Adventures In Sapa, North Vietnam

Our adventure in Vietnam didn’t actually begin until 12 hours after we touched down at Hanoi.

From the airport, we took a 45 minute taxi ride (US$10 / RM35) to Hanoi train station, passing by a stretch of Thit Cho (dog meat) restaurants along the way.
We slept in an overnight train to Lao Cai, which took 8 hours and costs us US$22 (RM77) each in a 4-person cabin. Dinner was French baguette dipped in condensed milk we bought from a tattered poor girl in hawking outside the train station.

When we reached Lao Cai the next morning, we had to endure another 1-hour minibus ride (25,000 dong / RM 5) up the windy roads to our final destination – Sapa.
Finally we can begin our adventure in Vietnam!

Sapa is a tiny agricultural town nestled on the mountain top near the Chinese border. It’s a little troublesome to get here from Hanoi, but our effort was worth it all.
We have arrived at the coldest town in Vietnam with the most spectacular mountain sceneries.

A H’mong mother and child

Sapa is an enchanting little place. It isn’t just the specatculars views that attracted many travellers to travel so far to get here. Sapa is also home to many ethnic minority tribes, the largest being the H’mong (苗族) and Dzao people (瑶族).

A Dzao lady (no, she’s not Santa Claus)

This is one of the very few places in world where we can still witness the hill tribes dressed in their colourful traditional clothings, going about their daily lives. Much of their culture and customs are preserved, isolated from the rest of the population in Vietnam.

It was cold and drizzling when our bus reached Sapa. Nicole and I sought refuge at a nearby souvenir shop. I went off to buy some disposable raincoats for later use, while Nicole stayed in the shop.
When I returned 5 minutes later, I received the biggest shock ever.
Our friend had transformed into a local H’mong girl.

I know they say “Do As the Romans Do”, but this is ridiculous.
Kenny: “We’re going to trek mountains later you know? How are you gonna go trekking wearing a skirt?”
Nicole: “Nevermind! Can one! :D”
Kenny: “……..”
Nicole: “So cheap. RM40 only!”
Kenny: “………………….”
Somehow, I had a baddddd feeling about this trip.
Anyway, we had breakfast and strolled through the local market while waiting for the rain to clear.

Life in Sapa is so simple and different from what we are used to. It is fascinating just sitting here idly watching life goes by. I’ve been to some fairly undeveloped rural towns before, but Sapa is the first true village experience I had.
An example would be when we were at an internet cafe checking our e-mails, and a herd of water buffaloes gently walked on by.

How often do you see water buffaloes walking past internet cafes?!
That was so cool! That was when we really know we’re at the countryside.

A common sight in Sapa is H’mong women persistently following hapless tourists, pestering them to buy jewellery and trinkets.
With the boom in tourism business a few years back, a lot of the H’mong women and girls had gone into the souvenir business.
We were being followed by a few during our short stay here. Some even went as far as to wait outside the restaurant where we had breakfast.
It is difficult to turn them down, especially when they are being so friendly and patient. But there’s an ugly side to everything.

When a frail old lady approached me holding a silver bracelet in her hand, I purchased one from her out of goodwill.
Big mistake.

Within mere seconds, hordes of tribe women swarmed towards our direction peddling their wares.
“Look! Look!”
“Buy from me!”
“You want earlings? Nor? Hawr arbout purse?”
Now, it WOULD HAVE been quite nice if the girls looked like those bikini babes from will.i.am’s music video.
Unfortunately, reality wasn’t as kind…

Nice gold tooth, sista

We had no choice.
WE MUST FLEE!

Before we knew it, Nicole and I had escaped onto the path to a H’mong village.
The ethnic minorities don’t live in Sapa. Most of them live in traditional villages around the area, coming to Sapa only to go to school or do business. The nearest H’mong village is Cat Cat Village.
Contrary to its name, there’s not a lot of cats in Cat Cat Village.
Anyway, the boy from Cat City went to Cat Cat Village.

We met a 16-year-old H’mong girl called Ha along the way. This one is a little different from the rest.
Not only does Ha look way younger than the 16 years old she claimed to be, she also spoke to us in perfect English. Unlike the other H’mongs we met who are mostly shy and quiet, Ha is one loud and feisty little lady.
When she approached us, she wasn’t pestering us to buy her wares.

“Are you crazy?!”, she pointed to Nicole’s incorrectly worn tribal belt. “You wear your belt like this, it means death!”
And that was pretty much our opening topic.
Maybe it was Nicole’s tribal dressing, but Ha took an immediate liking to her. Ha warmed up to us and stuck with us through the remainder of our stay here.

Ha liked Nicole a lot. She gave her a flower, put it on her ear, made her a crown our of fern leaf and helped tie her hair up into a pig tail.
I kinda suspected Ha didn’t quite like me as much though. All she seemed to care about is my man boobs.

