Sa Pa - Vietnamese Mountain Retreat!

Trip Start Jul 31, 2005
Trip End Sep 05, 2007

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Thursday, June 1, 2006

Wow.....Cant believe that at last we are in Vietnam. Most of yesterday, the day we arrived was spent sleeping and jumping around our room in amazement that we were actually here...that we were allowed in the country and we survived what most people who have done it the Journey from hell - known as Kunming to Hekou sleeper bus!

In fact the bus wasnt so bad, it was cramped and we smoked about 100 ciggies each...not our own - from everyone else on the bus puffing away well into the night, it smelt of damp, and the road once we were off of the expressway from Kunming was a little bumpy (okay we were shaken in our beds!) some of it was unmade and some of the road was pure mud, we watched a tuk tuk sliding around the corner before our driver took the plunge (not literally thank goodness!), but it was ok, very rural, very poor areas, shacks built up at the side of the mountains etc...but thats why we travel isnt it? I was looking out the window smelling the fresh grass and listening to the sounds of the insects, Matt woke and took the thoughts straight out of my head by saying "Its just like Africa isnt it"! It was just like Africa.

We arrived in Hekou the border town, which was nothing special,but had a nice setting along the river, only 2 and a half hours late, we thought when we boarded the bus in Kunming, that we were in for a long journey when one of the guys in the bus station handed our driver a spare oil filter! But that was not the case - we were lucky maybe.

We walked out of the bus station and went the short distance to Chinese border control...we had read our visas right, our 30 days wasnt including our first day, he stamped our passports gave our Vietnam visas a funny look, laughed at Matts signature and off we went....bye bye have been amazing, we have seen world wonders, eaten some great food, used a little Mandarin, eaten with chopsticks, enjoyed the mountains and almost puked at the sound of every man and woman in China retching the phlem from the very back of their throat onto the street! But we survived, we loved it, a month was a long time, but in the end it did fly by.

We walked across the bridge and into Vietnam, wondering if we would only get to see the border post, we walked in, filled out departure and arrival forms, and handed our passports to the guards...sweat dripping off of us! They looked at our visa, they chatted between themselves, the passport was passed from Border control to Health to Customs...our luggage was scanned and then we both watched with eager eyes as he stamped a big red stamp into our passport...entry into Vietnam 31.05.06..must leave by 30.06.06

(For those who dont know, when we got our visas in Beijing, it seems they have different rules, and stamp your passport with an entry stamp for a specific border - this was different to the one we were entering at, and we had heard stories of people being sent back!)

We couldnt believe it, we jumped in a very overpriced taxi to the minibus station which after all the haggling we could have walked to, and haggled more for a minibus to Sa Pa.

Sa Pa is only 40kms from Lao Cai, the border town on the Vietnamese side, but its up winding mountain road and so took about an hour or so in the end. We got here, found a room - which is clean, spacious, cheap and has super mountain views.

Today we are chilling, exploring the small town and shopping, tommorow we are taking a jeep up to Vietnams highest mountain pass Tram Tom, we are then going to visit minority villages, before taking the overnight train to Hanoi.

As always, as soon as you cross that invisible line that is a border between countries, the differences are immense - the people, the customs the scenery, its all very different.

I think that we are gonna LOVE Vietnam!


Ali and Matt
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