the bed for Tom to sit down on the bunk opposite. The guard then asked if Tom would like this carriage for fifty dollars. Tom said “it’s very nice but no thank you!” And quickly exited. As he was leaving he saw a rat coming out of the air conditioning vent. I found all this out as Tom and I communicated through texts on our phones as we didn’t want to make any noise. Modern technology eh?

The night was.. Ok. I had about two hours sleep because the train constantly stopped and started all night. I and was lying awake when the guard came at 7am to tell us it was our stop. Phew! For some reason we were super early, so our designated taxi hadn’t arrived. We were pushed into buying some coffee which arrived in the fucking DIRTIEST glass I’ve ever seen whilst some bloke tried to convince us to book a tour with him. I felt like punching him in the head, not only because he was annoying, but I was also very sleep deprived and it wasn’t even 8am, so I definitely didn’t appreciate the sales pitch. Luckily we managed to get in touch with the hotel so they came to pick us up before I committed GBH.

Our hotel was sent from heaven. They gave us cold fresh mango juice and let us into the room hours early, which had two double beds in it. I was so happy! We spent the day chilling out and then walked around the city of Hue (pronounced hway.) we booked a tour for the following day.

Our tour took us to the demilitarised zone which was the no fire zone between north and south Vietnam. We visited the Khe Sanh American military base which is now a war museum. There were lots of remnants from the war including bunkers, helicopters, planes and bombs.

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And in the afternoon the Vinh Moc tunnels. The villagers of Vinh Moc built the tunnel system and hid below ground for six years. The tunnel is essentially a series of long corridors with rooms coming off. The “family rooms” are scarcely big enough for two adults to lie down in. There was a maternity room where seventeen children were born. The tunnels have been widened for tourists, but they’re still incredibly small, I was constantly bashing my head and had to walk doubled over on many occasions. Also it was SO hot down there. I thought it’d be cool. It was a really humbling place to visit. It was so dark. I can’t begin to imagine living my daily life in a place like that. I left feeling incredibly lucky.

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(A bomb crater)

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Hanoi again and Halong Bay

After saying goodbye to beautiful Sapa, we were back on the jolly old sleeper bus to Hanoi.

Vietnam’s capital was a bit more bearable on our return, but at the same time, I’ve realised I’m definitely a fresh air, minimal noise and walkable pavement kind of person!
We visited the mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh, which was definitely one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen. I don’t want to write too much about it here, but if you’re interested, be sure to ask me haha!

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That evening we found the infamous beer Hoi corner. The general rule is, the closer your bum gets to the floor (I.e the smaller the stool) the cheaper the beer is. We were on 15p a glass.

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The following day was Tom’s turn to be ill. I swear that place is cursed. I wasn’t feeling great either. Luckily we had a nice hotel room and a tv complete with the Shaun the Sheep movie to keep me company (very Vietnamese) whilst Tom was being sick. Christ! We sound like a right pair don’t we! We truly deserve eachother haha. Having written off Hanoi we booked a tour to visit Halong Bay the following day.
We were up early and went to the travel agent, then got on the mini bus to the small boat, which was the wrong boat then onto the right boat and then onto the big boat where we were to spend our day. We’d booked the “cocktail cruise” because it was cheap, and covered a lot of Halong Bay. The boat was really grotty but we were with some nice people. We lazed around as we cruised the bay. The day was overcast but it was really beautiful!

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Halong Bay has always been what I see in my head when I think “Vietnam” so I was really chuffed to see it. After a few hours we stopped and went canoeing. This involved canoeing through a few caves which were absolutely beautiful and then ending in a lagoon full of jellyfish, which was a little bit scary.

Later on in the day we had a swimming spot and we both jumped off the top of the boat which was lovely. We finally arrived at Cat Ong island, where we were due to stay the night. In head I’d pictured a big island with a town, where we’d be staying in a hotel. In fact, it was a tiny desert island.

