Monday, September 26, 2016

Korea: One Year Later

"No one realises how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow."- Lin Yutang

Last month marked one year since I left Korea. As you can imagine, this anniversary left me with plenty of mixed feelings. Naturally I felt a sense of sadness for the fact that this part of my life is slipping more and more into the past, but I also felt a sense of contentment with where this year of life has brought me.

When I count the memories from the last 365+ days, it feels like I've been back for much more than one year. At times my life in Korea feels surreal, like it was just a dream. At the same time, there's a part of me that feels like if I jumped on a plane and landed in Incheon, I could easily slip back into my life in Korea without skipping a beat.

Adjusting to life back in America had it's challenges, but admittedly I think I had it much easier than many other expats who return home, as I had a job waiting for me when I got back. There really was very little time to think about the changes I was going through, which is quite the opposite of what I had expected to happen until I was offered a job a week before I left Korea. 

When my plane landed in America I had one day to renew my driver's license and take care of other urgent matters, then the next day I was off to orientation for my job. I struggled through jetlag and the general disorientation of coming back to America in the midst of meetings and other professional development activities, while trying my hardest to make a good first impression. The following week the school year started, and as any teacher knows, once the school year starts there's hardly any time to catch your breath. 

Despite this whirlwind, I think the hardest part of initially coming home from Korea was that everyone was really excited to see me, and don't get me wrong, I was happy to see them too, but my emotions were much more complex and happiness was something that was a bit hard to radiate to those around me. Talking about Korea was at first nearly impossible for me to do without crying. I admittedly spontaneously broke into tears multiple times throughout my first two weeks back home--largely the result of emotional overload, jetlag, and the pressure of a new school year.  

I felt a pressure to be happy when I returned home, but in reality a large part of me felt nothing short of heartbroken to leave behind not only the town I called home for two years, but my expat family in Korea. Perhaps the most difficult part of leaving Korea was leaving behind the completely unique period of life--a time without any serious commitments, ample opportunities to travel, and enough free time to make plans with friends pretty much any night of the week. Not many people get the chance to have a few years to themselves-a few years to be the center of your own world, to save and spend money on whatever you want. When I came back to America, I knew I would never again have the amount of freedom that I had in Korea. Although I knew I couldn't grow anymore professionally in EPIK, it didn't make it any easier to leave it all behind.

With this mix of emotions, it felt perplexing be right back where I started: home, in my childhood bedroom. Physically I didn't look much different than I did before I left for Korea, but those were two enormous years and I was not the same person I was before Korea.

As I lay in bed, I thought of the person I was just two years before, when I was in the same room frantically packing my two suitcases, not even knowing which town I was going to be living in once I got to Korea. It was strange to be back in the same room and the same bed, but this time knowing intimately the landscapes, food, people, and customs on the other side of it all. Korea felt so much like home that it was hard to imagine a time when the thought of going there was terrifying to me.


Even though a part of me still longs for that kind of life I left behind in Korea, this year has been fulfilling and full of wonderful moments. I'm so lucky to have gotten a job at the same district I taught at before I went to Korea. I still cannot believe that things worked out so perfectly for me, and I am immensely thankful for it. I live in a great place with great friends, and after a very long year of texting daily and strategically planned Skype sessions,  I have a boyfriend who loves traveling (and Korea) as much as I do with me in NH. I got to see two of my best friends get married, and I finally got to indulge my wanderlust once again in traveling to Europe over the summer. 

The list of things I miss from Korea is endless and I think about it all the time: the amazing food (kimbap, dalkgalbi, jjimdak, samgyeopsal, please!), lots of free time at school, essentially no work outside of school, the ability to travel on weekends and on every vacation, and of course the people.

There's also quite a long list of things I don't miss, which is admittedly much easier to forget about than the things do I do miss. I sometimes have to remind myself of these things when I find that I'm glamorizing my former life. For example, I do not miss not being to advocate for myself at school and being constantly dependent on coworkers, the constant language barrier that made things as simple as going to the store or post office difficult, being stared at constantly, and being pushed out of line at the grocery store.

