WE LOVE SAPA
We are back in the Mountains again! This time we’ve taken a comfy van from Hanoi to Sapa in Vietnam. The transport agent, homestay we booked and the hotel we checked out from all expressed a little concern that we were to spend the rest of the month here in Sapa. We just didn’t tell them we spent almost 2 months in another mountain recently…
The journey took about 5.5hrs including two 15 minute stops. The kids took it on like champions! We’ve unintentionally trained for that by climbing and descending mountains more than 10 times over the past two months. To our surprise, 95% of the roads were good! There were only two patchy parts due to ongoing construction but I must say Vietnam has some decent roads!
Sapa is a mountain station/town that is just 23km from China’s border in the far north of Vietnam. This mountainous region is home to the Hmong, Tay and Dao hill tribes. It is about 1500m above sea level (4900ft).
Here are the main highlights:
We’ve been taking it really slowly! Despite diligent hand washing and mask wearing, we all caught a flu in Hanoi. All of us are well after 3 days so we are back catching up on school work and exploring. The climate here has been so inviting, we don’t even mind walking a total of 4km to town and back! We don’t miss the killer heat in Hanoi! We look out on our balcony and this is the view that greets us….
We chose to live a little out of town to avoid the noise and traffic. Like Genting and Cameron Highlands, there is a significant amount of domestic tourists who visit for the weekend to relax or escape the heat. You’ll find a beautiful lake, a church and a huge town square where people hang out.
The Hôtel de la Coupole - MGallery is an architectural attraction in itself right smack in the middle of town. With Swiss-alps-like mountains as a backdrop, being in the vicinity of this 5 star hotel feels like you are in Europe
A 10 minute walk from town, you’ll find the local market. You’ll find live poultry, Salmon and Sturgeons. There is a sort of wholesale area that deals ethnic clothing, toys, herbs, tea and other local delicacies. It gave us great insight into the local life here.
The town centre is a vibrant place full of hotpot restaurants and other restaurants serving local delicacies. Food is hasn’t been cheap for us because we aren’t able to fully enjoy the local cuisine. (It is still way cheaper for an equivalent meal in Singapore for sure)
A TRAVELLNG LIFE ISN’T ALL HUNKY DORY
We can’t find ourselves a decently priced + acceptably furnished Airbnb in Sapa and so we are in a sort of homestay/Bed and breakfast kind of place. There is A LOT of adjustment we have to make. A major one would be food! Sure, we do enjoy the coffee, Bahn Mi and Pho here but that’s really only a small selection of what locals eat. The cleanliness of food prep, the way food is stored, amount of flies, the cuts of meat and flavours are very different from what we are used to. Travelling with two younger kids also mean that we need to find food that is a little more familiar. It is already a challenge to get them to eat when we were back in Singapore…travelling augments your daily struggles X10!
In fact, we’ve had to adjust quite a bit in Sapa. We mentioned how helpful the Grab app was in Hanoi but it is literally useless here. No Grab food, no grab cars or taxi. This is a more rural area so less locals speak English. Debra is ethnically Tamil so everyone automatically assumes she doesn’t speak Vietnamese. I seem to have a pan-south east asian face that Malaysians, Thais and Vietnamese people think I’m local.
A regular day at a shop: Debra goes and asks about an item in English and the shop keeper immediately points at me and her item and speaks in Vietnamese. I just show a stunned face and say no no, English please? *Shop keeper scratches his/her head and whips out her phone/calculator…
Outdated information plagues Google maps in this part of the world. The best way to research is to walk the streets and ask the shop keeper. But that isn’t easy here because we can’t get our own transport in Vietnam. Most car rental companies offer cars WITH drivers and information about foreigners driving in Vietnam is rather sketchy. There is also a lot of conflicting information about driving on an international driving license. Although it is quite common to rent a motorbike with no license, I wouldn’t take the risk considering the traffic situation in Vietnam. You get no insurance coverage and legal recourse if anything happens too. Not having our own transport has cut off a vital source of our adventures. It has limited where we can go and when we can go.
OUR 10 YEAR STRUGGLE THAT GOES ON…
Debra and I will celebrate our 10th marriage anniversary in 3 weeks. It’s the craziest thing I’ve ever done. I’m sure Debra will concur how crazy it is to be married to me.
One of the biggest struggle we’ve faced is the issue of race in Singapore.
This week, an experience in Vietnam has inspired us to write about this.
A shop keeper points at Debra “you and…” ….*points at me, “different eh?”, “different!”.
I understand the language barrier could have made it difficult for the shop keeper to express herself. Inter-racial marriages are less common here in Vietnam too. There’s room for growth here for sure.
We’ve been fortunate that we never had to feel different or less because of our race in most of our travels across the world. It has become almost an escape for us from the harsh struggle. The struggle is really the denial of the existence of racism, casual racism and insensitivity. It gives you the feeling you never really belong. These are things that we struggle with right from the first day we started dating. I hate to think that my children will ever have to feel this way in future.
Some of the most disturbing incidents we’ve experienced in Singapore…
Look at us. Other than our skin colours and facial features, how is our love any different? How are we that different? Love is love!
Vincent & Debra Kwan, Founders of Hiro & Jack and stay-at-home parents with the odd life.
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