Published: April 4th 2012March 31st 2012
The mist rolls in and out giving you glimpses of the surrounding views...
We organised our four night/ three day tour to Sapa from home and are delighted to learn that we are traveling with just one other couple, Anna and Drew from the UK. We'll be a very intimate group for the next few days.
On the train however, Hannah and I bunked down with a Vietnamese couple for the duration of our overnighter from Hanoi to Lao Cai.
I've included a map of the region, so you can see that Lao Cai is on the border of China and Sapa is another 30 or 40 km up a windy, very misty and mountainous road.
Sapa has an altitude of about 1600 m and I was very surprised on the drive up to have my water bottle top pop like a champagne cork when I went to open it!
The mist rolls in and out and the sun is obscured for the duration of our stay and trekking, however it was bright enough that I had to pull my sunnies out from time to time.
The terrain in and around Sapa is extreme, steep and windy roads, long flights of stairs and slippery slopes through rice paddy terraces
and bamboo forests. Three years of relatively regular cycle classes have paid off :)
I find myself wanting to attach more photos than I have, because I don't want to deprive you of the visual experiences we are having. The colour of the local Hmong hill tribe and their traditional garb, the beautiful array of fruit, veg, meat, seafood and eggs as well as the indigo dyed cloth that is hand embroidered; all displayed at the covered market in Sapa or indeed in the villages themselves.
Every twist and turn of the road or hillside brings either a display of the simple existence of these local people or the breathtaking beauty that is their backyard.
Interestingly, the rice grown is not for commercial purposes. Each family has their own plot of land and on it they grow rice for their own consumption as well as tend chickens and pigs and grow fruit, vegetables and herbs.
It appears that if weren't for the tourists, the Hmong and other hill tribes would live quite happily, our existence seems just an extension of their own, that they have accepted and capitalised on.
The Hmong women who accompany us
wherever we go are industrious every moment, they chatter happily amongst themselves while working with straw and helping us through the more difficult parts of the terrain. Their help is not completely altruistic, a stop for lunch or the end of a trek signals the time for some mobile retail trading. "I help you, you buy from me and I can go home." Seems fair enough to me. I feel no such obligation for the other hill tribe women who gather around.
Our second day in Sapa and we attack some much more strenuous terrain. No roads or pebbled pathways and very few stairs. Today the local women are wearing bright blue gumboots, not because they have good grip but because of the inevitable mud and rice paddies (half a foot of water at least) that they wade through to help me and everyone else along the edge of the rice paddy terraces. I spent quite a bit of time avoiding falling into that half foot of water, which was very fortunate because then I wasn't worried about toppling backwards a much greater distance!
We spent the night in Te Van with a local family where they made
us very comfortable with cold beer, a beautifully prepared meal and home made rice wine.
You'll notice that I haven't tried to describe the view too much, I couldn't possibly do it justice, let the pictures speak for themselves.
There are more photos below