Well, I’m afraid to say that Christmas is officially over. I returned to Hanoi in the wee hours of this morning on the overnight train from Sapa. The ride back to Hanoi was much smoother than the ride up to Sapa. Coming home, I had both Pete and Duc in a private cabin, and one which was pretty luxurious compared to others. In 2008, when I traveled back to Hanoi from Sapa, I suffered a horrendous amount of bed bug bites, some of which, after getting severely infected, still scar my legs. Because of this, I’m not a big fan of overnight trains (go figure!).
On the way up to Sapa last Wednesday, though, I had new friend Duc with me, and two strangers in the cabin. At some point in the evening, I was in dream mode, but had a frightening nightmare which entailed some creepy man trying to move me over to share my bed. It was all too realistic and relevant to my situation, and so the crazy dream led me to scream in my sleep, startling my fellow cabin mates. I was a bit embarrassed, but the face and hand gestures of the man on the bed across from me, left me to giggle softly after I had recovered from the nightmare. See….travel is FUN!!!
Once in Sapa, I was met with blue skies and unusually warm weather. Normally it’s about 5 degrees Celcius, but we enjoyed about 25 degree weather in the day. After arriving in the early morning and getting settled, we headed out to the valley for a very easy walk through the village. The Hmong and/or Red Dao ladies love to walk along with you, in hoped that you’ll buy something from them. They make hand-embroidered purses, sell silver bracelets and other trinkets. But they also get a chance to practice their English, which is pretty good.
I had a nice chat with Thang (?) who told me she was 26 years old and mother to two children. That was it for her. Unlike her mother who had ten. Whoah! She has one boy and one girl and feels blessed. She could understand difficult English such as, “Are you the oldest or youngest among your brothers and sisters?” I always enjoy speaking to the locals and learning about their life, I just don’t enjoy the hard sales pitch at the end of the walk! But it was fun and we all enjoyed the great weather! Mountain air is soooo refreshing!
Christmas Eve, Duc, Pete and I enjoyed a lovely hot pot for dinner and thought of creative names for Pete’s new company. When you are trying to find a twist on meanings, it helps to have an internet connection. We laughed our butts off with some of the phrases we came up with and also some of the new words we learned; synonyms to words we were pondering.
Christmas Day was a lazy one and we took a drive through the mountains and stared over the beautiful valleys. It was my first time to see the peak of Mt. Fansipan. I’ve been challenged to climb it, but am told it is more difficult than Mt. Fuji. Hmm….we’ll have to see how I feel in July or August!
Christmas Day night was the big dinner at the restaurant. The local minority children arrived just before 6pm and then filed into the restaurant to grab a seat. This was the part of Christmas I couldn’t wait for. Pete and Sapa Rooms Boutique Hotel are very involved in the local communities. In addition to his partnership with Ma Cha school, he also does a Sunday Soup program for the local children and feeds about 80 kids each week on average. He distributes lots of donated clothing to some of the most rural areas; these are places where most of the kids run naked for lack of anything.
The Christmas program provided all the kids a meal and a present, which was either clothing or school supplies, or a combination of the two. You can see some photos of the dinner and more HERE.
The day after Christmas, we took the remaining presents into TaPhin village where the Red Dao tribe lives. The presents went quickly, as it was the mothers and grandmothers who were there to accept…the kids were all having lunch at home when we arrived. We also spent some time hiking around and then to the medicinal baths. Being the only chick, I was alone in my little room in a wooden tub, but it was so relaxing and rejuvenating…I really enjoyed the hot herbal water. Awesome.
The train ride back to Hanoi came all too quickly. As I’ve written and as you know, Pete is one of my most favorite people ever and I am so delighted I could spend this special holiday with him at his hotel in Sapa and spend a wee bit of time with the local people. It was a great Christmas and one of my fondest memories of Vietnam to date. Hope you all had a great holiday! I’ll look forward to seeing your updates on Facebook!
Now – let’s get ready to ring in the New Year! Hello 2010!!!
A little Red Dao boy. – There are about 7 ethnic minorities in the Sapa area. It is such an interesting part of Vietnam! I’m glad I got to take a peek for a weekend and for a very special Christmas!