Every now and then (especially when things are feel especially stressful), James and I throw around the idea of returning to expat life. It's a common thing for people to turn back to expat life after returning home. There are a number of reasons why this happens, but I think mainly once you learn how much is out there in the world, it's harder to stay content in one place. The adventure of traveling is addicting, and it ultimately lures many back to expat life. Truthfully, I wouldn't be opposed to living abroad again if the situation were right, but James and I both agree that right now isn't the right time. I'm not sure if the right time or situation will ever come our way, but if the last few years have taught my anything, it's never say never. 

Meanwhile, one of the things that has been great about being back has been reconnecting with friends from Jeomchon outside of Korea. Luckily one of our friends from Jeomchon lives in VT, so when he was home from his current job in Abu Dhabi we got to visit with him for a while. We also got to meet another friend, who is currently teaching in Sweeden, when we took a trip to Europe over the summer.

Jeomchon reunion in VT!

Jeomchon reunion in Germany!

I know I said it frequently throughout this blog, but there's something incredibly unique about the friendships that are made while living abroad, and it's been nice to see how easy it is to catch up despite the time that has gone by. I am comforted by knowing that there will be many more reunions in the future-these relationships are not lost and that is something that makes post-life Korea life much more bearable.

When I got home a lot of people would ask me "How was Korea?" I think everyone who returns home from expat life has the same feeling about this question-it's impossible to answer. There's no way to answer the question that would convey the enormity of the experience. My two years in Korea were the best years of my life, and they profoundly changed the way I view myself and the world. So how was Korea? It was everything. It was exciting, draining, beautiful, frustrating, hilarious, enlightening, complicated, yet incredibly simple. I miss it every day.

I only have a few friends left in Jeomchon, and I'm guessing that over the next year my remaining expat friends will also move away. I know so much has changed in Jeomchon over this year, and it will continue to change as time goes on. In my memory though, I have such a vidid feeling of what it was like to share in that extraordinary period of life with such an incredible group of people. In my mind when I think of Jeomchon, I will always think of it the way it was when we were all there together, running around town and sharing the unique experience of being foreigners in small-town Korea. My sadness that those moments are over is far outweighed by my gratitude for the pure existence of those fleeting moments. How lucky I am to have experienced such an adventure with such a lovely group of people from around the world.


This is the last time I ever intend on writing in this blog (unless I somehow end up in Korea again, of course!) With that, I want to thank everyone who followed my journey. I don't think I ever could have made the decision to move abroad without the support of my friends and family, so for that I owe you so much. I know it isn't easy to maintain relationships with people living on the other side of the world, and I am so thankful that so many people put in the effort to maintain a relationship with me while I was away. Expat life at times makes you feel isolated and forgotten by those at home, so every kakao, skype session, or piece of mail was appreciated in more ways than you can know.

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

"Once you have traveled the voyage never ends, but it is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey."-Pat Conroy

Friday, July 22, 2016

Exploring Ho Chi Minh

After partaking in a few excursions during my first few days in Ho Chi Minh, I spent the remainder of my time seeing the sights within the city. I started out walking in the direction of the main attractions, but naturally I got a little lost (again, not the best feeling when you're a solo female traveler). Luckily, I finally came upon the Notre Dame Cathedral.  This cathedral was built during French colonization and was built using materials imported from France. Unfortunately the church was closed so I couldn't go inside, but I snapped a few shots of the outside.

Afterwards I made my way across the street to the Central Post Office, which was also built by the French during colonization. 
The Post Office

Inside the post office

After mailing out a few post cards, I wanted to find the War Remnants Museum, but I stumbled across the Reunification Palace first. This palace, also called Independence Palace, was the home of the South Vietnamese President during the Vietnam War. On April 30, 1975 the North Vietnamese army broke through the gates of the palace and raised the Viet Cong flag from the balcony, officially signaling the defeat of the South Vietnamese.

