Do you know the Joni Mitchell song "Both Sides Now"? (It's played at THAT heart breaking moment in the film "Love Actually" when Karen (Emma Thompson) opens the Christmas present from her husband (Alan Rickman), hoping it will be the necklace she'd seen in his pocket, which he in fact bought for the girl in the office who is flirting with him, but it's a Joni Mitchell CD instead she finds - gets me everytime that scene!). Well I sing my own variation of the song to Luca sometimes when he needs a little bit of soothing or to help to go off  to sleep and he just loves it. He calls it the "Ice Cream Castles" song. My version goes like so (substituted words in bold):

"Rows and flows of Luca's hair, 
and ice cream castles in the air, 
and fairy canyons everywhere,
I've looked at clouds that way.....
I've looked at clouds from both sides now,
from up and down, and still somehow,
it's clouds illusions I recall
I really don't know all

Moons and Junes and ferris wheels, the dizzy dancing way you feel
as every fairy tale comes real; I've looked at love that way.....
I've looked at love from both sides now,
from give and take, and still somehow
it's love's illusions I recall.
I really don't know love at all."

Sometimes I hear him singing the last two lines out loud to himself, very much in earnest, which is very cute to hear from a three year old. So what has that got to do with Sapa? Well, for me at least, everything in fact. All shall be revealed...

We arrived in our overnight express train into Lao Cai, the train station closest to Sapa, at 5am. We had a comfortable 4-berth carriage, which we shared with a Vietnamese couple, but the bunks were small and I, who am a poor sleeper at the best of times, like my own Mum, never sleep on such things anyway. Phil, who I always maintain, would sleep on a bed of nails beside Hitler soundly if the need arose (!), actually didn't sleep very well on this particular occasion either because he had Luca sleeping at an awkward angle up in the teeny top bunk with him. So we emerged from the train station a bit tired and bemused. But for once we, usually independent travellers, had signed up for an all-inclusive deal to Sapa and so were given the VIP treatment. We were actually greeted by a driver holding up a sign up for us, with our names upon it, for which we were very grateful in our sleep deprived and befuddled state. So we duly followed this sight for sore eyes driver appreciatively and collapsed  into a mini-bus, of which we were the only passengers, to be taken up the steep and windy mountainous roads which led to Sapa Town.

Despite the persistent and creeping feeling of nausea which rose within me as we ascended (morning sickness exacerbated by lack of zzzz's) I couldn't help but think about that very song I've mentioned which I sing to Luca, whilst looking about me in wonder and awe, because it were as though we were driving into a veritable fairy tale world in the clouds. An ethereal world which seemed somehow transcient such was it's sublime beauty. As though it were here on borrowed time here on the earth and might, at any minute, disappear into the clouds and mist which hovered jealously over it's seemingly endless terraces of  rice paddies as though biding their time to claim it's beauty for the skies. I know that it all sounds dramatic but the scenery on that ascent was genuinely breathtaking. Literally breathtaking. And intensely verdant. I have never before seen such multitudinous layers of green as I saw then and continued to see during the coming days in those slopes in and around Sapa. I didn't actually know that so many variations of the colour existed  in nature up until then. And they are impossible to capture properly in all of their mainfold shades on camera - even by Phil's capable photographer's eye by his own admission.

So there we all were...silenced by the sheer beauty of the landscape through which our mini-bus was hurtling at breakneck speed, in true Vietnamese fashion, up the relentless spiralling inclines. All feeling a bit mesmerised and moved by the enchanting world which appeared to us as the day broke. And there Luca and I were......gradually turning greener and greener in keeping with our surroundings. Until poor Luca (whom, incidentally, has not been ill for the nigh on six months of our travels in Asia save for the very occasional bout of tummy upset) piped up that he had a pain in his tummy and was going to be....He didn't get to say anymore. His actions spoke louder. All over his Dada in fact who was holding him as he missed the flimsy plastic bag I was holding out for him. And that set me off then in turn. With only one plastic bag between us. We were all a very sorry sight when we arrived at our accommodation, the Topas Ecolodge, which is situated a (bumpy!) 20km's or so beyond Sapa Town. 

But, boy oh boy, was it worth it! The Ecolodge is located deep in the lush Sapa Valley in the Hoang Lien National Park; a truly divine, remote and peaceful setting. Guests lodgings comprise bungalows harmoniously set into the landscape with balconies to the rear which reveal spectacular views. The food there, served in the main lodge, was simply heavenly. For breakfast, for example, there was a choice of fresh mango marmalade, apple jam, banana jam and local Sapa honey to choose from to smear over your homemade piping hot baguette or pancakes.

Due mainly to the surroundingings of sloping terraces of rice paddies the immediate landscape reminded us both slightly of the Mudbrick Winery and Restaurant in Waiheke (Auckland, NZ) or of Franschhoek wine valley (South Africa) - places we'd been when I was last pregnant actually. But ultimately it brought to mind the images we've seen of Machu Picchu -  a place we'd love to go to. And the colour of the local Hill Tribes women only added to that sense. There are several different ethnic tribes, all related to one another, but each with their own distinct traditions and dress, living in or around Sapa: the black H'mong, the Zai and the Red Dao.

