Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

October 23, 2017
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An MD slept here... Sapa, Vietnam

Dr Richard Denton still has chills when he thinks of this tropical trip


Where was your night to remember? Sapa in Vietnam’s Tonkinese Alps.

When was this? January 2008.

Who were you with? My wife, Elizabeth.

What made this night memorable? I had proposed we go to Antarctica for our winter holiday. But after my wife heard about the Antarctic cruise ship sinking, she got on Google and looked for a place that was on land and hot: Vietnam. Next thing you know, we were on a train to Sapa. We knew this region was cooler than Hanoi, which in winter is about 18°C. But we figured we were hardy Canadians, no big deal.

The first day, Sapa was sunny and we walked around the hillsides visiting colourful H’mong villages. Back at the hotel, we had two spacious rooms overlooking the mountains.
But the temperature inside was the same as outside: there were gaps around the windows and no heating. Before leaving for supper, I asked the staff for heat of some kind.

When we returned, my wife found an electric blanket plugged in under the flat sheet, but it was cold. I reassured
her that the heat should rise, but such was not the case.
She donned her PJs, jacket, toque, gloves and socks and climbed under the comforter, urging me to join her. I decided to run a bath instead. Maybe the hot water would heat the place? No luck either. Soon, I too was under the comforter, with socks and gloves on.

Where did you dine and what did you eat? We headed downtown to a restaurant. A poster in the window touted that the fire was on. That should have been my first clue. The second was when the waitress arrived in a ski jacket. I made for a fireside table, but the open hearth sucked the heat out of the room. I ordered the lemon leaf-wrapped pork, and the usual rice, soup and veggies. The lemon leaves were held onto the pork with a zillion toothpicks, like a voodoo master gone wild. The crispy leaves didn’t taste like much, but the pork was probably better than the dog I had seen cut up in the market earlier that day (which our guide said tasted like mutton).

How much did it cost? The cost of the trip was $2400 for just over three weeks, not including international airfare.

Would you do it again? Yes, I loved it. It was a memorable experience meeting the locals who had better roads and cell phone coverage than I do in Kirkland Lake, Northern Ontario. Though obviously, we have better fireplaces and better insulation.

Dr Richard Denton is a family physician from Kirkland Lake, ON.

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