July in Vietnam: A Close Shave in Sapa

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My experience in Sapa was definitely head and shoulders above that in Ha Long Bay. Here I experienced something a tad more opportunistic. Although the personal danger was higher, somehow I felt far less upset about this experience, and filed it away under things to watch out for in future.

Here’s what happened. I’d booked my short tours in Sapa through a travel agent recommended by, of all people, my pastor. He’d been on a wonderful trip in a large group from church, enough for the travel agent to personally show them around Sapa. I hadn’t the same luck, which wasn’t a big deal. The tour guide who took me on a group tour to Cat Cat, seemed like a nice enough and friendly guy. Dzong was informative and also very fluent in English. After a very pleasant day trip to Cat Cat, he asked the group to join him for dinner. The rest seemed fairly interested but later backed out because they were all on pre-arranged package tours with dinner included.

Dzong invited me to his place for tea. Eager to make friends with a local, I readily agreed.  Turned out that he shared a room with his brother, one in a row of many little rooms in a building. We sat on little stools drinking green tea and eating lychees. Too bad he was really bad at choosing fruit. He obviously hadn’t spent a great deal of time living on his own. We chatted a while about all sorts of random things and I foolishly set the location a bit too far away when I fibbed to him that I had a boyfriend waiting for me in Ho Chi Minh City.

Later that evening we met for dinner and headed out to one of the local barbecue joints serving grilled black chicken and various glutinous rice specialties.  We sat down at the low wooden benches and enjoyed all the delicious local delicacies. Dzong got a half litre mineral water bottle recharged with the local firewater and I obstinately sipped at it while he exhorted me to scoff it down like the locals. No way for something at about 20% bv!

Soon dinner was over and it was time to retire for the night. I was a little buzzed as we walked back down the path leading to both our places. He asked me to wait outside while he picked up something at the pharmacy. Thank God for my curiosity as I wandered into the shop consisting of a single counter and looked around. Before long I realised to my horror that he was picking some prophylactics. That brought me straight out of my buzz and immediately put me on the alert. I kept my distance from him and true enough, he asked if I wanted to go to his place for a drink. It was my cue to profess exhaustion and head back.

Unfortunately, he insisted on being gentlemanly (whether faux or not I care not to explore) and escorted me back to the hotel. I kept insisting that he needn’t go to my floor or to my door but he did. I unlocked the door, said a quick goodbye and slipped inside, closing and locking the door firmly behind me. I was incredibly lucky that he didn’t try any harder because I later found that the door didn’t shut properly and really needed a chair pushed against it.

Boy did that teach me a lesson. I never told my parents about this, not even now, two years from when it happened. I wonder what Mum would say if she finds out, if she ever gets back to reading this blog again!

Having survived that, I thought I’d go on to more challenging things and hired a motorbike plus driver to take me through hill country the long way. Of course, not without thoroughly haranguing the travel agent who arranged Dzong as a tour guide to make sure that the motorbike driver was a decent chap who wouldn’t try a thing on me.

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August in China: Guilin City

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Tortoise had flown into Guilin with me. She’d have her weekend getaway after which I’d part ways with her and head northwest.

Guilin is one of those places whose name alone evokes so many romantic images of beautiful shan shui (literally: water and mountain) landscapes. Even those who’ve not been to Guilin before wax lyrical about the beauty of the place. However, the city itself is a bit of a letdown as there’s no escape from the grey monoliths of commerce. Granted, it’s prettier than the average second tier city in China, with tree-lined avenues and parks dotting the city. Aside from the few parks, there’s not much else to Guilin city.

One such park is the famous Xiang Bi Shan (literally: elephant trunk hill). One of the bizarre rock formations looks exactly like the side profile of an elephant half-immersed in the water. Tortoise and I weren’t too keen on paying the ridiculous entrance fees just to see a lump of rock. If memory serves me right, it cost ¥60 here.

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The park designers were devilishly smart in planning this place. We managed to spy the rock formation through the gate and past lush trees and shrubbery. We could just about see it with the naked eye, but it was impossible to snap a picture from the outside at all. We gave up and sat at the outside, instead snapping a picture of this tiny elephant holding up the concrete railing.

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A minor attraction in the area are the Sun and Moon Pavilions (ri yue ta). They’re prettily set in a lake and the reflection from the recent rain made it rather pretty.

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Tortoise and I sat at the park for a while just observing the numerous domestic tour groups passing through the area. There was an elevated platform in front of the pavilions on which groups like to pose for pictures. Here’s one of a group from Hainan University.

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And here’s another of a family with two very bouncy and thoroughly spoilt little girls. We were fascinated by new dynamics in family structure. The function of the adults were just to dispense money and attention. The kids seemed to run the show and had every whim met. They were also experts in acting cute. Check out the heart pose in the picture below.

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After dinner, we passed by the pavilions again. I think it’s a lot prettier in the dark. No prizes for guessing which pavilion is which!

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