I've decided to try to do something different with my blog. I'll skip forward and write about my most current adventures and then backtrack to catch up. So I introduce: Sapa,Vietnam
More pictures can be found here: http://public.fotki.com/FierceKitten/travel/2010-atw/sapa-i/
At Hanoi, all hotels seemed to sell train tickets at a fixed price of $27 for a soft sleeper to Lao Cai, but we managed to purchase what we thought were the same tickets for half the price at the train station. The "we" was me and Josh whom I met a few days earlier at Hoi An. The train ride wasn't very pleasant. The entire night I was worried that I'd fall off the upper bed due to abrupt stops. It was also very shaky and, at some point, my bag fell out of the shelf onto me. Finally, at sunrise, we arrived at Lao Cai. From there we took a 1 hour mini bus to Sapa. I found it quite shady that the much needed air conditioning was turned off as soon as we began moving, when we had no opportunity to switch over to another company's mini bus.
An hour later, we arrived in the small town of Sapa. Everything there reminded me of Cusco, Peru for some reason. All the happy memories of travels with Dima, Dean and Jenny made me like the place immediately. Josh and I reserved a room at the Cat Cat Hotel. Apparently, a few hotels had the same name and the first one we walked into wasn't so nice, but then Josh found the right one. We got a room on the 9th floor with a fantastic view of the mountain. The stepped rice paddy terraces coming into view as the dense morning fog began to dissipate and the golden light of the sun illuminated the mountains made for a truly breathtaking view. Mistakenly, I thought I'd get the picture later in my trip, unfortunately, it was not to be... I woke up several times with the hope of capturing that same brilliant sunlight but it was never to make a second appearance :(
Once settled in, we discussed the tours over a breakfast of eggs and chocolate crepes. Since Josh only had 2 days in Sapa, he didn't want to take a chance and pass on the great weather for trekking. Despite being completely exhausted from the cold, uncomfortable train ride, we decided to go on the 15km trek through 4 villages - organized by the hotel.
We left hotel with a group of about 10 people. The Muong girls followed us, dressed in their traditional linen indigo colored clothes, wearing large baskets on their backs like backpacks. They seemed to have a system going. There were roughly the same number of them as there were of us. Moments after stepping out of the hotel, they all paired themselves up with the tourists. After a short introduction, the girls cycled through the typical questions: where are you from, how old are you, how many siblings do you have, how many kids do you have.
They were all very sweet and sincere. My girl offered to carry my bag, would hold the umbrella over my head trying to protect me from the sun, would give me a hand during the steep parts of the hike and would wait for me when I fell behind taking yet another picture. In the picture above the lady has some grass-looking stuff wrapped around her. She explained to me that she was making linen thread to be used later for weaving fabric. Her finger tips were purple from dying the clothes with indigo. I never knew that this is how linen looks before its fibers are made into thread.
Of course, I knew that she wasn't doing it for nothing. There of course was a catch. When we reached the first village, after a fairly easy hike down hill thus far, the girls following us asked that we buy stuff from them. They were selling bags decorated with cross stitching, bracelets, rings, and earrings. What they asked of the tourists at that point was that, if they were to buy something, they would buy from them rather than the girls at the village. At the last village, at the 12km mark of the hike, a lunch of veggies, bread and cheese, and fruit was served. After that, the sales pitch intensity increased. The girls were very demanding, guilt tripping all of us into buying stuff. They would whine "I know you long time, I follow you long way, why you not buy?" I ended up buying some earrings for a few bucks.
The last 3km of the hike was where I felt the real trek began. There were several steep inclines that we climbed presenting spectacular views all around of seemingly endless rice paddies with scattered houses.
During the hike, the girls disappeared for a moment. They reappeared from the bushes shortly after with marijuana plants. I inquired what it's for and the girl responded "We make clothes out of it, you guys smoke it." It is, however, illegal in Vietnam just as it is in most of the Asian countries except for Cambodia where the police just look the other way.
We encountered many children along the hike, all unsupervised. There was a girl taking care of her buffalo, a girl caring for younger siblings, boys riding buffalos, and others just playing around.
In the end, it was a fantastic hike and deffinitely a highlight of Vietnam. I had a fantastic time with a fantastic group.
Tourists from left: me, Josh, Jenny, Koen, Dieter, and Kevin. (Some of the picture above are from Koen's camera. Thanks Koen!!!)
Cat Cat View Hotel $20-$30. Great views. Breakfast can be included. Can arrange tours and treks
Address: 046 Cat Cat Road, Sa Pa
Train tickets on a soft sleeper train SP7 purchased from a hotel in Hanoi are generally $30 and are VIP. A cheaper soft sleeper exists that can be purchased directly from the Hanoi train station for 330,000 vnd. The difference is the bedding, head room and storage space as well as a water bottle and tea in the VIP vs the cheaper soft sleeper. Book both your ticket there and the return one in advance as they tend to sell out fast. Often tour agencies will buy out all the tickets from the train station forcing people to have to go through them. The train itself can sometimes be cold, so bring pants and a long sleeve shirt in case it gets uncomfortable. I always travel with a sleeping bag sheet which works great on the train.
A minibus from Lao Cai to Sa Pa will cost 35,000 vnd
One of the less expensive places to eat in Sapa is the LIttle Sapa Cafe at 18-38 Cau May St.
Ask for a city map from the hotel.