Throughout our journey, the feisty little H’mong girl repeatedly:

  • pinched my nipples
  • slapped my ass
  • said I’m fat like a buffalo 🙁

Yeah I’m pretty sure Ha liked Nicole better, eventhough she still squeezed her boobs and felt up her skirt.

Anyway, as much as we were being bullied by a 16-year-old, it’s great to have Ha come along with us. Nicole and I didn’t wanna hire a tour guide to save money, so Ha ended becoming our impromptu guide and translator in Sapa. Not once did she try to force us to buy anything.
The hike down Cat Cat Village was easy and the sights are breathtaking. Even with the fog obscuring much of what lies in the distance, we had magnificent views over the rice terraces and small houses below.

Life in the villages is as basic and simple as it can get. There are no TV or fridge or any other modern amenities that we take for granted over here. There’s not even basic water, electricity and gas supply.
Over here, the water comes from the sky, lunch means cooking freshly-plucked vegetables with charcoal and going to the loo means hiking out to the nearest bush and pee there.
There are no iPods or Xboxes. Whilst kids in Malaysia fight over the latest handphone and gadgets, kids in Sapa keep themselves entertained by sliding their bare bottoms down the staircase in flattened water bottles.

But they’re still happy. Look at the brilliant smiles on their faces.
I was almost convinced to take off my pants and join them.

I love it here. Being the countryside, there are no shortage of farm animals and small lifestock around.
A little toddler girl would be eating their lunch. Then next to her will be three puppies sucking frantically on their mom’s titties.

Bitch.

Out of nowhere, a man would be chasing a bunch of mountain goats down the footpath.

These are the kinda sights you don’t get to see everyday.
Within just a few hours here, we are already relaxed into the slower pace of life here. I’m just glad to be away from all the hectic schedule back home.

Cat Cat Village isn’t big. We reached the end point of the trek after roughly an hour.
As we still had tons of time to spare, Ha asked if we wanna go to her house in nearby Sin Chai Village where she would cook us some lunch.
Authentic H’mong hospitality? Of course!

Unfortunately for us, she must have exagerrated the use of the word “near”, because her house ain’t even close to being near.
Sin Chai is located much further away Cat Cat Village and access is only possible with a motorcycle ride (US$1 / RM3.50).
For once, we had gone well and truly off the beaten path, into a place only the locals knew.

Still, we were glad we came here.
Sin Chai is a lot less touristy and a lot more authenticH’mong village. For the first time in my life, I was inside a true countryside village that is as every bit as I imagined it to be – water buffaloes ploughing through the rice fields, workers harvesting from the terraced hill slopes and a small stream flowing through the valley in between.

It was surreal.
I felt like I was in one of those water-coloured paintings we used to always do back in secondary school.

If only I knew how to use Photoshop back then, I wouldn’t be getting a ‘C’ for Arts.
From where the motorcycles dropped us off, we had to trek nearly an hour up and down muddy terrains and slippery rocks.

It was difficult navigating up and down the hill, and this is coming from a guy who had climbed Mt Kinabalu before.
Ha was easily hopping from rock to rock like she was previously born a mountain goat. After all, she has been doing this everyday since the day she was born.

Things didn’t go too well for Nicole. At one point she slipped and hurt her shin.
She was alright, but the little H’mong girl was almost in tears. “I’m sorry!”, she said, guilty that she led us through such a difficult path just to go to her house.
I didn’t know why she had to apologise. I just feel sorry for ourselves that we couldn’t even keep up with a 16-year-old girl half our size!

Laundry

Ha’s house was such a welcome relief when we finally reached there.
As simple as it might be, it had all the basic creatures of comfort.

Wash area

Looking around her house, it hit us hard on how poor the H’mong people are. We are on holidays but this was a tough reality check to swallow.
The entire house is only about the size of a standard classroom. The walls are made of wood and the floor is nothing but harderned mud.

Bedroom

The bedroom has a mattress that has seen better days. There is no wardrobe to store any clothes.
The living area, which is also the dining area, is basically a wooden table with two small benches. There was some corn hanging dry over the roof and some maize piled in the corner. The washing area has a barrel to catch rain water, but no doors. The cooking area is just a stove pit to put the charcoal in.

Kitchen

There are no electricity, no toilet, no water pipe, no gas stove, no lights, no carpet, no TV, no couch, no Astro, no computer, no phone, no internet. Pretty much all the things that we took for granted, they don’t have it.
How they managed to live in such conditions, I have no idea.
All they have is roof over their head, and few simple clothes they could wear. There are very few personal belongings, if at all.

This is no Venetian Macao that’s for sure.
And yet, despite living in extreme poverty, Ha was among the most hospitable person I have ever met. She didn’t have much, but she gave us what she could. I was touched by her generosity.
She washed my dirty sweater in a hollowed log. She invited us into the comforts of her simple home and cooked us lunch. Nothing fancy, just rice and vegie fresh from her backyard. But it was her sincerity that shows.