It was really interesting walking around the Palace, knowing that so many important meetings occurred in the rooms I was in. The entire palace is decorated just as it was then-with a strong 60s and 70s feel.

the outside of the palace

Those circles on the ground are where bombs were dropped on the palace during the war

Maps that were used during the war

After I finished walking around the palace, I made my way to War Remnants Museum. The museum started off with a collection of pictures about how countries around the world protested the Vietnam War (which is called the American War in Vietnam). This was clearly meant to show that what America did was wrong, and everyone in the world knew it. As I went into the next room I noticed that the strategic placement of an except from the Declaration of Independence:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness"

This is no-doubt meant to paint Americans as hypocrites, who violated their founding principles by interfering with the independence of Vietnam.  
The outside of the museum holds planes/boats/tanks from the war

The museum shows countless pictures of Americans killing Vietnamese citizens. The captions often reinforced the idea that Americans were aggressors in this war, while the North Vietnamese were patriots sacrificing for the good of their country.

The pictures of the massacres that occurred during the war was deeply disturbing to see, but I think the part that stayed with me the most was the section that showed the effects of Agent Orange, napalm, and other explosives. These pictures were horrifying-showing that even generations later locals were plagued with serious birth defects due to the chemicals that were in the water supply. I had honestly never seen anything like these pictures-a reminder that the effects of war can linger for generations.

The museum was an emotionally exhausting experience for me. The museum clearly is one-sided, as none of the tactics of the North Vietnamese were ever discussed. However, you are over and over again reminded that the Americans broke all kinds of moral and ethical codes through these acts of aggression. The museum gives off the sense that everyone in Vietnam wanted to be united under communism and America was just the big bully getting in the way, which isn't quite a true narrative.

Although the museum was anything but well-rounded, it was an interesting experience to see things from another perspective, and made me think about the way we tell history. Our patriotism sometimes clouds our ability to tell an honest account of the truth, and the US is certainly not exempt from sometimes promoting a less-than true account of the past. The winners write the history, and it was interesting to see the narrative in Vietnam. Ultimately, the museum was effective in showing the true cost of war, and I think it hit me even harder knowing that there are many more terrible things that weren't shown in the exhibits. 

I think what was is also so interesting about the experience of this museum was knowing that the people who lived through this war are around the age of my parents. It was sometimes hard to imagine what the people I met during my travels had lived through in their lifetimes. Vietnam looks nothing like the war-torn country I saw in the pictures at the museum. The locals I met were kind and incredibly helpful to me during my trip, which I think is proof of just how resilient people can be, even in the face of tremendous hardship. 

After I finished my time at the museum, I was ready to get back to the hostel, but unfortunately my poor map reading skills and terrible sense of direction caused me to get lost again, and this time it was in the middle of rush hour, which meant motorbikes were buzzing by me on all sides. Apparently sidewalks aren't for walking on during rush hour, instead they are for driving on...even when pedestrians are trying to use them.  You really haven't seen crazy driving until you go to Vietnam. 

Once I finally found my way back to the hostel, I decided the last thing I wanted to do was go back out for dinner, so I went to the closest place near me, which just happened to be a Mexican restaurant owned by a man from Maine. Since I was still living in Korea, I didn't mind giving up a chance to eat Vietnamese food if it meant having Mexican because I had been deprived of good Mexican food for far too long at that point. Not a bad end to the day! 

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

A Day in the Mekong Delta

One of the "must-see" parts of southern Vietnam is the Mekong Delta, a lush area which is responsible for producing rice and other agricultural products for the majority of the country. Since I only had enough time to make a quick stop to this famous part of the country, I booked a day tour through my hostel and got aboard the bus at 7:30 AM to begin the two hour journey to the Delta.

Once we arrived at the Delta, we got on a boat that took us to a small island. We made a quick stop to see some local beekeepers. Given I have a large and irrational fear of bees, this was not my favorite stop and I was quite ready to keep things moving.

It didn't take too long for them to move us along to the next stop: a small table containing some local fruit where we were to stay and eat while some local women came in traditional Vietnamese clothing and sang a few songs for us. Of course, it didn't take long before they put out little baskets for money on our tables. It was quickly occurring to me that this day would contain plenty of tourist traps. This kind of thing isn't unusual in SE Asia--foreigners are eager to see certain parts of these countries, and the locals have found just about every way to profit off of it (and who can blame them, really).