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(Our beach bungalow)

It was amazing! We were lead to our rooms, and somehow, everyone except four of us were put into a ten man dorm. Tom and I were taken to our bungalow with two other Brits. They then decided they’d rather be in the dorm so we had the place to ourselves! I was so happy! I hate dorm rooms so it was a massive treat.
The evening was spent eating, drinking, and being frivolous. Fabulous.

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The next day, Tom and I had decided to go trekking in the Cat Ba National Park. We were the only members of our group who had our big bags with us (as we didn’t want to go back to Hanoi) which made jumping onto a tiny boat in the choppy sea pretty terrifying, but we made it without getting wet. We got the boat to Cat Ba island where we then drove up to the mountains for a very sweaty walk through the forests and up a hill to the view point. I have never sweated so much in my life. We both looked like we’d been fully dressed in the shower. But it was so worth it! The view was stunning.

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I’m still getting used to Vietnam’s mix of madness in the cities and stunning natural beauty in the countryside.

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Good morning Vietnam!!

Good morning Vietnam!

I’m so sorry for the radio silence here on the blog. I seem to be getting more and more behind with the blog due to lack of wifi… Plus we’ve been doing a lot this past week!

So we took a horribly bouncy flight through a thunderstorm from Luang Prabang, Laos to Hanoi, Vietnam. Luckily it was only an hour in duration.
Tom had pre-booked us an airport transfer to our hotel, and we were delighted to be met by a man holding a sign with our names on. We were then led to an enormous mini van with air conditioning and we had the whole thing to ourselves. Bloody luxury compared to what we’re used to!

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(The above photo is a celebration of being millionaires once again. Tom’s holding about sixty quid haha)

The hotel was fine, apart from the worlds smallest bathroom. We had to stand over the toilet to have a shower and then exit the bathroom to dry ourselves because there simply wasn’t enough room haha! We ventured out into the craziness of Hanoi. I have never seen so many people in the tiny streets. Entire families were sat on miniature stools on the pavements. There were scooters EVERYWHERE and they don’t necessarily stay on the correct side of the road. Or on the road. Quite often they’ll drive onto the pavement and cut you up, giving you a dirty look!
We found a sandwich shop, ate a bit and went to bed.

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DISCLAIMER
Apologies in advance for being a bit moany about Hanoi. I didn’t like it. I was very ill and feeling pretty shit, so sorry I’m not more upbeat about it.

The next day we got up and ventured out for some food. I was feeling like death thanks to the anti-malaria tablets. I had excruciating stomach cramps and no appetite whatsoever and had barely eaten over the previous few days. Plus I’ve been having totally bonkers dreams and night terrors where I can’t breath and panic, so I’m knackered too. Stepping outside was a massive assault on the senses. Smells of people cooking God knows what, traffic everywhere, no giveway system just
TOOOOOOOT and go! Crossing the road was near damn impossible as the traffic is constant. You just have to find a small gap and run.

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We couldn’t find anywhere to eat for ages, and I was feeling exhausted and frustrated. We eventually found a sandwich shop and ordered two of the “specials.” As we sat to wait for the food on miniature stools inches from the pavement, we saw a woman across the road wearing shorts and wellies, crouched over a huge fish she had laid on some plastic on the pavement and she then proceeded to hack into pieces, blood spurting everywhere and running all over the floor. The sandwich arrived. Turns out the “special” was lumps of unidentifiable fatty meat on top of some grim tasting pate. I ate one mouthful, looked at the fish woman and nearly threw up. I’m steadily going off meat!

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(Here’s Tom modelling a mini stool for your viewing pleasure)

We then plodded to the prison. This took ages with the whole pedestrian nightmare thing. At on point, we checked both ways several times when crossing and suddenly a scooter appeared out of nowhere and Tom walked right into it. The driver nearly toppled over and Tom received a nasty bruise to the shin. I started getting more and more jumpy….

The prison was a really interesting place to visit. It was built by the French colonialists and used to imprison anyone who opposed their regime. The conditions were absolutely horrific. During the American war, the Vietnamese used it to hold the American POWs and they were treated really well. The Americans even referred to it as the “Hanoi Hilton.” I’m glad we went, but in all honesty, I spent most of the time on the toilet haha.