Honestly, one of the best-tasting meals I’ve had in Vietnam. I yearned for her fragrant rice even until today.
Sitting in Ha’s house, part of me feels sad for the H’mong community. Tourism in Sapa may be booming, but little of it directly benefits the ethnic minorities. Many of them still live in extreme poverty and requires Oxfam assistance. Enterprising businessmen had flocked to Sapa to chase tourist money, but the locals didn’t like it.

It’s little wonder why the H’mong don’t even regard themselves as Vietnamese. They may be from the same country, but the H’mongs think differently and at least treat their visitors with more dignity than mere cash cows.
Before I left, I bought a traditional handwoven tribal men’s shirt from our little tour guide.

Look at my shirt, don’t look at Su Ann

Ha didn’t name me the price and I didn’t know how much it should cost, but I paid her 150,000 dong (RM30) for it. I knew I paid more than what she expected when her face lit up instantly.
I was happy to. What’s 150,000 dongs compared to her spending the whole day with us, showing us her village, guiding us through the paddy fields, inviting us into her home and cooking a nice lunch for us? When’s the last time a complete stranger did that for me?
It was a token of gratitude from me and I’m sure she’ll put the money to good use back within the H’mong community.

We left Sapa that evening with a warm fuzzy feeling in our stomach. Sapa is a beautiful place and true paradise on Earth, and it is made even more endearing by the presence of the great H’mong tribe.
We were truly humbled by how caring and close-knit they are, and how they managed to remain so happy eventhough they’re so poor.

Perhaps, us city folks oughta learn a thing or two from them.


kennysia.com appeared in this month’s issue of Hardwarezone magazine. That’s cool.
kennysia.com was also mentioned in this month’s issue of Harper’s Bazaar magazine. A women’s fashion magazine. That’s just… bizarre.

192 Replies to “Adventures In Sapa, North Vietnam”

  1. I’m wondering, where did Ha learn her perfect English since the place is so ill-equipped with media?
    Also…where’s her family? She lived alone and cooked all the meals for u two? Mysterious girl…

  2. Hey… first time posting although I’ve been reading your blog for a while… speaking of watercolour, care to check out my website? I know your sister is one hell of an artist too. We were classmates back in CHPS no.4 and GRSS. I was always the second best in arts, thanks to her… How can I get in touch with Winnie? Thanks.

  3. awwww…now this is the true reason why u shdnt stick w tour groups.
    what you’ve just experienced is totally personalised without a single tinge of commercialisation.
    and dont worry about being called a buffalo.
    Im sure Ha meant tat in a good way.
    Afterall, buffalos DO fetch a high price.

  4. Nicole, really Ha really liked Kenny in the end though??? but that’s the end already, don’t think Kenny would go back to find out that… sori just ramblings though… hehehe, kenny I like the post very much.

  5. nicole did put a mention about how nice Ha was, but she didnt go very much into details. now i know why nicole misses Ha so much.
    the world of the sapa is so surreal. suddenly i feel like i want to give the hmong ppl all my life savings…. this is a truly ..err…’touching’ post…..
    however, do not think that this kind of extreme poverty only exists in other countries…..we have this in malaysia as well. and i see it everyday …as i cleared my way to construct my project…

  6. Finally, quality stuff are back to kennysia.com! Photo shots are good too.
    This entry should awaken certain segment of our ‘spoilt’ society who would complain not having a nice car to move about, air-cond in their bedroom, a designer wear in their closet, a 3G camera phone, LCD TV, etc… Guess they haven’t lived in a place where there are no proper roads to travel on, gas to cook, and house with cement flooring.
    Ah… It’s always nice to be single (unattached) and traveling with pretty ladies along the journey, who are ‘ngam-key’. Brings back memories.

  7. now i really felt like going to sapa and look for a girl by the name Ha… i’m truly touched by the people, the scenery, the simplicity of life.. awww..

  8. Hi Kenny,
    what an amazing coincidence… I’m actually getting married in Nov and going to Hanoi for our honeymoon in Dec. We’ll be spending 3D2N in Sapa and another 3D2N in Halong Bay. Might hop over to Hoi An as well..
    Kenny, I know it’s alot to ask but if you’ve got any tips or whatever about Hanoi/Sapa/Halong Bay etc, can email me pls? Will really appreciate… =)

  9. nice entry kenny! touching story with nice photo.
    though i couldn’t imagine how the scene would be like if u took off ur pants and join the kid>_

  10. One of the best write ups I had ever read. Made us more thankful with whatever we have, and whatever we don’t have. 🙂

  11. I’m touched by Ha’s kindness and hospitality. Such a brilliant young girl. I love the photos, surely one of your best travel blog entries.

  12. wow Kenny..this post is one of the best travel log I could say..
    keep it up!. Nice pix, good write-up, it just brings one there to the place itself.
    Am still curious where did Ha learned her English..