After the small performance, we got in some small boats in which we were rowed around the Mekong. This was probably my favorite part of the tour because as we floated down the brown water, we got a sense of the thick vegetation in the area.

Next we went to another area in which they showed us some of the candy they make in the area using coconuts. I'll admit, the candy was good, but it was basically another tourist dumping ground consisting of a very short demonstration and a long break where we were expected to buy stuff.

Following the candy stop, it was time for lunch. We were told repeatedly throughout the tour that the lunch we would be given would be very small, and really we should order more. Of course, the lunch provided on the tour was plenty adequate, so I was glad I did't fall for their efforts to get us to spend more. I spent lunch with a group three older men, all of whom had lived in all different parts of the world during their lives. It was really interesting talking to them, but lunch seemed way too long given there was pretty much nothing to do in that location besides going to take a look at some of the crocodiles (or were they alligators?) 

After lunch it was time to head back to our bus, after which we made the ride back to the hostel. Overall, I was less than impressed with this tour. At a certain point it becomes frustrating when you're constantly dropped off at a location, given a two minute demonstration, and then expected to buy something. Although I can understand why this happens given the fact that we are incredibly rich by the standards of most locals, I feel like I learned very little about life in the Mekong Delta during this tour. Maybe I just got unlucky with my tour guide, but I think I wouldn't have minded the constant expectation to buy something if I had at least been able to learn more during the tour. With that said, I'm glad I at least got a taste of the Mekong Delta. It was worth the day just for the ride in the boat down the river because that is an experience that has stuck with me, even nearly a year later. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Cu Chi Tunnels

After a few days in the northern part of Vietnam, it was time to move south to Ho Chi Minh City. Ho Cho Minh is the city formerly known as Saigon, and is actually still frequently referred to as Saigon by many of the locals.

After a flight full of turbulence (which I just love), I arrived in Saigon in the evening and found my way to the taxi stand to get a ride to my hostel. My first impression of the city was that it seemed much more modern than Hanoi. Although, it was somewhat difficult to get a full sense of the city because my taxi driver clearly didn't know where he was going...just what you want when you're a young woman traveling solo. Luckily, he stopped to ask for directions after some time and I made it to the hostel in one piece.

Since it was already night by the time I checked in, I stayed put for the night and talked to one of the other people in the room, who just happened to be from Boston! I also arranged my first excursion for my time in southern Vietnam: a day tour of the Cu Chi Tunnels.

After a less than ideal night of sleep including blasting AC, I had breakfast at the hostel before making my way to the lobby to wait for my ride for the tour. Once I got picked up we had about a two hour trip to outside of the city to get to the tunnels. On the way there our tour guide (a local) told us about Vietnam's history. Our tour guide told us that in the southern part of Vietnam many people still like America and idealize the idea of the American dream. She also told us that a lot of what the locals learn in school about the Vietnam War doesn't quite match up with the things they hear from their parents, and acknowledged that in Vietnam they are only allowed to learn part of the story. She also told us quite honestly about how they cannot write anything bad about the government or they will go on away on a "long vacation"....a nice way of saying they will go to jail. Additionally, the internet is highly censored and when it comes to higher government positions, only people from the north are allowed to fill those spots. Decades later, people with ties to the south are still seen as less loyal than people from the north.

I was really quite surprised that our tour guide spoke so honestly about life in Vietnam considering there still is such a large degree of censorship, but I was quite glad she did because it was really interesting to get that depth of insight from a local.

Finally we arrived at the Cu Chi Tunnels, which were used during the Vietnam War by the Viet Cong. These tunnels comprised an elaborate network of paths throughout the country and were vital to the Viet Cong's war strategy. The tunnels were split into three different levels and even though America bombed the area heavily, the tunnels were made of clay and could often withstand the force of the bombs. The tunnels were used by the Viet Cong not only for hiding or living in, but also to hold and transport supplies, weapons, and food.

