Trekking in the mist

Trip Start Aug 01, 2005
Trip End Feb 16, 2006

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Flag of Vietnam  ,
Saturday, January 21, 2006

Being the great explorers and big tough trekkers that we now came to see ourselves as, we decided to head north to Sapa, regularly touted by fellow travelers as the most beautiful place to hike in SE Asia. We bought tickets for sleepers in the night train and spent most of the day waiting at a hotel since we were pretty tired after our long bus ride. By 8 pm we were standing on a packed railroad station. By 9 pm they finally let us into our sleeper train, led by a guy who just grabbed our bags and then wanted money for being our porter. Silly tourists. The train was supposed to leave at 10 pm but that was only when they started arranging the numerous cars. One would think that that's the kind of thing you do before you get all passengers on board but not here. So lots of shuffling and wagons banging together. We spent that time playing pocker with our Vietnamese millions (16'000 dongs for 1USD) and Seth was crying since Caroline who had just learned the game won most games thanks to her talent at bluffing.

We arrived early in the morning in a little town down the valley and first had another hour in a bus to climb up the mountain to Sapa. Upon arrival to this wondrous, freezing, mist shrouded paradise, instead of heading outside like the adventurers we thought we were, we quickly retreated to our hotel room where we donned almost every item of clothing available and tried to keep warm. Luckily for us there was a fireplace.

Sufficiently bundled up to venture out of doors, we walked through the street markets and busy shoppers preparing for the Vietnamese (Thet) New Years celebration, which took place the following week. Gold fish and peach trees, the bigger the better, were a couple of common purchases necessary for good luck in the coming year. Luckily for us, bbq'd dogs head was less popular, and we only had to come across a display of this "delicacy" once.

After warming up a bit with a hot chocolate and meeting an Australian dad and daughter duo, we were encouraged to take a trek with them the following day. They introduced us to their guide, Hung, who besides speaking excellent English ended up to be one of the cooler people we met on our trip. During the first one-day trek, we wound our way past farms, mountainsides expertly carved into terraced rice paddies, villages with traditionally dressed tribes of black Hmong and Red Zao, and lots of animals enjoying their own little slice of muddy paradise. The pigs were the cutest according to Seth. Caroline and I got left behind as we enjoyed several rounds of a badminton like game with some village girls. These and other girls often asked us why we 'didn't have any babies yet,' Caroline enjoyed seeing me squirm and would start to answer before handing the query off to me to fumble my way through. By evening we were back in Sapa, where we ate some of the best BBQ pork ribs I have ever had (ate the same thing 3 nights in a row, Elvis style) and drank ourselves warm with our Aussie mates.

The following day we set out by 4X4 to the special Coc Ly market. Hung explained to us that we were venturing far from the normal tourist circuit, and he was right. Traditionally clad members of tribes from all over the area were present in droves, very colorfully dressed and curious. Why weren't we buying more pigs blood? Apparently, at this last market of the year, all the teenage girls wear their best outfits in hopes of attracting prospective husbands. In the afternoon, we took a boat part of the way back, while enjoying beautiful scenery and discussing politics with a very republican American journalist. We stopped on the way for a short trek through a village, where we sampled moonshine straight from the still and inspected broom making and tapioca crunching technologies. That night back in Sapa, again, I ate ribs.

On our last day, Hung offered to have his brother take us trekking for free, but first he invited us to eat and drink with his friends and relatives visiting for the holidays. After filling on food, rice wine, and warm feelings, we spent the remains of the day enjoying the local countryside, a new hydroelectric plant, and the aerial gymnastic stylings of our guide.

Despite freezing our hynies off and squinting to see much of the distant landscape through the shroud of mist, we definitely plan on returning to Sapa some day. Maybe we'll check the weather report first though.
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