  13. Best post i’ve read in a long long time. I think its mainly because of Ha. She made all the difference didn’t she. 🙂

  14. This is one awe-inspiring travellogue! It makes me wanna go to Sapa and look for Ha in the Sin Chai village and ask her to show me around the other villages. 🙂

  15. hey, i’m a singaporean student and i’ve been reading your blog for quite some time. thanks for ur entry on tt “hk scam phone call”. i’ve received a similar phone call today where a lady with mainland accent spoke “do u speak mandarin?” and explained she was from some company. -.- it seems that they are targeting singaporeans now. -.- thanks for ur entry, else i might believe whatever they will say. (=

  16. Ha’s ability to speak perfect English is not common, but is not really rare. I was at Sapa last year for some community work, refurbishing a school and teaching some English in TaVan village somewhere further into the mountains, and we met many people there who could converse perfectly in English.
    You make me wanna go back to Sapa again.

  17. i read both urs n nicoles blog, bt both din touch anything about Ha’s family… does she have 1?? it would be sad if she lived alone…

  18. hey, thank you for putting up this comprehensive entry of your trip. it was wonderful to read. love it how you put up plenty of photos for our viewing pleasure and wrote in a way that’s easy to read, rather than chunks of paragraphs.
    that shirt looks good on you. (:

  19. Most of the kids in Sapa are good at foreign languages the pickup from Backpackers (Sapa is on the backpacker trail) Met some who were fluent in English, German French as they ply their wares.

  20. What an amazing adventure….the mountain and agricultural sceneries despite lack of basic amenities are nevertheless captivating! thanks for the posting

  21. Your post has affected many here. Make me think think bout the modern hectic life here, where enough is never an option. Really envy your adventures here Kenny, wish i could do that too some day.

  22. Hi Kenny. Really enjoyed reading about your trip. I miss the green so much. Haven’t seen much of that even since I’ve moved to the city. But I get what you mean. I grew up in a ‘kampung’ environment and it’s really nice. Tho’ living in the city now, I still see buffalos near my apartment neh. Every morning while on my way to work, their droppings are every where that I’ve officially name that road ‘persiaran tahi kerbau’.
    Lucky for you guys to bump into Ha. She’s such a sweet girl la.

  23. aiyer.. kiam siap. can’t you pay Ha a bit more instead of RM30. in Malaysia you probably have to pay a lot more than just that and no nice tour guide. since you didn’t even belanja her for being so nice, the least you could do is give her a bigger “ang pow” for being such a great company rites? lol

  24. Sapa is a great place! I’ve been there 3 times and I’m looking forward to my 4th! Great that you enjoyed yourself 🙂

  25. Kenny, when people in poor countries tell people they’re fat they’re actually giving you a compliment. Seriously. In rich countries where there are more fat people than thin, thin is viewed as attractive but in poor countries where there are many thin, hungry, poor impoverished people, fat is considered attractive, well-off & prosperous. African brides for instance, do their best to gain weight before their wedding so that they look as fat as they can and show off they’re from a well-to-do, abundant-food, prosperous family. Don’t believe me? Look it up yourself! This is a true fact.

  26. ha’s house make me realise how lucky we were. But yeah she is one lovely young girl there.:) good entry of the outside world.

  27. I have been reading ur blog for quite a while d… this is the first time posting a comment…
    Wow,, i love the pictures,, the scenery is so so so picturesque and placid…. love it..:)
    Nice to know you….

  28. Great tour man. Sapa is sure a nice place. The grass are so green, the mountains are really nice and the sceneries are really beautiful.
    Its just sad that they are so poor although they still have a happy life.
    Thanks for sharing man!

  29. This entire entry brought tears to my eyes. It is really an eye opener to us city folks. I think I might want to visit the H’mong community in Vietnam someday. I wish I could adopt Ha as my sister. She seems so cool.

  30. IMO Best entry of yours after many years of reading.
    Doubt there is any methods for u to keep in contact with Ha, but hope u will visit her again in the future..

  31. hey,
    nice post..spent a few months in vietnam..and yes..the reality sucks..ppl like ha are living in such poverty every msians cannot even imagine..can’t say how much lucky we are compared to them..
    thoughtful gesture as well to buy the shirt from the girl Ha..
    average blue collar worker in hanoi earns 500k dong..so imagine how much is 150k u gave her..in sapa..surely it would help her and her family a lonngg way…

  32. Nice entry. Inspiring me to continue travelling, withOUT tour companies to see those more rural areas.
    To those who said the RM30 is little, do convert it to Dong, and then compare how much it is worth to them, ie; how much they can buy with that amount there.
    Kenny, like some others, I am curious about your expenses of this trip. Mind sharing?
    Cheers,
    Drew

  33. woah…
    cool entry. it’s great that u met Ha, though it is quite weird that her family wasn’t mentioned.
    Sure she has one? =\
    end say : su annnnnnnn…….

  34. Don’t have to go all the way to vietnam to experience ethic culture when we have it in the isolated regions of sabah and sarawak.
    But a cool entry though.

