Published: April 11th 2008March 24th 2008
I'm not getting on a motorbike taxi with my rucksack I protested however after a few minutes I reluctantly gave in. I held on tightly and we sped away still arguing with the driver to take us to the hotel in Lao Cai and not Sa Pa, an hour and a half away.
Our first choice of hotel was fully booked so after wondering the streets for twenty minutes we opted for a really crap awful hotel a few doors down the road. After the long day we had had it was really confusing when the battle axe behind reception took our passports and didn't require payment upfront. Its funny how you get used to doing things one way then move on to another country and the process is completely different, throws you a bit.
After an unrestful nights sleep we left Faulty Towers first thing in order to catch the 8am local bus to Sa Pa. An hour or so later we had arrived at the very misty, former french hill station of Sa Pa. It gets quite chilly in the spring here however after China we thought the weather was altogether balmy.
It was still very
early so we headed to the Red Dragon for some breakfast before checking into our room in Bamboo Hotel. We quickly realised that other than trekking and visting ethnic minority villages the only other thing to do in town was eating. After all the troubles we had with the food in China, Sa Pa was a welcome change. The western food was very good quality and vietnamse food was a nice change from chinese.
Five years ago we had previously visited a village of "original people" in Malaysia, the whole affair was very contrived and we said we didn't want to do anything like that again so when most of the tours in Sa Pa offered a day spent in ethnic villages we immediately thought better of it. One of the only tours we could find that didn't incorporate the villages was a half day driving tour around the countryside. We booked it up and on the day of reckoning we came prepared to sit in a car.
Just before we left in the car the bloke at tour office said we had to pay the park village fee. Thinking nothing of it we nodded and we drove
Extreme Close Up
off. The car stopped several times to give us a chance to take some scenic pics which was great, it was exactly what we had hoped for. While driving our driver, who couldn't speak english, seemed intent on blurting out "Lao Chai", as we couldn't understand him we thought he was saying rice terraces in vietnamese. On the third stop there were a hoard of Hmong ethnic ladies seemingly awaiting our arrival. We got out the car as we thought it was the waterfall part of the trip, the driver motioned us to go down the hill. Beset by touts we wondered down the hill and quickly realised 5 minutes later that the waterfall didn't exist. We walked quickly back up the hill to find the driver had driven off. One of the Hmong ladies said he had gone to the pick up area in the valley and we had to walk for 2 hours through the villages to meet our vehicle. We summerised that something had gone wrong and it seemed we were either on the wrong tour or this was an additional part to the tour which was not mentioned previously.
Not exactly dressed for the occasion
we considered getting a motorbike taxi back to town however as we were there we thought we would carry on. For our merry juant down to the villages we managed to acquire a very handy guide in the form of a Hmong ethnic lady. Our guide kept laughing at us and calling No lazy for not wanting to walk 3km. It all seemed at bit strange at first although as we got to the village we started to enjoy ourselves watching the locals go about their business and taking lots of photos of the scenery.
Our guide was very sweet; she showed us her village, home and we even met her husband and kid, she was only 22 years old. The Hmong are descendants from Southern Chinese immigrants. They have their own language however our guide said most can speak a couple of languages. We were quite ashamed to say we only spoke one language, english.
In the end it turned out to be a very pleasant afternoon strolling through the villages chatting to our guide. As we neared the vehicle 2 hours later we couldn't help but buy a few ethnic momentos from her, at least we
had seen where the money would be going to.
Laden with ethnic bags and braclets we got back to Sa Pa and headed straight for the nearest cafe. Half way through ordering food No realised he had left his ethnic handbag in the car and had to go back to the tour office to collect it. It was only then that we had it confirmed we were on the wrong tour, doh.
There are more photos below