I spent most of today out and about in town shopping for warm socks, knit hats and mittens. While the temperatures have dropped a bit in Hanoi, the shopping spree was for small little people who I will meet in Sapa at Christmas time.
I’m headed to the very North of Vietnam for the holiday, spending the occasion with Pete and friends. Our festivities will include giving warm clothing to young ones who don’t have the proper gear to face the cold winter. We’ll also serve them a proper dinner and give them as much Christmas cheer as we can! I’m also going to bring some notebooks and colored pencils, because I think no matter what, kids love to have a toy or a coloring book for fun.
The mall was crowded today, I should have known. The very random Christmas displays outside the center were the biggest draw. Children, young girls posing sexy and whole families had their picture taken with big, fake presents and ugly snowmen in the background. It was the tackiest display I’ve ever seen!
My drive to and from the mall was a good dose of sightseeing in Hanoi. Honestly, I don’t get out much, and I know all to well the sights on offering on the road between my house and office. It was good to see some other parts of life in the streets. You know, the motorbikes with sliced-open pigs thrown over the seat, bus drivers openly peeing in public, and women holding their pantless children over the gutter so they can poop. Sundays are good for a bit lighter traffic, and some of the traffic lights are even turned off, opening the streets up for a special game of chicken in major intersections.
One of the things I really can’t stand is that when you go into a shop in Vietnam, one of the shop keepers will stay on your heels and follow you around, readjusting anything you touch. They don’t do this for Vietnamese customers, of course, only we foreign folks because, you know – we just can’t be trusted. I don’t mind so much when its a nice store, but when I am in the Citimart hunting through a bin of discount underwear, mittens and socks, no adjustment to the merchandise is needed! I also get a little peeved when other shoppers stop to watch me. Is it really that exciting to watch me pick out socks?
Anywhoo – I’m excited to power though the next few days and then get on that train to Sapa to celebrate Christmas with one of my favoritest people and put smiles on some very cute and tiny faces. That part will be the best and I can’t wait to share pictures with you! Merry Christmas!
You never know who may walk into your life and what role they will play. I’ve met tons of people while traveling and some merely remain an acquaintance or a facebook friend who I chat with once in awhile. Others have become more significant in my life, like Annette, who I took the Thai cooking classes with and who will visit Hanoi this year. Darrin already made a visit to Hanoi and is someone I will most likely see again in some part of Asia.
Of course since I’ve been here in Hanoi, I’ve met a good handful of new friends. Sarah and Shane, Anton and all the handsome French boys. I always enjoy meeting new people and enriching my life with more friends. Kurt and Anna, Dean and MJ are simply a regular part of my life. They are like family to me, I have grown so comfortable in their presence. I cannot imagine Hanoi or vietnam without them.
And then there is Pete. Pete and I met last year when I was traveling in Vietnam. I made the journey on an overnight train to Sapa. I didn’t make a room reservation, as I figured I could just book one when I got there. I had e-mailed Pete to see about room rates and what not, but never confirmed.
I arrived in Sapa during an absolute downpour. Getting a bus to town was a task in itself. I paid twice for the ride because I unnecessarily bought a ticket, boarded a bus and was told I had to pay the driver. Once I got off the bus, I had a swarm of people around trying to take me to their hotel. It was Calgon moment for sure. Without a cell phone, and with no map of Sapa on hand (I was just planning on walking around at leisure and discovering the place), I was at a loss as to where to go and what to do. So I sat in a cafe and ordered a coffee and soup.
I felt that buying a meal entitled me to ask to make a phone call. I did, at least, bring the Sapa Rooms hotel number and convinced the staff that I must make the call. About 20 minutes later, a cute little gal came to pick me up. It was still pouring rain outside and even with an umbrella, we were both drenched by the time we made it up the hill and to the front door of Sapa Rooms.
Pete opened the door and said, “Welcome! You look like you need a cup of coffee and some fresh towels. Want to have a seat?” And with that, Pete graciously stepped into my life and became a person who will be with me until we are old and wrinkled.
