Vietnam Trip Photo Report #4: Huế and Sapa
In an effort to speed up my faltering photo posting progress from this trip (which was finished over a month ago, mind) I am combining two cities into one post again even though they are miles apart, both in terms of disposition and in terms of geography.
We were led to believe by a couple of people that Huế was the less touristic, more “authentic” and historically significant alternative to Hội An, but I would be the first to admit that we struggled there. Despite staying in an excellent hotel, we found the actual city to be imposingly big and hostile to pedestrians, with some of the most persistently annoying cyclo touts (I recall beginning to wince at the approaching shout of “HELLO!”) and moto drivers around. It didn’t help matters that on the first day we slogged through a couple of miles of this annoyance to cross the river to the Imperial Citadel in oppressive jungle heat. Think Adrian Cronauer’s forecast of “continued hot and shitty” and you’re there.
But we got to the Imperial City and the Forbidden City within and were impressed by the old buildings and the new – some of them restored to former glories after pesky bombings by the Americans in the 60s. We chanced some fairly dodgy street food (congealed pig’s blood, anyone) and dodged yet more cyclo drivers. On the second day we battled through small intestinal distress and retook the city, this time on a smarter conveyance: bicycles. This was a much more pleasant way to see the city as it precluded the cyclo touts approaching and also cut the city down to a manageable size, allowing us to get around to the central market and the surrounding canals.
Half a country away on the Chinese border is the former hill station of Sapa. Whereas we had been wrongfully advised of Huế’s “authenticity” and lack of tourists, several fellow travelers had shared horror stories of the tenacious hill tribe touts of Sapa, so we arrived expecting the worst. As it turned out, aside from an initial encounter with a gaggle of Black H’mong women swarming our bus on arrival, and a bit of a rip-off tour booked from our hotel, most of our time in Sapa was copacetic and we found Sapa quite relaxing even as it was touristic.
Our time in Sapa was mostly visiting the surrounding countryside of steep rice terraces, villages, parks, and the odd waterfall. It was on one of our excursions over into the village of Cat Cat that I decided to lay down on my back to get a beauty shot of a water buffalo and did my back in, a condition that has only exacerbated over time and is still affecting me over a month later as I type this in Nigeria. But we continued with our hike and our overall experience of Sapa was a positive one which made me want to come back and get a bit more off the beaten track next time.
I couldn’t resist including the shot below, which I forgot I had captured. These two German girls were the two biggest marks in Sapa, by which I mean that they had developed no defenses against people approaching them on the street. Every time a H’mong woman came up to them, for instance, they would stop and chat and check out whatever she was selling. Except that this always drew a crowd of other H’mong merchants, so that wherever these girls went, they always had a convoy of hill tribe women attached like lampreys.
We are into the home stretch now, in the next post or two we will cover the buzzing capital of Vietnam, Hanoi, as well as the beautiful karst wonderland of Ha Long Bay. By which point I will well and truly be ready to change tack onto other destinations… Barcelona awaits.