Sapa

I wasn’t supposed to go to Sapa at all. My original plans were actually to go back to Japan right after Halong Bay, but unfortunate events beyond my control took place and I decided to stay in Vietnam for a few more days. Always being the super organized person that I am, Sapa really was an adventure because I decided to jump on a train 15 minutes before it was leaving. A few people that I met there were going and Hanoi was way too hot and they told me that Sapa was nice and cool, so I said “get me outta here!” and caught the train with them.

The train ride was pretty uneventful and kind of uncomfortable to be honest, so not a great night sleep. Though I met some cool people from Spain (it seems to me that half of Spain was in Vietnam at this time of the year) and a Vietnamese guy who is a tour guide and had the best English of anyone I met while in the country.

Once we arrived in Lao Cai we had to take a 2 hour bus ride through the mountains to Sapa, and once in Sapa we hired a local tour guide girl and our trekking began! It was rainy season in Vietnam when I was there so it was muddy, dirty and we kept sliding all over the place, it got so bad at some point that I fell and slid all the way down a mountain on my butt. The view the whole time we were trekking, however, was incredible! It was probably one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to; with green rice terraces that go on and on, rivers, mountains and fog. It was also much cooler than in  Hanoi, which was a nice change.

After 5-6 hours of walking through mud we ended up at our homestay with a local Vietnamese family who didn’t speak a word of English, or Spanish, or any other language I know but they were so incredibly kind and accommodating. That night I had the most delicious dinner I ate in the whole trip that was cooked by our home stay family and finished up playing drinking card games. By 9pm I had lost quite a few time and was getting no better and with all that Vietnamese sake in my system decided to call it a night.

The next morning everything pretty much went downhill. It all began when I was pouring boiling water in my cup to make some tea. The lid opened and finished up spilling boiling water over my left hand. I have never burned myself or had a really serious injury happen to me, but getting burned has got to be one of the most terrible and painful things that could happen to anybody. I didn’t know what to do but I was told to put toothpaste on my hand at least until something better came along. So I began another day of walking with a hand covered in toothpaste and pretending that I wasn’t in as much pain as I really was in. Every time I saw a river I would stick my hand in it and the cold water felt so good, but I could only do that for so long and the nearest hospital was over 2 hours away. To this day I’m not quite sure how I did it, but I finished the trek and got myself back to the main town, where I had to go to the hospital by myself.

The visit to the hospital was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. I walked in and had to walk around for a while since I didn’t know where to go or who to talk to. Eventually I was taken to the second floor where 4 ‘doctors’ who looked the same age as my high school students looked at my hand, closed the door behind me and told me to sit down in the most worn-out stool I have ever seen. They cleaned the toothpaste and I realized that my hand had by this point swollen and I had begun to get blisters, which they had to pop and that’s when I just began crying. They were pretty efficient though, and after wrapping my hand with bandages and $20US to each doctor, I was out of there. The whole experience however really got me thinking. I wasn’t supposed to be there at all at that moment, which made me really angry at first, but then I realized that everything is a learning experience. The visit to that hospital made me realize how fortunate we are to have good health systems, we might complain about out health system, but we have high quality standards, clean, sanitary and safe. I also came to the conclusion that I am pretty damn strong. I had to go to a Vietnamese hospital, in the middle of nowhere Vietnam to take care of a second-degree burned hand, all by myself! Once upon a time I would have called my mom and freaked her out, but those days are long gone. I went in there, did what I had to do and took care of the situation on my own. I actually didn’t tell my mom until I knew that everything would be alright. Today my hand is completely healed and you wouldn’t even know that I had that accident.

Once I got back into Hanoi, I only had one day to do some last minute shopping, eat some more delicious food and before I knew it I was back in my apartment in Japan. I was so happy to see everyone again and was relaxed and ready to go back for the last few months before finishing my teaching contract.

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Halong Bay

The one place I was really looking forward to seeing while in Vietnam was Halong Bay.

Many of my friends had talked about Halong Bay and how beautiful it is, that I couldn’t go to Vietnam and not visit. The 2 days in Halong Bay were super relaxing, interesting and fun. I stayed in a Chinese style cruise boat for 2 days, 1 night. During the day I went kayaking for a couple of hours and saw the most incredible array of fish, went through caves and even got to see a couple of monkeys here and there. It was so incredible to be in such a quiet place, just paddling along and not knowing what you would find at the other side of the cave (which usually was another amazing limestone cliff rising from the water).

I also climbed a mountain at 40 C weather, but the view at the top was worth every drop of sweat that was dripping down from every pore of my body. Even better when we got back to the boat I had one of the best meals I have ever had: buffet style Vietnamese dinner. Everything I ever imagined Vietnam to have as far as food is concerned was right in front of me and I was encouraged to eat as much as I possibly could, which I totally did!

I have to admit when I first arrived on the boat I was not impressed, mainly because upon walking in I realized that EVERY single person except for me was part of a couple. Whether girlfriends/boyfriends, wives/husbands, friends it looked to me like this was definitely not the place to be solo. However, everyone I met was incredibly kind and full of stories. I met people from Australia who live in the Outback and they told me about their lives there, I met people who were traveling on an ‘around the world’ plane ticket, which is something that I would LOVE to do at some point in my life. I met a couple who had been in South Africa during the World Cup and they told us about their experiences there and everyone was so interested about my life in Japan; the culture, teaching, all the quirky things Japan has and spent the whole night drinking margaritas and talking to some pretty fascinating people.

The weather the whole time I was in Halong Bay pretty much sucked. It rained the whole time we were there and it just did not let up, but it made the whole place look even more impressive with mist and clouds all around. Although I arrived wearing my bathing suit and sunglasses, which stayed in my suitcase for 2 days.