Visa runs are necessary... with having a tourist visa I am permitted to remain in the country for a certain amount of time before having to exit. The little city I call home is just a 6 (on a good day) hour bus ride from Vietnam where you can walk across the bridge over the river that borders these two countries and set foot on the soil of another land. Just a few hours from this northern Vietnam border lies a small town nestled in the mountains and overlooking terraced fields that the Miao, Dao, and Tay hill tribe minorities have resided for many generations. Needing a little bit of time to pass before heading back to my China home and longing for a bit of a break after being busy and experiencing mafan (unnecessary trouble) leading up to this trip, we decided to head to a city in the mountains for two days. After a couple hours of driving on a road of nothing but switchbacks our bus pulled into this town that bears remnants of a deeply rooted French colonial influence from long ago. As we climbed off the bus it was a feeding frenzy (read: village women make a b-line towards any foreigners that climb off the bus, knowing just enough English to obstinately solicit "shopping/trekking" while their persistence may be admirable, anyone who knows me knows I'm not a fan of anything that is a touristy/watered down this is what you want to see/eat/buy/do.) I felt a bit overwhelmed and suffocated despite the clean mountain air and breathtaking views. Redemption came in the form of a 4 dollar motorbike rental that I'm sure was heaven sent. Pure glory. I climbed on two wheels and took off with the crisp air once again filling my lungs and blowing through my hair, and a quiet mist falling on my skin as I drove into the clouds. With a view unobstructed by the confines of a car or bus I was fully absorbed into the environment surrounding me if only for that fleeting moment.
A gentle rain (thankfully) deterred many of the few people who opt for hiking to a waterfall that is less popular, but equally stunning. TLC can shut it...waterfalls were meant to be chased, and when possible, swam in. I knew it would be freezing but I decided to go for it. The icy cold water took my breath away as I immersed myself in the dark, deep waters. But I came out lighter, refreshed, restored and full of joy. (And PTL, just in time to get the rest of my clothes on before a bunch or people came!) the hike back down and the drive winding back around the mountains along fields and valleys and smiling at those as I passed by gave me a new sense and a truer feel/ representation of the people and the area that surrounds Sapa. There is something about the driving on an open road that restores and brings peace to my heart. I was able to return back into this town the last evening we were there and relish all the things, even the tenacious village women.