He still lives in Sapa. I am due for a visit. But he often comes to Hanoi and we have enjoyed some very fun nights out. We usually start with dinner, a few drinks somewhere and then depending on the weekend and such, at an after-hours bar which lends its own separate blog post. It is quite the scene.
I am nearly convinced that Pete and I are twins separated at birth. We are kindred spirits. And we cannot stop talking! He is one of those friends that after a night together, my cheeks and sides hurt form laughing so much.
I’m also incredibly proud to call him my friend, as he is an amazing soul. He does A TON of community and charity work up in Sapa, making a better world for so many villagers up there. He teaches, provides clothes, food, and even works to get showers installed at schools in some of the most remote areas. He does so much for others. He is so full of love and generosity. I just adore and admire him with the most genuine affection.
My life is good in Vietnam, but Pete makes my life way, way brighter. It’s good to have such friends.
On the Bright Side,
Hellooooo! It’s Sunday afternoon and I am sitting in the Tamarind Cafe, a favorite vegetarian restaurant I discovered when I was in Hanoi in May (Sara – You’d love it!). I’m working on my second cup of coffee (delicious) and I am hoping to meet up in a bit with my friend Pete who runs the hotel I stayed in in Sapa. He’s in town for the weekend opening a cafe with his business partner. I’ll probably take a long walk around the lake at some point today, too. I have refused to even look at work stuff today – I need a mental break.
I spent yesterday at the office and last night at Kurt and Anna’s home watching a movie. Kurt and I haven’t really seen each other for almost two weeks. He was at a luxury travel trade event in Cannes (lucky bastard!) and I was in Saigon and Hue this past week. So it was good to catch up and hang out. Kurt also asked if I was still happy to be here in Vietnam, if I still feel like I’m doing the right thing. And you know what? I really am.
The past three weeks have been a whirlwind for sure. I am meeting new people left and right. I’m soaking in all sorts of information about my new company, new job and the tasks in front of me. I looked for and found my new home; a lovely apartment in Tay Ho District. Hopefully I will be getting settled in my new place next weekend – I can’t wait!!! I will have to discover where to buy linens, housewares and even furniture, as the apartment is sparsely furnished. I’ll need to buy motorbike (and helmet!) and find some time somewhere in my busy schedule to get more and more familiar with Hanoi. It’s all very exciting, but taxing at the same time. In some moments, my head feels like it will burst!
I spent the last week in the Southern part of Vietnam…Saigon and Hue. In Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City, take your pick, is where you’ll find the main Apple Tree offices. I flew in for a visit with the owners, the CFO and the IT Director, among other key people. Then I was off to the ancient city of Hue, the home of our very stylish and popular hotel, La Residence. Here, I became familiar with every aspect of the hotel and much to my delight, even the spa! Fabulous! I was also keen to explore the other hotels in the city, to check out the competition, so to speak. But I can honestly tell you that La Residence is one of a kind. The history of the property, combined with the art deco style and richly appointed rooms, sets it far apart from the other hotels in town. It is a unique property, indeed, and I can’t see how I would have any trouble selling.
I was also able to take a private tour of the Citadel and Forbidden Purple City. Hue is the city in which all of the Emperors of vietnam resided. You can tour the grounds of the royal palace, visit tombs of three famous Emperors and take in numerous other points of interest. The cuisine in Hue is some of the finest, as the Emperors demanded their meals never be repeated within a calendar year. This forced immense creativity in ingredients and presentation. La Parfum Restaurant, named after the Perfume River (another story), has an extensive Vietnamese menu. I love that my job requires me to try numerous items so I can speak of the Chef’s talents when I am selling the hotel! I learned a lot about Hue, and especially the Emperors, and fell in love with La Residence.
The holidays are approaching and I while I do feel a little sad that I won’t be home to celebrate Christmas, it’s not the first time, so I’m ok with that. I can SKYPE my parents, and be there through cyberspace! Plus we have lots of celebrations at the Press Club and I am very excited for the New Year’s Eve Party on the Terrace. Should be a good time! That Terrace sees a lot of terrific parties!
I hope you have a very festive holiday week. I’ll post again once I’ve moved into my home and have some more stories to share. I’m sure there will never be a shortage in Vietnam!!!
On the Bright Side,