Published: June 29th 2012April 8th 2012
So we're off to the mountains of northern Vietnam and our first climbing challenge on the bikes....bit scary!
The night train to Lai Cai....well it got us from A to B! $38 each for a soft sleeper was really a bit of a joke given the low level of service, rock hard bunks and poor cleanliness of the trip. With the growing popularity of Sapa the prices to travel there have soared and the night train service is run for tourists, hence the price!
We arrived at 7.30am and after a bowl of Pho and buying some banana cake we attempted to find our way out of Lai Cai on the road to Sapa. It took awhile given the lack of sign posts but soon the ascent began. It was a gradual windy climb and we enjoyed regular stops to admire the viewsback down the valley. We were soon surrounded by terraced hill sides. We encountered a couple of different minority villages and it was a relief to see they wore their traditional clothing for normal daily life and it wasn't going to be just a spectacle for the tourists in Sapa.
We met a couple cycling down
(an English guy with his American girlfriend) who were en-route to Switzerland! It always boosts our spirits to share experiences with other cyclists and it was re-assuring to learn that they had travelled the route we were heading and the road was passable on bicycles.
The climb continued, it was long and arduous but we had prepared ourselves psychologically and the road surface was good. We made it!
Hungry and tired but satisfied.
Within minutes of stopping I was surrounded by local girls from minority villages, speaking excellent English. It seemed bizarre when the 'better' educated children in the urban areas could barely utter one word! The girls had developed a friendly manner of engaging tourists in conversation about ones travels and provided advice on cheap places to eat. Then came the expected push for a sale of an embroidered souvenir; bags, wallets, scarves! Weakened in my tired state after a hard days cycle I soon paid up for a bag after a poor effort at haggling!
We enjoyed excellent food at the Little Gecko restaurant and found a pleasant hotel above a hairdressers complete with electric blankets. As the day drew to a close the
hill town was swept into mist, we couldn't even see the other side of the street! We briefly went to the 'Love Market' where the local teenagers court. We saw one older boy dancing whilst playing a set of panpipes (it is a traditional courtship dance requiring him to spin around lots). Sadly, the Vietnamese tourists to Sapa didn't appreciate the tradition of this dance and just stood and laughed at his efforts. It made me feel really angry.
The following day was a rest day for us, so no trekking! We took a stroll around town in the mist and enjoyed warming pumpkin soup. The town was quieter today was most tourist had been bused to a neighbouring town for their market day and we received little hassle from the locals. We found an interesting photo exhibition showing the work of local women who had been given cameras to capture their traditional daily life. A second gallery showed the photos also taken by the locals to capture their methods of weaving, dying and embroidering cloth to make their clothes.
There are more photos below