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(This is how the Vietnamese prisoners were held. Shocking isn’t it?!)

We then walked to the lake. I was really tired and we flopped down on a bench where we were hounded by some local students who wanted to practise their English. I was more than happy to chat to them, but more and more groups kept turning up and in the end we were stuck there for TWO HOURS before we could politely excuse ourselves and stagger back to the hotel.

On the way back I was terrified after Tom got hit, and I personally nearly got hit by a scooter on about five separate occasions until I cried and had a complete meltdown. I’m not good when I’m ill and stressed! We went back to the hotel and spent a few hours bonding with the toilet whilst Tom went to buy me a sandwich. God I love him. Plus it was a cheese sandwich this time.

The next day we got up very early for our trip to Sapa. I was eager to leave Hanoi behind, plus the photos of Sapa I’ve seen looked stunningly beautiful. We waited in the hotel lobby for an hour before someone came to “pick us up.” What this meant was a bloke on a scooter drove ahead of us, shouting directions, whilst we traipsed behind with our backpacks. Not exactly the pick up I was imagining! Eventually we got to the bus, and discovered it was in fact one of the infamous Vietnamese “sleeper buses.”

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I have no idea why it was a sleeper bus because it was the daytime but oh well. We got a bunk each. I hate bunkbeds. However, being horizontal on a bus is oddly soporific so I spent most of the six hour journey unconscious.
We arrived in Sapa and had a bit of a walk to our hotel. It wasn’t what I was expecting at all. The entire town was being dug up, with huge abandoned holes in the pavement everywhere, and enormous trucks filled with gravel creating a dust storm in their wake. It felt like we were in a war zone! We felt really disappointed, but it turns out we were just in the grotty end of town, and Sapa itself is really lovely.

The hotel was great, we booked a trip to the Bac Ha market the following day, and had a walk down to the rice paddies. Beautiful.

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The next day was another early start and we took a two hour mini bus ride to the small town of Bac Ha. The market is only there on Sundays. It was full of locals and we got a tour round which was really interesting. Again, the food section was alarming, with unidentifiable offal and stews. The meat section was a “hold your breath” job. I’m so glad Tom told me to put my walking boots on because at one point we had to jump over a big stream of blood.

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There was a really harrowing bit where dehydrated puppies were being sold and they were just so sad and some of them were shoved in tiny cages whilst they whined. I wanted to buy every single one. Live pigs were being rammed into plastic bags whilst they squealed until they found a small hole where there snouts could stick out and they just breathed silently, resigned to their fate. Sometimes it’s really difficult not to be upset. But I was upset. I am upset!! I felt really helpless.

There was nothing I could do. I have to remind myself that I’m here to observe and to learn about how people live. I’m a meat eater, so I have no place to get on my high horse about animal rights because God knows what the animals I’ve eaten have been through. I saw a photo on the outside of restaurant with a dead turtle on top of a salad with his shell all cracked open, and it made me SO sad. And a photo of a goat curled up, eyes closed with some grapes shoved in its mouth. But then I just think, why am I sad about this turtle, and this goat, but not about that chicken that I ate for lunch. Well, it turns out I am sad about that chicken too. I don’t want to eat meat anymore. There. Writing that made me cry.

Wow. Sorry. I’ve just had an epiphany.

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I think of this blog as my diary. I’m sorry if that was a bit personal, and perhaps I’m being oversensitive, but it’s just how I feel at the moment and I want to be honest.

Moving on…. For the rest of the trip we explored the market, saw the border to China, and enjoyed the view of the rice paddies.

The next day was another early start. We were off trekking through the rice paddies. A load of the local women, members of the Black Hmong tribe came along for the walk. It was really interesting to ask them questions and learn about their way of life. I loved imagining myself as one of them. I’d have been married aged 16-18, I’d live with my husbands family, all generations under one roof, and I’d have a few sprogs by now! The children in this part of the world grow up so quickly. You’ll see five year olds carrying their baby siblings on their backs, and babies feeding themselves rice.

I’ll let the photos do the talking. Sapa is a truly breath-takingly beautiful place!

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Until next time,