It was the latter whom we met during our walks in or around the Ecolodge or rather the latter who followed us on our walks. We ventured out for a walk to one of the local villages on our first day at the lodge and were greeting by the sight of a sea of glorious red head head dresses which crowned the smiling tribes ladies sporting them. Upon seeing us a group of them comprising about seven sprinted to their baskets, filled with their homemade wares, which they hoisted onto their backs and proceeded to carry the whole way as they accompanied us on our walk for the entire 2 1/2 hours it took. Virtually all carrying umbrellas too - a useful double shield to the sun and rain which are both characteristic of Sapa at any given time. It was a brilliant and funny experience to be flanked throughout our walk by these charming companions who all the while pointed out local flora and fauna to us and who each told us their ages and how many children they each had. Not all mere altruistic on their part though. Ultimately the goal is to have you buy their hand crafts. The hard sell though didn't really kick in until we were nearly back at the lodge having enjoyed amazing scenery and snipits of local ethnic life. Having noticed that I was the easy target it seemed that their tactic was to divide and conquer; herding me further along ahead from Phil to negotiate what I would buy, from whom and for how much. I had been warned off doing any negotiations by Phil as I am absolutely chronically bad at bartering - for example we had bought a baby sling from one of the Black H'mong at Sapa town and I had somehow managed to barter the price up - don't ask! So I just smiled and laughed at their questions as though I didn't understand. And approaching the lodge I just left it up to Phil to do “the deal”. I think that seeing Phil in the midst of these frantic ladies who were all scrambling and vying for his attenion - both parties wheeling and dealing but good humouredly - was one of the funniest things I have ever seen. At the end of the exchange - we all parted company agreeing that we were all happy. Well - how couldn't you be happy in such a sublimely beautiful place.

We're back in Hanoi now from Sapa for the last 3 days and we agree that, along with Hoi An and Halong Bay, it was one of the highlights of our time in Vietnam and indeed our time in Southeast Asia. A trip that is now coming to an end as we board our flights to Sydney tomorrow. We're all a little bit sad to be saying Goodbye to this leg of our adventures. Southeast Asia has been good to our little family. We've loved it. Throughout Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam the people, the food, the weather and the scenery have been truly wonderful. All of the countries we've visited hold a very special place in our hearts. If we had to choose our favourite country of the three it'd probably be Vietnam. But it's really hard to call. Afterall we picked up some very special cargo in Thailand....

Phil was at his “regular” bia hoi (beer) joint last night and made friends with one of the locals, Tuan, who asked him about the white (well now off white) band he was wearing on his wrist which Phil has been wearing for over 4 months now. He was surprised Phil was wearing one as it is a Buddhist band and he asked him how it had transpired that he had come to be wearing one. Upon which my atheist husband explained that it'd been tied around his wrist when he visited Doi Suthep Wat, a temple in Chiang Mai, by a Buddhist monk who did so unprompted and in silence. And he couldn't explain why but he really liked it and hadn't taken it off since. It was later that very day he'd been given that same band that we found out that I was pregnant. Last night Tuan explained to Phil that this band is a Buddhist symbol for good luck. Phil and I have vowed that this band will go into bump's special little treasures box for posterity after his/ her arrival.

So, folks, our next post will be from the Antipodes where we wil be reunited with my sister Aine and family which we are all very excited about. Luca is (trying!) to be on his best behaviour and telling everyone he meets that he is going to see his cousins and Auntie and Uncle in Bondi. He has never met them in person as the last time we were in Sydney, four years ago, he was a twinkle in his Daddy's eye as I was about 4 months pregnant with him. In a way I guess that going there with me 4 months pregnant again we have come full circle. So keep following guys and do, please, keep in touch. 

Linda, Phil, Luca & our (Buddha blessed) bump x

Sometimes you have to go half way around the world to come full circle”
Lost in Translation


At August 17, 2011 at 2:14 PM Roger said...

Bon Voyage and happy flying! Eva and Roger xxx

At August 17, 2011 at 3:55 PM Linda de Paor said...

Thanks Eva & Rog! The next time we speak to you, at this stage, will probably be from Sydney! Love to you both & all the very best for Sandy & Tina's visit. Hope you all have a great time. Please say a big "G'Day from us".

At August 17, 2011 at 3:55 PM Linda de Paor said...


At August 19, 2011 at 11:18 PM Sarah said...

Great post Linda. You know I also feel a little bit sad about your South East Asia adventure coming to an end - I've enjoyed reading about it so much!! But looking forward to the next chapter... I think you arrived in Sydney today so hope all went smoothly and that you're enjoying family time! Xxxx

At August 21, 2011 at 3:46 AM Linda de Paor said...

Thanks Sarah! Glad to hear that Cian's op went well and delighted it's behind you all now. Best wishes to him for his recovery & prep. for school !!!!!! :) This is our 3rd day in beautiful Sydney & we're LOVING it. As we walked along the promenade at Bondi Beach yesterday I felt as though a part of me had come home. I just LOVE Sydney. And being with Aine, Paul & the kids is just brill. Will email you tomorrow with full news & will post some pics up later of Sydney. Off to Bronte markets now. We have Oz mobile no's now too - will send you on details f.y.i. Lots of Love to you & Cill & Cian and Aoibhe. Us 3 & (almost) 1/2 XXXX

At August 26, 2011 at 11:14 AM Tyna said...

Hi Linda,

This is by far my favourite post by you, so warm, trully emotional and touching, simply beautiful.
I hope you all (including Buddah blessed bump)are going to have a great time in Australia. Look forward to hearing from you soon,

love Tyna

At August 28, 2011 at 2:56 PM Linda de Paor said...

Aw - thanks Tyna. I enjoyed writing that post actually & it's one of the ones I enjoy re-reading. :)We're all having a lovely time with my sis and family in this BEAUTIFUL city and country. We've a big scan tomorrow so will get to see bump so are very excited about that. :) Hope you guys are doing well. Lk forward to seeing & talking to you soon on Skype. Lots of Love, L & bump xxxxxxx


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