The Hills Are Alive With The Sound Of Music

Trip Start Oct 02, 2012
Trip End Mar 31, 2014

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Flag of Vietnam  ,
Monday, November 26, 2012

It's 6:30am and we are stood on a platform looking bewildered. We've just got off the (no)sleeper train from Hanoi and are feeling exhausted. We are in Lo Cai train station where we should be met by a driver to take us to Sapa. There is no sign of him and we don't even know how to get out of the train station. We follow the mad crowd and make it to the exit, where we are met by a dozen or more drivers holding names on bits of paper. Relieved, we look for our names. And look. And look. And look. No one seems to have our names. We step out of the crowd and take a moment. Super Anna spots our names in a pile of papers a lady is flicking through and we pounce on her. Ten minutes later and we are gratefully crammed in a minibus.

The journey to Sapa takes one very long hour, winding up through misty hills and mountains that give spectacular views. Ian is suffering from little sleep and the malaria he has been fighting for the last few days. Anna isn't feeling much better, the train journey was far too bumpy to get much rest. Arriving at our hotel for breakfast we breathe a little sigh of relief as we are given tea, bread, eggs and Laughing Cow cheesespread! Laughing Cow is like medicine to Anna and she soon feels better and is ready for the day ahead. We pack a little overnight bag as tonight we are staying in a small village, at a homestay with a local family. We have our matching Merrell hiking shoes on, our pack-a-macs at the ready, and our matching zip-off pants on. We are possibly the geekiest people in Vietnam.

Our guide, Dzeung, greets us at 9:30am and we set off towards the main square in Sapa, where we join the rest of our group. It is made up of us, a Spanish couple, a Dutch couple and a Vietnamese brother and sister (who sells these trekking tours). We are also joined by a few of the Black H'mong villagers, whose village is our main destination. They wear indigo clothing and start talking to us all, offering us handmade goods to buy. The Black H'mong live in hill tribes and are an ethic group in Vietnam, they make up about 50% of the population in Sapa. We are about 1600 metres above sea level, in the shadow of Vietnams highest mountain, Fansipan. The mountain peaks around us rise up to about 3000m and the rice terraces drop down by about a 1000m into the valleys below. A thick fog hugs the landscape. Its like living in a cloud.

We set off through the fog. We are trekking down through the valley today, with stop-offs at a couple of hill tribe villages before heading back up into the mountains where we will spend the night at a villagers house. The descent begins cold, with us heading through the main town into misty lanes. It is eerie only being able to see a few metres ahead and we stay close to our guide and group. The lane ends and soon we are walking on narrow mud paths down the hillsides. As we walk, the early morning sun begins to heat the land and the fog lifts, we are treated to stunning views of the rice terraces and the backdrop of mountains. It is truly spectacular. The fog hangs in the valley below like a river made of cloud and the mountain tops soar into the bright blue sky. The sun comes out and, along with the walking, we are soon sweating. We pass many animals on the way including pigs and water buffalo and take a few breaks to admire the scenery. The trek is tricky at times, with slippery, muddy tracks and leaps over water streams. Anna struggles with a few of the descents and is helped greatly by the local tribal ladies. They do this three hour walk twice daily and are pros! They wear flip flops and have no trouble. Us on the otherhand have our expensive walking shoes on, which seem to have turned into ice skates. They laugh as we slip our way down the hillsides.

We arrive in a village in time for lunch. Before we eat, we buy some items from the Black H'mong tribes women as we are grateful for their help with the tough walk. Ian is feeling like a zombie but after some food he feels a little better. After a further hour of walking around the village, we arrive at our homestay. The family whose house we are staying have three children, the youngest of which is a three year old girl who isn't in the least bit shy. She sings us a song and Ian sings one back. He sings 'If You're Happy And You Know It'. It is an amazing rendition, worthy of some sort of music award. The little girl is not impressed. Perhaps she is tone deaf.  The light is fading a little and as the temperature drops, we are served local tea and have some free time until dinner. Heading up into the loft, we are impressed and happy to find a bed each and all lie down for a warm rest. Ian is shivering uncontrollably as he rests his eyes, he heaps on two duvets and tries to remember a time when he wasn't ill.

Dinner is a collection of Vietnamese dishes laid out on the table buffet style. We sit with the family and all help ourselves to the delicious array. During dinner, the lady of the house offers us ricewine. We have never tried it before but are happy to give it a go. It tastes like straight vodka and after downing a few of these, Ian's face is glowing and he feels a little more human again. By 9pm we are all in bed, full and warm from ricewine. Tomorrow we have another trek so we have to rest whilst we can and regain some energy. Today has been a really great day, lots of laughs with our group, amazing landscapes and a lovely family homestay to relax with for the night. Sapa is fantasic.
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