Published: December 21st 2007December 18th 2007
Sapa was the place in Vietnam that I had been most looking forward to and it didn't disappoint!! I was going to visit Sapa independently, but when I got to Hanoi I was so exhausted that I couldn't be bothered to organise it, so I just booked the three day trip through my hostel. I chose the option of a two day trek with a visit to a local market, Bac Ha market, which is supposed to be the most colourful one in the region.
The trip started Saturday night as I had to get a sleeper train to Sapa. Two other people from my hostel had booked this trip too, an Aussie couple, Katie & Julian. We all set off from Hanoi about 9pm and boarded our sleeper train without any problems. We had a compartment for four with beds in and another girl, Claire joined us. When we first set off the train was so noisy that we were all worried that we wouldn't get any sleep, however I slept like a baby!! I guess the rocking from side to side is good for sleeping! We arrived in Lao Cai (45 minutes from Sapa) at about 6.30am, but
we had to wait until 8.45am until our minibus picked us up and took us to Bac Ha market. Lao Cai is a very boring place, so after about 30 minutes of wandering, then sitting around doing nothing, Julian bought a game all the locals play which is like foot badminton. You just basically kick around something that looks a bit like a shuttlecock. Sounds easy, but its actually really hard. After a while some locals joined in our game and were so much better than us - they could do all the things you see football players doing - bouncing it off their chest and their knees and doing lots of fancy footwork!! I was completely rubbish at it and everytime the shuttlecock came in my direction I missed it, so in the end I decided to just sit and watch. It was great fun though and a great way to interact with the local people as they all love it!!
It was a two hour bumpy ride to Bac Ha market, but it was worth it!! I've never seen anything so crazy in my life!! There was colour everywhere!! It felt how I imagine a normal street
in India to look as the noise, chaos, dirt and smell is overwhelming!! At the market all the local Flower Hmong people come to buy supplies. The Flower Hmong are one of the most colourful hilltribes in Vietnam and there was just a sea of colour everywhere. There seemed to be almost everything for sale at this market, including at one end of the market, livestock. In this area there were hens, buffalo and even dogs for sale (I know I can't believe they eat dogs here!!). We had two hours at the market, so I wandered around taking in all the sights and smells, it was really fascinating. I tried some of the food for sale, but it was horrible! All oily and without any real taste. Oh well - I guess they must like it. After the market we were taken to a local homestay (a traditional house where you can stay with a Vietnamese family) for lunch. The lunch was fantastic, the first really good food I'd had in Vietnam!! There was beef with ginger, which tasted similar to a Thai dish, then there was stewed beef with sweet potato, which tasted almost English, except for a
few spices!! It was a really great meal!!
After that we headed back towards Sapa, where we would be staying for the night. For some reason they stopped on the way, so we could see China across the river, which was really boring, but oh well. I guess they have to fill in the time somehow. We finally reached Sapa at about 6pm and it was dark so unfortunately we couldn't see what the scenery was like, I'd heard that it's amazing so I was really looking forward to waking up to it the next day!! The hotel we checked into was actually really nice, I had hot water, a TV (only local channels though) and a balcony. It even had clean towels, free shampoo and soap. I met up with Julian & Katie for dinner that night and we had a set menu that was included in our tour and it was delicious!! The presentation of the food was amazing and I especially loved the fish in butter & lemon sauce - I'm going to try to make that at home!!
The next day I woke up really early (6am) and went to my balcony and saw
the most amazing view!! Sapa is stunning!! I went for a bit of a walk around town and felt so lucky to be there - I wish I could live in the mountains!! After breakfast we were picked up by our guide, Nam, who turned out to be great fun and also really helpful & informative. We were joined by a girl called Anna who was also from Australia. We headed off in a Russian Army Jeep towards the beginning point of our trek, but stopped halfway to take a photo of the most beautiful view!! When we began our trek we were joined by three local Black Hmong ladies who ended up walking about 10km with us. They were really helpful and whenever it got to a difficult bit, they helped us up. One of them, Dong, was so nice to me. I nearly fell so many times, but even though she was pregnant (and quite far gone by the look of it) she just picked me up and helped practically push me up the hills!! I can't believe how surefooted these women are. I found the trek surprisingly difficult, I'm not very good at going uphill, but also
my balance isn't great and when you're walking along the side of a rice terrace you need to be able to balance! I nearly fell in so many times. Just before lunch we stopped for a bit and the women walking with us tried to sell us their bracelets, bags etc - I'd been waiting for this, everywhere you go in Vietnam people sell you stuff, so I'd been wandering when it would happen. I decided to buy a bracelet from Dong, as she'd been so helpful (shame my arm turned green the next day!!).
After lunch we set off, this time just us and the guide. This time there was a proper path, which made it a lot easier, until we got to a village only 4km from our homestay. Here our guide, Nam, said we should take a short cut. By road it was 10km to our homestay, but by the shortcut it was only 4km. The next bit was all downhill, which you'd think would be easier, but it was petrifying!! I was so worried I'd slip and fall down as it was really steep. The worst point though, was when we reached an area where
they'd been building a new road. The path had been destroyed and instead we had to slide down the mountain. It was like sliding down sand, my feet disappearing under the mud. I was really scared doing it, but it was kind of fun too! I couldn't imagine how we'd get back up again the next day though. When we finally reached the homestay we dropped our stuff off, before heading back out again to visit a hot spring. This was such a good feeling - after a hard day sitting in a hot spring, your muscles gradually relaxing again. I'd not packed a bikini (nobody told me to!!) so I sat in the hot spring in my t-shirt and knickers!! I was glad I packed my torch as it got dark and we had to cross and rickety bamboo bridge in the dark on the way back to the homestay. That night we had some delicious food and drank lots of rice wine, or happy water as they called it. Anna had a game called Pass the Pigs, which was hilarous and we all sat playing it with the Vietnamese guy we were staying with. All in all an
The next day we got up early and went to visit a waterfall, a short trek away from the homestay. On the way we had to cross a bamboo bridge that wasn't very secure and we all struggled, in the end I crawled across as I didn't want to risk falling in with my digital camera (I really dont want to have to buy a third one this trip!!). The waterfall area was beautiful, but as I still didn't have a bikini and all my clothes were wet or dirty I didn't bother going in, I just dangled my feet in at the edge instead. It was absolutely freezing, so I'm not sure I'd have wanted to go in anyway!! After lunch we headed uphill, up the path which had seemed really dangerous the day before. Amazingly it was a lot easier uphill, it was hard, exhausting work and my face my bright red and I was dripping with sweat, but I didn't feel like I was going to slide downhill, so it was good. When we finally made it to the top I felt exhilerated!! It was great feeling such a sense of accomplishment!!
that we just headed back to Sapa for a few hours of exploring before getting the night train back to Hanoi. Overall I think this has been the best three days of my trip so far. Totally awesome!!!!
There are more photos below