Up in the clouds...
Trip Start Oct 19, 2010
34Trip End Jul 23, 2011
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HAPPY NEW YEAR TO EVERYONE!!
Our breakfast at Asia Palace was fantastic...plenty of choice on the buffet both western and Vietnamese dishes. We chatted to two young local guys,( one was a Director of the hotel!) who gave us advice on places to see in the country and told us we could leave some of our stuff there while we went to Sapa. So after brekkie we rearranged our backpacks and took out a few kilos of stuff we didn’t need for the next few days and checked out. We decided that as we had to return once more to Hanoi we would come back to this hotel too. It was great to be back in Hanoi...we love it...we spent most of the day ambling around the lake and the up market shopping malls selling western stuff like Gucci and Armani and the unusual but hugely expensive Ginseng for sale at about £200 a box! (not that we had the money to buy any of it).
Back at the hotel they arranged for the taxi to the train station at 8pm which came in less than a minute, so we set off. It was a bit confusing when we got to the station as we had to find the place that exchanged our vouchers for real train tickets and there were masses of people everywhere but eventually we found the ticket booth sidled between the main station and the building to the platforms. The train was in so we climbed onboard the coach 5 (numbered on our tickets) at platform 7. Our tickets said we were in berths 11 and 12 which turned out to be top bunks with storage for our backpacks above the door. The beds were firm but comfortable. An elderly lady had the bunk below Waffle and a middle aged man below mine, both Vietnamese and friendly. We were excited, like kids that had never been on a train before! We set off dead on time, passing the streets we had walked before. Eventually we both nodded off to sleep.
I woke up briefly a couple of times but Waffle was out like a light...8 hours later the old lady banged Waffles bunk from below to let us know we had arrived so we grabbed our stuff and stepped onto the dark, misty, cold platform feeling quite refreshed. A woman was holding our names on a board for us to join her minibus to Sapa. The views as day broke were breath taking...We drove along winding roads through the Lao Cai Province for 1 ½ hours passing waterfalls cascading into muddy yellow rivers, rice paddy fields rippling down the mountains like waves and the occasional small thatched house with buffalo grazing along side. As we travelled higher up the mountains we broke through the clouds which lay flat like huge lakes of white mist between the mountain ranges and blue skies. The red sun shone hazily rising from behind one of the peeks...These views are the most spectacular ones I have seen!
Arriving in Sapa the local tribes woman swamped the minibus trying to sell their blankets and silverware. Each one wearing the colours and costume specific to their own native tribe which apparently is not a tourist gimmick, they do actually wear it all the time! Being firm but not rude we said no and entered our home for the next 6 days. We were staying in a cheap guesthouse about 50 metres from all the hotels and main areas...a young girl named Bich checked us in showed us our room and told us we could go for breakfast when we were ready. Our room was very basic but with a balcony overlooking the mountains, and directly in front of us was Fansipan Mountain (nicknamed ‘Fancy Pants Mountain’ by Waffle!), the highest mountain in Indochina. By the time we settled in and went for breakfast the clouds swept across hiding the view completely and as we ate our warming beef noodle broth the clouds blew gently through the windows into where we were seated...
After breakfast we walked into town which was larger than I expected. The scenery changed quickly as the mist and clouds moved around. The chill in the air disappeared as the day progressed and the sky turned to a clear bright blue. We walked around Sapa Lake (which I called Swan Lake as there were swan shaped boats for hire!). There were restaurants, cafés and bakeries selling hot chocolate, baguettes and French style cakes. It reminded us of scenery in Central Europe with lakeside chalets, French Colonial buildings set around mountain ranges. It was very beautiful...A small market run by the miniority tribal folk centres Sapa daily selling trinkets, knives, bow and arrows, silk ware and intricate carvings in stone etc.
Walking around the town is difficult to do alone...small woman and children follow you everywhere you go. An old lady seems to have taken to me and has caught me a few times, she always looks happy and laughs a lot as she chats but I know she just wants to sell me something.
As the evening drew in the mist rejoined the town and it’s streets, reducing visibility to about 50 metres. We found a restaurant with an inviting log fire in the centre and hunkered down for a Malaysian curry and sizzling pork with chilli and lemongrass served on a hot skillet. Returning to our room we turned on the electric bar heater as the night got quite chilly and doubled up the duvets (the balcony door is very warped and doesn’t close properly at the top, a gap you could put your finger through!).
The nights are cold so all the windows were covered in condensation in the morning. Standing on the balcony we watched our views go from totally clear to a complete cloud cover in about 20 seconds!
Went to the bakery for a coffee and a chocolate tart for lunch. My old lady friend joined us again for a walk and a chat! Waffle had 5 children walking with him for about half an hour asking now and then ‘buy from me...buy from me’ (their English is very good and are polite but it can get a bit annoying after a while) so we tried to escape from them by going into the Tourist Information Office... They were still outside after 20 minutes so he told them to go away...! Got a map of the area to do some trekking to the local villages and waterfalls on our own over the next few days.
Got a motorbike!! We decided to explore the area by motorbike so we hired one from our hotel for US$7 a day. The first place we went to was Cat Cat village, you have to pay 30-60p to enter a village to help support them or to pay for their gold teeth they all seem to have! The road there was winding and steep downwards with great views of the valley below. We came to a dead end for our bike with a suspension bridge leading to a small waterfall which conveniently had a coffee hut so we stopped there to review our map and grab a coffee.
Trying to go back up the steep path down proved a little difficult with our low powered bike and us fatties which was highly amusing to the locals!! (I had to get off and walk as Waffle struggled to get it uphill)...Once we got about 50 metres I got back on and we rode off down road to another village.
The roads got narrower and rougher, we bounced along through the village of Sin Chai. Children were playing and various farmyard animals grazed by the roadside including what we think were Vietnamese pot bellied pigs. A boy was riding a buffalo but when I got my camera out he slide down the other side and hid. We rode back to the hotel for a quick stop and planned our next run to Ta Phin to the north.
This was home to the H’mong and Dao Tribes. . It was great on the motorbike...just the two of us and no other tourists to be shuffled along with on the excursions they offer here. We occasionally saw the tourists looking very breathless walking up the steep roads with a guide and at Ta Phin the tourists that arrived by minibus were herded like cattle through the village and told to hurry up. This village was larger and more geared for tourism, the villagers persisted with trying to sell their wares but as a new bus arrived they stormed that and left us alone.
Still eager to carry on we then rode to Thac Bac Silver Waterfall. This was a long ride and the mist started to appear on the landscape chilling our fingers but it was worth it. The waterfall wasn’t that spectacular, quite high but only a few feet wide but the ride was the best bit for us. It would be dark soon so we set off back to the hotel ready for a bit of a warm and then dinner.
New Years Eve was very misty with no visibility at all for the whole day so after an excellent meal bought some rice vodka, red bull and a few indulgent cakes from the patisserie. We just crashed out on the bed watching movies, pigging out and drinking the new year in...that is after the 1 hour power cut when we drank by torchlight (knew it would come in handy!). Power cuts happen all the time as we are finding out but they are only for a short time.
It’s New Years Day 1/1/11...and it’s still thick of mist around us so we haven’t got any plans today other than booking our train back to Hanoi and on again to Hue in a few days, the ancient capital city with a lot of military history so Waffle will love that...
CHUC' MUNG` NAM MOI'
(Happy New Year in Vietnamese).
(more pictures on our Flickr pages)