Well, campers, out here where the rubber meets the road things are always happening. You can read the travel books about Vietnam till the cows come home but until you have actually have the shoe shine man take your shoes away from you you don't know a thing.
I have aways found that no meant no in most languages. However, in the far east, the shoe shine guys are polishing your shoes as you walk down the street...even in China. No has no meaning for them. I have pulled my foot away many a time and have even walked around with shoe polish all over my shoe because I didn't escaped totally.
In Hanoe I did not get away. My shoes were polished and even re-soled as I looked on helplessly. My feet were slipped into slippers and I leaned against a building waiting for the guy to finish. When the calculator came out and the price was quoted I gasped. Doesn’t 50,000 Dong sound like a lot to you? I told my family they would need to bury me in those shoes because they were so valuable! Then I realized I had spent a whole $2.50 more or less. The Dong is 21,000 to each $1. WOW!
We took a night train to Sapa (north of Hanoi very near the China border) and stayed there for 3 nights.
The Hmong people live in Sapa. They are a separate culture from the Vietnamese and treated as less valuable citizens in the country.
During the Vietnam War the Hmong people worked as spies and many of them still speak perfect English.
The government educates them to a lesser degree. The women are sent in to town once a week to sell to tourist. They sell silver pieces and linen.
When speaking to them one on one, I realized they do not think of themselves as "Vietnamese" at all.
They are a very cheerful people leading a difficult life. they are managing to survive even though tourists are not an easy. They have learned to sell their wears using the "dripping water torture". It seems that they are very successful at wearing tourists down so they will buy what they do not know they want.
We were staying in a boutique hotel called Sapa Rooms. It was an old French villa converted. It was not elegant in any was but we could lounge inside a heated restaurant area with windows looking out in every direction. No other restaurant in the area was heated so it was very luxurious. One felt a bit like a caged animal as the Hmong women stood in groups and watched our every move. I could only smile as they descended on everyone that stepped out the door. We discovered right away that timing was everything in this dance with the Hmong women. Escaping was not easy!
It was a shock to us for the first few hours. Of course, as with most of the places we visit, it takes us a day or two to get the hang of things. In this case we only stayed for three nights and one of the days we took that long walk I talked about in a previous post.
The people harvest, prepare the hemp thread, weave the fabric and dye it a beautiful indigo blue. Women's hand's are permanently colored from the dye. On our hike we saw dye vats and the fabric hung to dry outside the huts. Was I awed by the beauty and uniqueness of this world? You bet I was. When you walk the trail and hear the gentle hopeful voice almost begging you to share your wealth, you just have to be humbled and amazed.
We are now on the island of Phu Qoc in the Sea of Thailand just south of Cambodia. I will post more tomorrow. We are well, the food is wonderful and we are loving this vacation.