The design of the tunnels was so elaborate that even when the Americans tried to pollute the tunnels with gas, it was often ineffective because there were so many turns in the tunnels that it prevented the gas from going all the way through.
An example of an entrance to the tunnel

The entrance to the tunnel is SO small...we had a member of our group try to fit down and it was a very tight squeeze. When the top of the tunnel was on and the leaves were put on top it was easy to see why it was so difficult to locate the tunnels. 

Throughout the tour we saw a number of the traps that the Viet Cong used to capture and kill Americans. It was amazing to see how resourceful the Vietnamese were--the traps were so well hidden that it was easy to see how soldiers would have missed them. Even the entrances to the tunnels were so incredibly small that they were easily camouflaged with the terrain.
One wrong step and the soldiers could find themselves falling into one of these camouflaged traps

This trap was attached to the doors of local Vietnamese. When the Americans came to search homes they would release it when they opened the door.

There's a small hole here where smoke could come out of the tunnels...sometimes people would need to stay in the tunnels for extended amounts of time and they would cook while underground

The paintings in the back there were interesting...and kind of disturbing to me. Sad to think of all the people who died in the forests I was walking through.

More examples of the traps that would have been hidden 

The Vietnamese were also resourceful in other ways--they used old American garbage to throw off dogs looking for their smell, and they also commonly used hot peppers on the trails for this same purpose. It seemed nothing went unused when it came to the Viet Cong--they even used the shells of old bombs to create tools and weapons. Even the shape of their shoes were made in a way so that when Americans saw their footprints in the sand they wouldn't be able to tell which way they were coming from or where they were going.
An American tank

Some of the shells of the bombs that were dropped

I was surprised to learn that there were a lot of women who fought in the Vietnam War. The rubber shoes they're wearing were actually pretty significant...the rubber kind of shoes the Vietnamese had were in most cases much better than the heavy boots the American soldiers had because of the damp jungle conditions, which caused a lot of Americans to develop problems with their feet. They also didn't have the typical curve that most of our shoes have, so when Americans saw footprints it was impossible to know which way they were coming from or where they were going. 

During the tour there was a part where we were able to go through a small stretch of the tunnels and let me say, it was truly amazing to think that anyone would be able to stay down there for any extended amount of time. The tunnels were so incredibly small and narrow that I had to walk with my legs completely bent, pretty much a squatting position. It was also extremely hot and claustrophobic feeling and we were all glad to get to the end of the tunnel, even though we were only under for a few minutes.

At the end of the tour there was a strange point in which people could pay money and shoot off guns. I guess for tourists from outside the US this probably isn't an opportunity that they get often and is therefore a good way to make money, but it was just a strange way for things to wrap up. After learning about all the ways people died in that very jungle, the sound of gunfire in the background was a bit too eerie for my liking.

It was about 3:00 by the time we got back to the hostel, at which point I decided to go out and do a little exploring. The part of the city I was in was really chaotic and it didn't take long before I got too lost and a bit overwhelmed with the constant motorbikes buzzing by me. Luckily as I was standing on the side of the road with my map, a British guy I met at the hostel earlier that day came over and asked if I was lost (yes, I was...and he was too) at which point we decided to team up to find a place for dinner. Finally we found a place that suited us and we had a nice dinner before heading back in to the hostel for the night. I wanted to make sure to get some rest before my excursion to the Mekong Delta the next day!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Back to Hanoi

Our train from Sapa arrived in Hanoi at 4:30 AM, at which point we were brought back to our hotel. Since we were so early we couldn't get into our room yet, so we stayed in the little dining room area and waited until breakfast started. When our room was ready for us, we went up and took a nap before going out to explore Hanoi.

Our first stop around the city was the Temple of Literature. This temple dates back to 1070 and was a significant spot for Vietnam's scholars throughout the country's history. The temple itself was nice, but it was SUPER hot this day, so it didn't take long for us to start getting a little too uncomfortable.

After we finished walking around, we decided to head over to the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum. Although tourists are permitted to enter the mausoleum to see Ho Chi Minh's body, we decided to avoid the long lines and just walk around the outside of the building. I really don't care to see an embalmed dead body anyway--especially when there's a whole city to see.

