Tourism By Braille

Trip Start Aug 06, 2011
Trip End Oct 06, 2013

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Where I stayed
Sapa Luxury Hotel

Flag of Vietnam  ,
Friday, December 30, 2011

We boarded the overnight train to Lao Cai with a bus connection straight uphill to Sapa. Since it takes 12 hours, the train offers up the very civilized option of sleeper cabins for the night but it's a cabin for 4 so you have to hope you aren't linked up with the heavy drinking and snoring types- we ended up with a couple of honeymooners but given the size of each of the berths (designed by the same guy who worked on that knee-crunching bus in Laos), the honeymoon would have to be delayed. Being stuck in the fetal position didn't make for the most restful sleep but there's something eminently romantic about train travel that adds a certain joy to every trip. The bus trip up the mountain was another story and we were gradually swallowed by a heavy mist and thick fog that looked to have the same consistency as a well made vanilla milkshake along with a similar frosty temperature. The big problem was that the legendary scenery of Sapa was also coated by this same milkshake. When we checked into our hotel we were given that free upgrade you're always hoping for in these circumstances, and we got a really good one this time- the VIP suite (keeping in mind that we were only paying $25/night for our room and the VIP designation is generously applied throughout Vietnam). In this case we were given the room at the very top of the hotel with views that would theoretically include the town as well as the surrounding valleys and mountains- in reality it just meant that we had to climb 6 flights of stairs in the thin mountain air and with the locked-in fog, we could have had a similar view in a windowless closet.

Not so many years ago, Sapa was a relatively unknown station that was a great base for visiting the various hill tribes of North Vietnam but it's a secret no longer. The one good thing about the fog was that we weren't subject to the same hassles as many other travelers have reported (the local touts couldn't see us any better than we could see them), but it did seem as though that each of the hill tribe women that we encountered was very interested in loading us up with all kinds of regional memorabilia. I suspect that their traditional clothing was quite colourful but given that our adventure in Sapa was done completely in braille, all I can say is that in clumsily feeling our way around, the hill tribe people have some very interesting lumps and bumps. After a day of wandering the area we managed to track down a restaurant that had a fireplace that we used to dry our clothing as best we could (we were wearing everything we had. as we had left all of our toasty warm cloths in a Goodwill bin in Ontario somewhere). From there we beat a hasty retreat to the relative sanctuary of our VIP bed which had a very enthusiastic heating pad waiting for us- possibly the only warm place in all of Sapa!

For anyone considering a trip to Sapa, I would certainly recommend a quick check of the weather forecasts with a possible Plan B ready for execution.

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