Cooling off in the mountains of Vietnam
Trip Start Nov 30, 2009
142Trip End Jun 01, 2011
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Arrived in Lau Cai at 5.30am. Not ideal, especially as it was then another hour by mini bus to get to Sapa itself. Got chatting to a nice young lad from England on the bus and he ended up joining us for breakfast while we sat out a torrential down pour (the wet season is definitely here). Within 10 minutes of the rain starting it was running like a river down the road and pouring like a waterfall down the steps leading to the market square across the road. After an hour the boys finally decided to brave it and go and find a hotel while I watched the backpacks. Ended up in a great hotel, big room, WiFi, satellite TV, cosy blankets, all for just $6 a night. Perfect for holing up for the day and catching up with some sleep and some admin. It’s the first time in months that’s its actually felt a little bit cold. Sapa is pretty high up in the mountains and the temperature is much cooler there than the rest of Vietnam. Actually put on socks, long trousers and a long sleeve t-shirt for the first time in months. Pleased I’ve not been lugging them around for nothing.
Our original plan for Sapa had been to find ourselves a guide and do a couple of days of trekking, with perhaps a stay in a hill tribe village in between. However, with rain showing no sign of stopping and having learnt from our Thailand leaky roof experience we were a bit reluctant to spend out on a tour only to end up cold and wet for two days
Typically having made this decision the weather cheered up and it didn’t rain for the next two days, however I think we made the right decision anyway as getting around on our own proved really easy and was a far cheaper option that booking a 2 night trek for $60 each. Kev’s biking skills have come on leaps and bounds since we hired our first bike in Thailand a couple of months ago. The mountain roads were a pretty challenging mix of bends, potholes and even some water crossings. For those of you who remember Junior Kickstart from the TV in the 80’s– I think he’d have at least got through to the second round!
Our first day saw us exploring waterfalls and visiting a hill tribe village inhabited by the Red Doa tribe. In Northern Vietnam there are dozens of different hill tribe minorities. Most can be distinguished by their traditional costumes, all kind of variations on a theme with lots of embroidery, some fantastic hats and headscarfs and some with some very fetching velvet leg warmers!. Sapa town is full of them, all roaming the streets selling embroidered handicrafts to passing tourists
The village we visited was great, we stopped for some tea in the local tea shack before being befriended by a small group of local ladies and their children, who offered to show us around and take us to one of their houses. Quite a trek up the hill, through the rice paddies and eventually up to the house in question. Having become accustomed to having to take off my shoes when entering buildings in much of Asia I offered to remove them but was told it was OK. It was only once I stepped over the threshold that I realised it was a slightly silly question as the floor inside the house was exactly the same as the floor outside, just bare dirt! Our host found us a couple of plastic chairs and presented us with 2 bowls of cold tea, which we drank politely not wanting to offend, but all the time worrying about the potential consequences to our bowels. Very interesting to be surrounded by half a dozen women and children, most of whom spoke very little English, but somehow managing to make ourselves understood and feel completely comfortable. Watching the kids tank around was great fun, and it was amazing to recognise exactly the same patterns of behaviour and see them laugh at the same types of things as all the kids we know at home. The two boys who lived in the house we were visiting were brilliant, real little cheeky faced lads with bags of personality who were happy to play up for the camera. Of course at the end of our visit there was the moment where we needed to show our appreciation, which in the village is done by way of purchasing some of their handicrafts. They each carried a big basket on their back, full of hand embroidered bags, cushion covers, purses etc. I politely looked through and eventually found something I liked
Our second day of exploring took us down a spectacular valley, past immaculate gravity defying rice terraces and way up into the hills. We ended up at a beautiful eco resort called Topaz, with 25 little bungalows perched up on a hill above the rice fields. Parked our bike there while we went for a short trek, and then went back there to have a drink and some lunch before heading back to town. Had to rethink the lunch idea when we discovered they only had set lunches, at $12 a head – and most of what was on the menu was on Kev’s 'don’t like’ list. Did however manage to blag a guided tour of the bungalows with the manager. Really fantastic rooms, each with their own veranda overlooking the valley below. Would have loved to stay there for a night and wake up to that view. On the way back we spotted a little boy of no more than 4 blowing on a large blade of grass, and using a huge knife to trim it to change the pitch of the sound! Loved the way he casually tucked the knife under his arm when he'd finished with it.