When I went to Beijing one of the things that really struck me was how strange it was to be in a country where a communist leader is idolized. As Americans we are taught from such a young age to value freedom, so when you're in a country with a different system of governance it has an unnatural feeling to it, and I felt this way again a few times during my stay in Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh is everywhere, and he's given a kind of reverence we just don't quite have for our leaders in America.

After finishing our walk around the mausoleum we got in a taxi and made our way to the Hoa Lo Prison. The Hoa Lo Prison was originally used by the French to imprison those who spoke out against French colonization. When most people hear about Vietnam, the first thing that comes to mind is probably the Vietnam War, and sometimes it's easy to forget that there was turmoil in the country long before the war broke out. Colonization had a large impact on Vietnam, and certainly fueled a desire for independence from foreign powers. In fact, many of Vietnam's future communist leaders were held in the Hoa Lo Prison, which ultimately helped give credit to their fight for an independent country.

It was disturbing to see many of the conditions prisoners were kept in in the prison, but the strangest part of the museum was the part about how the prison was used during the Vietnam War. During the Vietnam War, the prison was used to hold American POWs. The museum paints a rosy picture about how well the Americans were treated while being held there. According to the museum, the prisoners were well-fed given all kinds of entertainment, and basically had a great time during their stay in Vietnam. Of course, this is not the case whatsoever, with countless POWs who have shared their stories of abuse about their time in this prison (John McCain being probably the most famous of these prisoners).

I started to feel angry by the end of my time in the museum because it was so blatantly and obviously dishonest. While I did enjoy the museum overall, it was certainly a reminder that history can be told in many ways, and in this communist country the government still holds a firm grasp on the narrative of the war. It was uncomfortable to see how the museum evokes such a a sense of sympathy for the prisoners who suffered under the French, but yet completely glosses over the abuse of the POWs at the hands of the Vietnamese. As an American I have access to all kinds of information for all kinds of points of view, but unfortunately not everyone in the world has this privilege. The flow of information in Vietnam is still heavily restricted as the government seeks to keep control of the narrative of the country's history and the its role in the world.

By the time we finished at the museum the heat had taken its toll on us, so we went back to the hotel to rest for a bit. Later we went back out for some shopping and dinner before deciding to call it a night.

Overall, I really enjoyed my time in the busy city of Hanoi. Before coming to Vietnam I had heard so many mixed things about the country, but I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of hospitality i had experienced in this first part of the trip. In the morning it would be time to part ways with Katelyn and head to the southern part of Vietnam.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Stunning Sapa

Annyeong old friends,

I've recently been working on planning an upcoming trip and it's made me think quite a lot about past travels and this unfinished blog. It's nearly 11 months after my trip to Vietnam and I really never had a chance to finish writing about my time in this beautiful country. This is mostly a testament to just how crazy busy this school year was, but now that it's summer vacation I think it's (finally) time to give this blog the proper finish it deserves.

Following our trip to Ha Long Bay we didn't have much time to rest because we got back to Hanoi around 6:00 and had to leave for the train station around 7:00 for our trip to Sapa. Luckily, our hotel was awesome and let us take a shower between our trips. They even got us sandwiches so we could have something to eat before getting on the train (Golden Charm Hotel, people! They are the best!)

Sapa is in the northern part of Vietnam, up near the border with China. It's famous for the stunning views, but it requires a long train ride to get up there from Hanoi. We opted for the overnight train,  which left around 8:15 PM and arrived around 4:30 AM. I had a surprisingly decent sleep given the inherent discomfort of overnight trains, but when we arrived at 4:30 getting up and out into the dark was about the last thing I wanted to do.

We had to wait around a while until they had found everyone who was coming in our van-we still had an hour ride to get to Sapa ahead of us. After they got us all crammed into a van, we began the twisty ride up the mountains of northern Vietnam. The views were absolutely beautiful on the way up, as there were clouds on the mountains and the sun was rising over them. Since we were up so high above the clouds we had a pretty incredible sight to look at during our ride, or at least for the parts we managed to stay awake during. One of my regrets is that I wasn't able to snap a photo of this ride, but it will remain in my mind as one of the most beautiful sights from my time traveling.