  35. Two things I need to clarify here.
    Ha has a family. Her sister has moved out of the house and is working in Sapa. We never met her sister, but she ran off to see her when we got back to Sapa and returned to give us some silver bracelets as gifts. Her mom was probably working in the mountains when we got to her home. We don’t know ‘cos not like they have handphones there. Her little brother was at school and her dad was no where to be found.
    As for those of you who think that me giving her RM30 is too little.
    Consider the cost of living in Vietnam. 150,000 dong actually goes a very, very long way. I knew I gave her more than enough when she asked if I was actually buying two shirts.
    When in poor countries, you don’t want to give them way too much money to the point where they’ll treat tourists as cash machines, stop working, and hound tourists day and night. Giving one person too much money also creates jealousy between people. These people may be poor, but they are self-sufficient.
    The idea here is to HELP them, not SPOIL them.

  36. Ha is so nice! and i agree with you about not spoiling them. I think 30 RM is good enough. is just a form of appreciation. =)

  37. Hi kenny,
    Yes, definitely your best entry ever.
    Been reading ur blog for 2 years but never leave a comment until now.
    I can understand what u r trying to say regarding the rural areas and their proverty. I’ve been doing mission trips regularly to remote places of Indonesia and Johor. (I’m indo btw, working in spore)
    People asked me sometimes, what made me so into mission trips. And I answered, once you see all those things happening in front of your eyes, u just cant ignore it anymore. I have travelled to places where most of the children never took a shower or brush their teeth in their whole lives, dunno how to read etc. But their joy is so pure, it breaks my heart if I dont do anything abt it. So me and my church, we have this major mission trip yearly and have been adopting communities. We have been doing this for 17 years, helping to build orphanages and schools.
    So what I’m trying to say is, thank you for raising awareness abt this. But being sad over them is not enough. And yes, we definitely can do something about it. Even if we dont have the money, we can help them in various other things. There is no limit what we can do for them as long we have a strong compassion, coz thats what drives me forward, to look for things at how I can help.
    Yes, it needs commitment, but when you see how joyful they are for your help, eventhough it is just a small thing, it makes your day.
    Yah, thats all that I got to say. Sorry for the long comment though.
    God bless u

  38. another great post kenny…reminds me of the hard mud floor i used to stay years ago…u got it in kuching too u know? Sometime i wish a place like Sapa never to be make well known, tourism spoiled a place culture’s n the ppl’s living, yes it might bring income to them but some priceless thing is lossed as well…anyway, can’t beat the fact n all we can do is make ourselves a responsible traveller, we r just a passer by in other ppl’s place, respect them n the way they live, i support u for not giving too excessively to Ha, greed is a beast.
    n about poverty, i just dont agree the standard we used to measure, they might live in a simple life. House without pc, handphone etc doesn’t mean they r miserable, i come from there, it would be a discrimate just to sympathize them being poor by our own standard. Treat them as equal as ourselves is what i tot should be.

  39. I like this blog. Really make me want to visit the place too. I like travelling this way too, rather than a planned package tour, With lotsa unncessary charges. At least, we got to know more about the country and can explore the place ourselves. This is really a nice trip. I had my own trip, free & easy trip to Bangkok, Hong Kong, Phuket, Bali, Australlia..well, its worth it.
    Its funny they say ur a buffalo. well, oops. i think so too. hahaaa. & luckily u din take off you pants and show ur back side. 😛 JK.

  40. I don’t know but if I were you, I’d have given more than RM30 to Ha for all the wonderful experiences that she gave me.
    Then again, maybe RM30 does mean a lot for the people there to last for a day.
    Nice entry anyway. Definitely makes us realise how meaningless the things we’re chasing in this world.

  41. Really enjoyed this posting. Thanks.
    You should contact Discovery Channel Living and Travel or any travel show to recommend yourself as a guide to show Sarawak/Kuching if they ever have any filming done here…..

  42. Kenny, I’ve heard of news from people who went to Vietnam that they were almost rob or cheated in a way that you would not even realized. Were you aware of that when you were there? And, if you are, what precautions did you take?

  43. such a beautiful place.
    I would have done the SAME THING as nicole did – in 5 mins!!! so beautiful costume! bravo!!
    Dont be shocked kenny….its woman thingy.

  44. If anyone of you really plan to go to Sapa and at the same time look for Ha, please contact me. I wish to send her some books.
    Thanks

  45. that santa clause feller is pointing her middle finger!!! aww, and a lil kid’s ballz.
    ok i should get more serious.
    ha’s really nice though… kenny, i think this post could change lives of people who reads it. but i really can’t get a life without tv, computer and all those…

  46. Lovely and touching post. THis is what makes your blog unique. Reading it is like going thru a documentary and your clarification of the RM30 makes sense. Help but dont spoil.. not like here.. where numerous spoilt brats roam the country whom knows nothing bout the poverty such as Ha whom had little but have more joy and love in their hearts.

