Protecting myself in the cop car.
Sorry, had to on the title.
I left Kunming for the long distance station to catch the overnight bus to Hekou, the Chinese border town with Vietnam. While waiting for the bus this little 11 year old Chinese girl comes over and starts to tell me to be careful and to watch my bag on the bus, because there were two bad men on board who would use a knife to slash my bag and steal from me. Ok... not exactly the last thing I want to hear before boarding a dark bus alone with a group of sketchy guys for 9 hours. But alright, I can work with that. I put all my money into the money necklace thing (so secretive.. NOT) and wore it under my clothes. I then wrapped my bag in the teddy bear comfortor provided, hugged it, and turned to position it between myself and the window.
Ben and the cop car.
Not too shabby, I thought. After about a hundred stops along the way we finally arrive in Hekou at 4:15am, not at a bus station, but on some random dark street. So I'm just standing there on the corner, not quite sure what to do, when a girl starts making a big scene over something or other and a police van shows up. She starts talking to them and is about to get in the van with two other girls when I hear her yell, in English, "come on, let's go!" Obviously to me, I'm the only white person there. So I have two options: 1) stand on the abandoned street in the middle of the night with the dodgey looking group of guys for who knows how long, or 2) go with the somewhat English speaking girl in the police car. Easy choice.
HELL YA, VIET NAM!
Once at the station I learn that two of the girls got all their money stolen. I'm guessing the little Chinese girl didn't warn them.
So they filed reports, we hung out for a few hours when suddenly Mr. Ben from the Kunming hostel shows up. Haven't talked about Ben before in the blog, but he becomes a somewhat important character for awhile so here's his introduction. Anyways, Ben took the later bus, got dropped off in the same area, asked where the foreign girl (aka me) went and after a bit of miscommunications someone told him to get on their bike and took him to the police station. Sometimes you just gotta go with the flow in China. At 7am the cops decided it was time for breakfast so they drove us to a little restaurant and we had some nice noodle soup.
Lunch. And I'm not kidding..
The cops even paid for it! They then drove us to the border. I think one of them like Luisa (the girl who's money was stolen). I never thought I would be escorted out of a country by cops before! They even let us take pictures with them. Well, their car.. besides Luisa, of course. At 8am we cross into Vietnam.
Ben and I then made our way up to Sapa, a small mountain town about an hour and a half away from the border. A bus stopped for us and we agreed on the price of 30,000 dong each (about $1.5), yet an hour into the trip the guy insists we agreed on 300,000 dong! The Vietnamese are notorious for riping foreigers off, but 10x the price is a bit much.
Town square and all it's little entrepreneurs.
We stuck to our guns and after much aggressive behavior and arm movements on his part he finally accepted 40,000 dong each. The guys in front of us asked how much we ended up paying (through much back and forth with my little notebook and the pocket translator) and gave us high fives for "beating" the bus guy. Pretty funny. Soon after I hear Ben whisper, "Allison, the guy is stroking my calf.. what do I do?" - Hilarious. Leg hair is a bit of a novelty here I suppose. I said to sit back and enjoy.
Jeez, this is becoming a much longer post than anticipated, but being concise was never my strong suit.
Now where was I? Oh yes. We arrived in Sapa and were immediately followed by the tiniest teenage girls, Ping and Shom, from the H'mong village.
The H'mong men in the process of losing.
The spoke English well and asked us all sorts of questions. They even waited for us as we went from hotel to hotel trying to find a room (well, two) for the night. Apparently we arrived on the last day of a big festival so everywhere was booked. We eventually found two dorm beds, thank God, at the only hostel there and went out to watch the festivities. There was a great tug of war competition between the different villages and it was really cool to watch all the women cheer on their men. Unfortunately for our friends the H'mong men kinda sucked. But it's all in good fun. And wow, the women are persistent when trying to sell you something.. "hello, where you from? buy something from me?" seemed to be the town slogan of Sapa.
All the village women watching.
I wish I could portray tone when writing that line, it's quite funny and all so innocent and sweet sounding. They get very sad when they talk to you, following you around, and you don't buy a handmade wallet. I ended up giving in and buying two: one from Ping and one from Shom (because it was unfair of me to buy from one but not the other). But they were very helpful and hung out with us for hours telling us about the various village traditions, etc, so I didn't mind shooting some dong their way. Ha, dong. That girl from Sweden I met would love that line.
The next day I went on a trek to some of the villages, which turned into quite the little hike up streams, through rivers, and even putting my foot in the mud once or twice.
Top of the trek.
Got that nice earthy, water-buffalo dung smell. Lovely. I even got myself a nice little farmer's tan. Well, sunburn that turned into a very distinct tan. Always a good look. A surprisingly disappointing moment of the trek was walking past a perhaps two room hut with barely a roof but yet had a TV blaring inside. Technology is never too far away, even in the remote mountains of Northwest Vietnam.
Ben and I had dinner that night then headed to one of the only bars in town which contained all of about 5 other people, all Westerners. Ben started asking me all these seemingly random questions for "a fun little game" he wanted to play.. aka, psycho-analyzing my life. Apparently the first thing I would give up is my children (sounds about right) and the last is my passion for life.
Me with the H'mong lady who made me a little heart out of plants.
Which I would like to think is right. This all came from me choosing animals for a voyage across a desert or something. We then struck up a conversation with a scruffy, fun looking 41 year old Australian guy who was motorbiking around Vietnam. Interesting guy. He decided he wanted to prove to me that he knew US geography well and proceeded to name (almost) all the states in their correct order West-East and about a third of their capitals. Quite impressively actually for someone who's never been there!
Hm, I had planned to write about Hanoi and Ha Long Bay as well, but I think that would make this entry excruciatingly long and I know people can only take so much reading... so until next time, adios! Because I don't know how to say goodbye in Vietnamese, ok?