Finally around 6 AM we arrived at our hotel. There weren't any rooms available for us yet, but they thankfully had some showers that they have available for the early arrivers. After showering we had breakfast with quite the breathtaking view. Although I had only been in Sapa for a few hours, I was already in love.

It's no secret that I love views of mountains. Sapa's mountains were probably the most beautiful I've ever seen.

After we finished breakfast we headed back downstairs to meet up with the other people in our trecking tour. Our tour guide was a local young woman from one of Sapa's villages. She was so full of energy and had an awesome sense of humor, so I knew we were in for a good day. 

In case our luck in hitting the perfect weather in Ha Long Bay hadn't been enough, we had once again hit the jackpot in Sapa. In the days before our arrival there had been downpours in Sapa, but during our time trecking we had nothing but sunny, blue skies. 

It seemed the views along our tour kept getting better and better. Sapa is full of rice terraces along its steep mountains, and during this time of year they are as green as can be. 

Our tour guide and some of the locals

Some of the local women made these hearts for us during one of our breaks along the way

We continued walking until about 12:30, when we stopped for lunch. At this point all of the local women started trying to sell us stuff, as I pretty much expected would happen. 

After lunch we continued walking through a small village and we saw how they prepare rice. It was amazing to see how much work goes into preparing food on a daily basis in small villages like this. It really makes you think about how easy we have it when we can just go to the grocery store and buy food-it certainly isn't the reality for many people in the world. 

Our tour ended at about 2:30, at which point we were picked up and given a ride back to our hotel. Needless to say Katelyn and I were very happy to be in a nice comfortable room at this point. After dinner we walked around town for a bit and decided to try Vietnam's famous egg coffee. 
 Although this is something that sounds repulsive, it was actually delicious. They make this kind of coffee with the egg yolk, sugar, and condensed milk. The coffee actually doesn't taste anything like egg, but instead it's really sweet and creamy. Definitely a must-try for anyone visiting Vietnam!

After a long and exhausting day we decided to call it quits and got an early sleep to prepare for another long day ahead!


We got to sleep in a bit more our second day in Sapa, as we didn't have to meet our tour group until 9:30.  We had the same tour guide during our second day, but different people along with us. This time we were joined by a friendly Dutch family as we walked through a small village until we reached a waterfall and an area with small stage where we watched a traditional dance performance.

We also saw a local home and our tour guide explained to us how they dye their clothes with indigo. It's amazing how simply people still live in Vietnam. It's sometimes easy to take all of our modern conveniences for granted. In villages like the ones we saw in Sapa there is so much effort put into simply surviving. It's a great reminder of how different life is simply depending on where you are born.
Powder used to dye clothes

A local woman weaving

Dyed fabric drying

Inside a house

Quite different from the living spaces we're used to

After the performance we continued on until we got to the place where we had lunch and afterwards we continued walking back to the hotel, where we showered and repacked our bags.

We were very fortunate because just as we got back to the hotel it started to POUR--once again our good luck with the weather continued!

At about 6:00 we headed back to the train station to head back to Hanoi. We lucked out with our bunk mates this time around, as we ended up being with a Welsh couple who were both teachers as well. They were a lot of fun to talk to and it was interesting talking about their education system versus ours.

Overall Sapa was one of my favorite places I've been to and was definitely the highlight of my time in Vietnam. The natural beauty of that area is incredible and unlike anything I've ever seen. Of course, Sapa also suffers from the same problems as many areas of SE Asia. Many people are living in poverty and along the way you see far too many children begging for money from the tourists instead of going to school. The tourism industry has certainly improved the lives of some people, but it's also made communities dependent on begging. It's hard not to feel guilty when traveling to areas like this when you know that the belongings you have in your backpack alone are worth probably more than they have in their entire homes. Trips like this always make me think about all the STUFF I own and it also makes me reflect on my own selfishness, something that is sometimes all too easy to ignore in everyday life when you are living in a first world country.