  47. Wow !! That is really a great pc of blog. Have been to Vietnam many times on biz trip but this is not what i have seen so far…
    Keep it up 🙂

  48. Get a real name you or I’ll delete your comment, you there sitting on the mighty moral high horses.
    If you think I’m giving too little, fly there to Hanoi and give her all your cash. Talk is cheap.

  49. WoW !! It totally blown me away…
    What a wonderful and great post not to mention
    awesome picture =D
    God bless man just by remember by having internet
    I’m much more alot blessed then alot people.

  50. Wow…SuAnn?Did she actually follows u ?who is the girl next door?
    Anyway, a real nice trip, I was wondering actually how is the toilet in the mountain looks like?

  51. wow..u all deftly had a great time in vietnam..sapa seems to be a nice plc to visit. esp wen u wan 2 see de real culture. Ha is such a nice gurl, she even bothered enuf to bring u all ard and prepared a simple meal. teaching us to be more humble. i tink the RM30 is sufficient for Ha wen its converted to their currency. u can see frm wat Kenny described her expression wen she got it…u r right, Kenny – help thm dnt spoil them.

  52. Thank You for the Vietnam adventure Ken. I enjoy reading your post. I love traveling too, but will not go beyond the touristy-type packages though I’ve embarked on several free-and-easy on my own. Trouble is I cannot find good adventurous travel kakis and also because of makan problem. I’m looking forward to more of your travel adventure postings.

  53. Kenny, thanks for the fantastic “tour”! It was like re-living Sapa again! It has been well worth the wait for this post since you haven’t been anywhere near the computer or even at home these months.
    Great pictures! You have chosen the best time to visit Sapa when it is cool and green. It is really fun to read through your blog and compare the pictures we have.
    Sapa, is a Paradise, and it is one of the places where we would love to go back there again.
    Looking forward to your next travel blog! Have fun, Be Safe!

  54. Thanks for sharing this,kenny. sometimes i tend to overlook the comfort of home when it’s really so comfortable 🙂 makes me thank God for the littlest thing in life.

  55. Kenny, you only paid her RM30 for that shirt and the meal? How could you? You should have paid her more, RM50 or more, maybe RM100.00 for the hospitality she gave you two.

  56. honestly heartbreaking to know the condition of these people but i’ve seen such condition here in sabah too.. we had to hike for an hour to reach the small house situated high up on a sloppy hill.. far worse than what you saw in vietnam.. sadly, we can’t do anything because the locals aren’t convinced to shift to a better living environment.. all we can do is to provide all that we can during each visits.. life is bitter in our point of view but i don’t think it’s much a problem to the family i’ve visited.. they seems to b happily living there though we might find it hard to swallow.. to me, everyone has their fair share in life.. they might be poor materially but rich with tradition that they hold on to.. to them family is all they are clinging to.. God bless ^^

  57. When I look at those kids, I think of mine. Cayden is 7 months old, and here I am trying everyday to give him the best.
    My only hope after reading this entry is that my boy will grow up a happy, healthy and contented child.
    God bless our children.

  58. I am touched by this entry. I envy and am now grateful with what I have now. When you mentioned Ha’s home has the least things in our home, I realized truly how I have taken things so lightly and for granted.
    Keep up the good work Kenny! I learn a lot from your blog.
    Thank you!

  59. Nice post Kenny.i think you should go your home town backyard nothern sarawak call BA’KELALAN where’s the place growth Apple in m’sia.it quite similar to sapa because of highland & cool climate

  60. maybe you could try clarifying your say in your next post next time.
    because those readers wont read your comment that you try to explain yourself.
    they will just complain what they want without reading your say which you had posted in the comment list.
    anyway, nice entry.
    ha is pretty. =)

  61. Ohh… I really love your photos!
    Especially “A H’mong mother and child”… Very well written post. Well, I think you can try to pass up your work again to your art teacher and let her/him mark… Wondering can you get an “A” instead.. ^^ or terus gagal le?
    Em..eem… 😉
    Happy holiday..

  62. We have the same sort of house back n Kelantan…I still remember arriving from the city as a spoilt nine year old looking over my shoulder while taking a bath in the open in the backyard using water from the well. No matter how many frills the bedclothes had it was so difficult for us to sleep there. Kenny you have written a very moving account of life in what we call in poverty which is richer for the human soul. Thank you.

  63. Athough I have 2 X chromsomes, I STILL LOOK AT SU AN. hahaha. I then proceed to read further before noticing your captions to appeal for more attention, only then I realised you bought a tradition shirt too.
    BUT we would have notice you if you were to join the boys sliding down the stairs with flatten bottles. but you must first flatten your bottle..no doubt it’s the big inverted kind one will find in an office 😀
    Ha is sooo friendly. No matter how much you give, it’s the thought that really counts. I’m sure she appreciates you too..perhaps Nicole more. HA

  64. I’m sure you went throught alot in Vietnam. The planning, time management, budget and enjoying the trip.
    Reading your blog, you made it sound so simple 🙂
    That is skill!
    Thanks for sharing your trip with us. It opens my eyes to Vietnam.

