4.3.2: Sapa

Day 180: Night Train to Sapa

We were awoken at 4:30 by one of the train staff and had just enough time to get up and get ready before disembarking at Lao Cai station. I got onto a minibus but because it wasn’t full we had to hang around for the next train from Hanoi which arrived an hour or so later. The ride to Sapa was very pleasant though, passing through mountains and terraced rice fields. The driver dropped me off outside the Queen Hotel which wasn’t where I was planning to stay but it was cheaper and quite nice so I decided to stay. I checked in and got a few more hours sleep before going out a bit later for a walk around town. There were many Black Hmong and Red Dzao women in town selling their handicrafts to tourists. They are much less persistent than the Akha women in Luang Namtha but there are a lot more of them.

180.1. Sapa town centre.

I looked at a couple of travel agents in town to arrange some trekking but they all seemed to offer the same thing so I just booked from the guesthouse. In the afternoon I went to park on a hill above Sapa and explored as the sun was setting. Later on I went to a bar for some food and played some pool with the staff on an American style table that was in very good condition compared to ones I’d played on in Thailand.

180.2. Sunset view over Sapa.

Day 181: Sapa Trekking; day 1

When I got up this morning I went to the lobby of the guesthouse and met Kien, who would be my guide for the next couple of days trekking. Kien is friendly young guy about 23 years old who trained to be a guide after finishing university in Hanoi. I also met Dina and Bharak, two Israeli girls who I was joining for the trek. As we were preparing to leave I saw that there were many Black Hmong women waiting for us outside the doors of the guesthouse. When we left I was expecting them to hassle us to buy stuff but it seemed that they just wanted to walk with us because we would be passing by their village. There were many other groups of trekkers walking along the same route as us and I hoped that we would separate out from them at some point but we never really did.

181.1. At the beginning of the trek.

I chatted with a Hmong girl as we walked. Many of the Hmong women spoke English which was rather strange to me after my experiences in Laos. She was friendly though and in the end I bought a bracelet from her during the lunch break and she gave me a wristband as a gift. The day’s trekking ended fairly early and we stopped at our guesthouse at around 14:00.

181.2. A break for sugarcane.

I went for a walk around the village. There wasn’t really a lot to see but it was nice to sit down by the river. Later I played cards with the girls and they taught me an Israeli game called Yaniv. It turned out to be the same as the 5 card game that Kanchha had taught me in Nepal. The Nepalese must have picked it up from the Israeli travellers. In the evening we had dinner with the guesthouse owners. It was very good and consisted of several Vietnamese dishes. After dinner we had a bottle of lao-lao (or whatever the Vietnamese equivalent is called). Each round was preceded by a raucous ‘Mo, Thay, Ba … Zo!!’ (1, 2, 3 … drink).

181.3. Rice terraces in the Sapa valley.

Day 182: Sapa trekking; day2

We had a traditional Vietnamese breakfast of … pancakes (pork chop in India!?) We soon started walking again and crossed the river before heading back towards the road. We stopped for lunch at a place by the road and afterwards the girls headed back to Sapa as they had only booked a one night trek. Kien and I headed on to the valley floor where we reached Ban Ho village which was where we were to spend the night. The village was nice but almost every house in it appeared to be a homestay for the tourists.

182.1. Scenes from Sapa: Second day of trekking.

After we reached our homestay I left my bag and then went for a walk around the village. I then headed down to the riverside where there was a lovely sunset. I came back to the guesthouse and found that group of about 12 tourists had arrived. They were mostly English and were part of a tour which had come all the way through China from Beijing. We all had dinner together which was again very good and were given a couple of bottles of lao-lao (Vietnamese) to accompany it. After dinner I went inside and joined Kien and the other Vietnamese who were sitting around in the kitchen drinking lao-lao. Later in the evening we went to a nearby bar where there was karaoke. After a while I tried to find Kien and found him in a side bar which had a pool table. I stayed there for the rest of the evening and avoided the karaoke.

182.2. Sunset at the end of the day’s trekking, near to Ban Ho village.

Day 183: Ban Ho to Night Train

I got up and joined the others for another pancake breakfast and then Kien and I went to visit a nearby waterfall. On the way we visited a school and I took some photos of some little girls playing in a toy helicopter. They were very keen to see the photos and wanted me to take lots more.

183.1. Unsuccessfully infiltrating the Vietnamese Airforce.

We continued on to the waterfall which was in a beautiful location and we stayed for an hour or so. Afterwards we headed back to the lodge and had some lunch. We then headed back up to the road and were joined by two Bulgarians and an American guy. We got the minibus back to Sapa and the American and I went to the Queen Hotel to book tickets for the night train back to Hanoi. I had enjoyed the trek over all but I had expected it to be rather more remote like the trek I had done in Laos.

183.2. Nearby the waterfall.

The staff at the Queen Hotel let us use a room to take a shower and afterwards I walked around town for a bit before coming back for the minibus. The minibus drove around town several times trying to fill up and eventually headed to Lao Cai. When we arrived we went to café for a beer and I had some food. We were joined by a Slovakian guy who was also on the minibus. I mentioned that I had been to Slovakia about 5 years ago and he told me that it is much more expensive now. We went to the train and I shared the cabin with the American guy and a young Vietnamese family who had a six months or so old baby, which woke up screaming at least four times during the night.

183.3. Ducklings on a motorbike.