Cool Room with an Amazing View

Trip Start Jun 05, 2011
Trip End Feb 28, 2013

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Flag of Vietnam  , Lào Cai,
Wednesday, May 16, 2012

5/15 and 5/16 Hanoi to Lao Cai (next to China border) to Sapa, 1500 meters (4921 ft.) above sea level
8:30 pm to 4:45 am on the train. Plus 1hr van to Sapa.
Southern Hotel ($10) view room (*$8 non-view)

We relaxed at the Hanoi Holiday Diamond hotel till it was time to head to the train station. Our 4 bed compartment was far from luxurious in spite of the hefty ticket price of $40. I am drawing comparisons of the different sleeper trains we have taken in Asia (China, Mongolia & Thailand) so far. The bottom sheet and pillow appeared fresh but the quilt was a bit dodgy. We were joined by a quiet Vietnamese guy.

We slept like babies till our 4:45AM wake-up knock. Three minutes later we pulled into Lao Cai station where we were accosted by a deluge of taxi and minibus touts offering to take us for small ransom 35km to Sapa...$ Ok, how about $40 per person? It can be overwhelming and it does help to know how much it SHOULD be. Finally we got to 50000 dong ($2.25), what it should be, and we hopped in the small van and waited for few more passengers before taking off.

The windy road to Sapa is through scenic mountainous and terraced terrain. People in our van were dropped off at their hotels and we asked to be let off at point that looked central and full of cozy restaurants and plenty of hotel choices. We were approached by a young guy who offered to show us great hotel for $10. We were skeptical especially when I asked of it had a view and he insisted it did. And we were indeed pleasantly surprised by the spacious "room with amazing view". It had sparkling white linens on the beds and a simple no-frills all-in-one bathroom, how can we go wrong? No air-con or heat and neither was needed. Our room had a widow with a view to the terraced valley and the door opened to covered deck area with tables.

We dropped our packs in the room and went in search of nice breakfast. We soon were trailed by a string of lovely Black Hmong girls. They either carry a basket on their back or baby. They try to sell some embroidery items but, apart from following the tourists and trying to have friendly conversation with them, they are not overly pushy. Many work on balling up the recently harvested hemp. Their lovely costumes are woven from it. Many of the women have blue-stained hands from the indigo they use to color their clothes.

5/17 & 5/18 Enjoying the Cool Mountain Air in Sapa

5/19 Around Sapa with a Rented Motorcycle

We rented a motorcycle ($5) and drove to highest pass in Vietnam at 2000 meters and 15 km from Sapa. Silver Falls waterfall is a few km before the pass and was a bit disappointing.  At the pass we enjoyed a fun roadside lunch under tarp tent of sorts. Grilled pork kebabs, grilled eggs and grilled sticky rice. The kebabs were nicely spiced and some of the best anywhere!

We continued for 10 more km beyond the pass along the scenic mountain road. Traffic was very light. We expected to run across interesting villages but other than a road construction sight, there were none. The back tire had a slow leak, back at the pass a helpful guy looked at it
took it from us then hopped on and drove off. He could have gone anywhere but he stopped at a house a few hundred meters from us and pumped the tire up.

We drove back in direction of Sapa then took an even narrower side road that we hoped would lead us to some interesting villages. Soon we spotted terraced rice field in the distance. BINGO! From the road we spotted a group of villagers planting rice in a far off paddy. We took off on a dirt road which we hoped would lead us close to the people. We parked and walked down a path to the terraces.

As we turned a corner, we came upon a great sight. A bare naked little boy, no older than 4 or 5, was plowing a small rice terrace behind a buffalo while several smaller kids sat on a rock nearby watching him. 
Several paddies already had foot high bright green rice shoots growing. At one of the wooden homes, several men were getting ready to cook a recently slaughtered dog. We asked if we could pass through his land to get to the fields that were being planted. A big grin and a nod told us we were welcome to cross his land. We found a perfect spot to observe the rice planting and to be observed by a string of little kids. Luckily, we had brought some cookies to hand out to the children.


Our tire was flat when we got back to the motorcycle and we found a shop with a compressor and had the tire pumped up one more time before bee-lining back to Sapa. We would have tried to take a dirt route back to Sapa if the tire wasn't giving us grief.

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