  65. Kenny, just out of curiosity: you blogged about the long and arduous trip to Ha’s place….so how did you and Nicole come back (assuming Ha didn’t go with you all the way back then back home again)????

  66. wow…sapa has really changed alot since i was there! The last time I bought the shirt similar to the one you have, it smells of opium…lol
    and vietnamese guys really do smile alot =)

  67. Reading this brings back lots of my memories of my first solo travel to Vietnam. I was just there over two months ago also to Hanoi and Sapa and what you toured and saw was similar to what i did except i opted for the homestay and stayed for a night with the H’mong people. They were extremely hospitable and I am indeed shameful when i needed so much of their help during trekking. They even held the umbrella and carried my bag for me! (it was pouring at that time, making the trek very slippery). Even those pregnant ladies could bounce here and there. I am trully amazed and salute them!!

  68. GIVING:-It is an established Fact, that an Act of Kindness raises the Seratonin & Immune Level of Giver & Receiver by at least 20%,and miraculously has similar effect on everyone in observance.It is measured by something produced in the urine.
    I’m glad you had an Enjoyable Trip. Giving more than you thought you should was GOOD,but could have been BETTER.
    Lainey’s 30RM query is legitimate:Young lady HA made an Investment in YOU based strictly on First Impression.Deduct the price of a Shirt,Simple Meal,Her Time & Effort and what exactly did she receive Above what was Earned.
    The act of Giving makes one Feel Good,is meant to UPLIFT,and should end there as ‘Your Good DEED’.What it’s WORTH to YOU & nothing else. Inclusion of any Judgement;What they MIGHT do or Not do with it,set precedence, diminishes the GOOD Intention.
    Other side of the coin: How many might have taken what she Offered on Trust and strolled away with a full belly & whatever else without PAYING? It happens.
    Truth is: It is beyond most Affluent folk’s Comprehension to witness ‘People with NEXT to Nothing,HELPING those who have NOTHING’. Can you imagine feeling sick, walking into a Drug Store and only able to afford “ONE” Aspirin,it is fact in many places. Not so long ago people DIED within Twenty miles upriver of KUCHING for lack of a TETANUS shot or watched their child die over days from snake-bite.No heresay, I’ve seen it.
    Would HA be likely to receive similar trust in KUCHING? Not Likely. Su Beng rightly observed the same poverty exists in SABAH,SARAWAK and my experience is,in those areas among Poor people is only where HA would find similar Hospitality on TRUST. PEACE-Of-MIND that’s PRICELESS.

  69. Amazing Kenny! Now people can see what you mean when you say ‘Forget the prepackaged holidays’. I don’t know much about the Hmong people except that they were getting a lot of negative press in the States a few years ago.
    I think it’s cool that Ha didn’t shill trinkets at you, but rather showed you the “true” adventure. She might be on to something there. I guess RM30 is about US$10. What a lot of people don’t realize, and what you pointed out later is that RM30 might not be much in KL, but the purchasing power of that money in Sapa goes way further. And what do these critics expect? It’s not like you can take your savings account on holiday with you and pass out notes everywhere you go.

  70. Great piece of work, Kenny. Maybe you should use your talents to help those unfortunate ones, as I see your blog will be a good source when it comes to fund raising. Keep it up!

  71. I am so touch by this little girl, Ha. They might be poor physically, but their spirit is what we city folks need learn. They are happy because they treasure everything around them, even a stranger, a traveller.

  72. nice post, kenny.. i’m touched.. 🙂
    but then, i think u should give her more than rm30.. she’s such a nice girl, i know she didn’t expect anything from you, but still.. it isn’t everyday that we have a chance to change someone’s lifes.. (no offense ok, not judging u, u will alwiz be my favourite blogger.. hehe..)

  73. gossshhhh
    the best article ever in ur blog ken…. usually i’m not read the whole article (except ur article about translation company,… hahaha) but this time manage to read it all in my morning in office (my cold sleeping time.. hahaha)…
    anyway.. nicole is really beatiful… really adore her!!

  74. hello Kenny,
    I have some question to ask u..im quite interested to go Sapa…so for this trip total hw much i need to bring if i go myslef? Follow tour cheaper or go myself cheaper? but i worry i i go myself i’ll miss alot nice place…any suggestion?

  75. carrie, I don’t know how much tours would cost but all the essential costs are there in the blog.
    Overnight train to Lao Cai = USD$22 one way
    Bus from Lao Cai to Sapa = 25,000 dong
    If you want to stay overnight there, guesthouses are available for 80,000 dong a night or 30,000 dong if you only use it for half-day.
    To ensure your train seats, you can book the train tickets on the Internet first. If you want to save money, you can try your luck when you reached Hanoi because train ticket prices drop dramatically when the train is about to depart.
    Once you get to Sapa, you can walk around on your own or join a tour group there.
    If you insist on booking through an agent, I suggest contacting hanoiguesthouse.com and see what they can do for you. Alternatively, try vietnamimpressive.com
    All in all, budget about USD$50-USD$70 all inclusive for each day of stay and you should still have tons to spare.

  76. carrie, according to one of the books I read, Hanoi is one of the safest place in the world for female travellers, so you should be fine if you go alone. But as I’d advise all solo travelers, get travel insurance just in case.

  77. know what kenny? thanks so much for this post here! after seeing Ha and the way she lives her life, i feel a lot better and a hell more grateful of what i have and what i dont NEED to have. you see, i’m a rich kid who cant spend as much money as i want, due to educational purposes. albeit that, i hang around rich kids whom always talk abt materialic stuff, buyin this and that, going here and there, spending a hell lot more than i can and such. at times, its just kinda frustrating coz i know i can never join in on their kind of spending.
    however, your post really reminded me of how my life, money and time should be spent. it also reminded me the reason as to why my parents sent me here, to subang jaya, to study.
    again, i just wanna say thanks so much for this post that reminded me of so many things that i should, and am grateful for.

  78. Beggars con’t be Choosers is Universally understood. The claim to Civilisation is measured in Caring by Deed for the less fortunate.
    Ponder WHY so many of the ‘Sucessful beyond their wildest dreams’ through their own Brilliance & Genius i.e. Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, having reached the TOP, suddenly discover a Higher Calling, which not only demands Generousity, but ‘Being of Service’ to those intimate with Struggle. In the span of our existence this human journey is but a tiny blip, at the end of which, all we can take with us are records of Our Deeds and Love bestowed.

  79. hey, i have bought a similar tribal shirt from Bac Ha, near to Sapa… i haven’t worn it yet, bcoz i was warned the dye would come out…
    so i might as well check from you… how’s your shirt turn out to be? did the color of the shirt stain on your body?? 🙂
    i went to Bac Ha market, and it is even more surreal than anything… i enjoyed Sapa. and thanks to this entry of yours i have determined to go there. i spent 3 nights 2 days there. and it’s like a dream trip comes true. 🙂

  80. My girlfriend and I met Ha in Sa Pa.
    She was a crazy cat.
    She denounced my beard, claimed she learned English from the buffalo and pinched some woman and told her “your meat is not cooked”.

  81. Ha Ha, i dont believe i found this website…i just came from Sa pa for the second time…this time spending it with a lovely young lady called Ha…you made me laugh the way you described her…just the way she was, except she called my mate an elephant referring to his weight…she made my trip for sure, and she’s still is 16…wish that worked in our culture… she is definalty one special girl…she really did have an effect on us, and the outlook we have on life.
    i hope she stays safe and that she has everything in life she deserves…nice work im glad someone else experienced a little ha in there lives….

  82. Hi Kenny Sia,
    I’m sure you have a lot of comments and may not even bother to look at this one. Anyways I’m just writing after so many days and hours spent at your blog site. This is the BEST and really touching entry ever. (Well, I read your blog from most recent backwards)
    Ha is surely a good girl and you and Nicole are surely good person. Why? Ha is good enough to invite you to her simple house and both of you are really good enough to put your trust to people in a completely total stranger places. Well, to be honest with you, I’m not sute I can do that…
    Being suspicious at other people is becoming a huge trend in city people and I really don’t like this attitude. Life is supposed to be filled with trust and love. But sadly speaking, looking at those crime news on newspaper everyday, the reality nowadays simple doesn’t reflect that anymore… what a sad thing..
    But you two still manage to TRUST the little girl and follow her back to her home.
    A wonderful journey…

  83. Hi, thanks for your sharing, and it is good sharinginfo for me since i’m goin to hanoi in this coming july. Sapa is one of my visit places for this trip. 😉

  84. I think you’ve missed a few very interesting things in Sapa:
    – Ham Rong flower trail
    – weekend night market where many H’mong ppl gather to perform their spontanuous “khen” (H’mong muti-flutes) dance & play at the same time, and some others sing anthem in nearby church in H’mong language, all in a foggy romantic Sapa!
    – having grilled eggs at night streets
    – having leaf bath in Dao-ethnic way, which is believed to cure many disease.

  85. Wow great pictures! And I’m inspired by your trip. I’m heading to Vietnam in a few months and will definitely be visiting Sapa. I have a quick question for you though. I read that it is extremely taboo to take any pictures of the people in Sapa. Is this true? Were you ever bothered to pay anyone money to take pictures? Or were you able to take whatever pictures you wanted without disturbing anyone? lol sorry… I guess that is more that just A question. Thx!

  86. What a wonderful experience for you both, wish I could do such a trip but age is against me. Not very fit anymore.
    I look up your page because a friend who has been to Spapa has been there and he is after a copy of a photo of the Catholic Church there.
    Would you have one by any chance.
    Thank you again for sharing your experiences.
    Yours Carmel

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