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Published: April 2nd 2018
Anyone that is thinking about going to Sapa but isn't sure if it's worth it, let me tell you, it is!
One of the many beautiful things about it is, it's location. Of course yes, it's stunning but more so, it's 'hard' to get to.
Being an 'out of the way' location means that tourists are often caught trying to figure out if they should go or not which I've come to realise is a good thing.
What I mean by 'hard' and 'out of the way' is that you need to head there, stay however long you can and then, head back to crazytown (Hanoi).
In my case I decided to train up, stay one night and then bus back the following afternoon. That gave me one and a half days to explore this mountain town and see what all the fuss was about.
I took the overnight train from Hanoi to Lao Cai which was booked by my hostel and shared a 4 sleeper cabin with 3 Americans.
Sleeper train tip - ALWAYS get a soft berth cabin and try to get the bottom bunk.
It's always a little scary walking into your sleeping quarters to
find three males sitting and chatting away not really caring about who you are or where you're from. I sat on my bed and listened to them talk about home and Netflix and who had seen the last episode of Black Mirror. I was so angry that they didn't even acknowledge me even when I said hi. This anger took over me a bit before I realised that I am the solo traveller, not them. If I wanted them to talk to me, I had to talk to them first.
That was my lesson - As the solo traveller, I need to make the first move.
Once I asked them where they were from, the conversation was away for at least an hour. They were all from different parts of America but went to the same college - one now lives and works in Deli. We talked about the states, India, New Zealand and how they find it weird that we don't refrigerate our eggs. It was a very successful moment for me.
The train itself was great except I didn't realise how much trains sway! It's like a land boat when you need to go to the
bathroom - hands on each wall and a great chance to practice that stabilising squat because you don't want to sit on a seat covered in urine.
My Second Motto on this trip is: DON'T ALWAYS ACCEPT THE FIRST OFFER.
Let me explain:
Once we arrived in Lao Cai I needed to get to Sapa. This was easy enough as there was a lady walking down the platform as we exited the train asking people if they needed a bus to Sapa. After finding out it was only $5USD, I gladly accepted and gave her the money. Easy! Only thing was, as we were walking through the train terminal, I saw a sign quoting $3USD to Sapa. I know it's only $2 but it's the thought of being scammed that gets me.
The shuttle bus to Sapa was amazing. It was early and the sun was rising up through the clouds. We were heading up this winding road that reminded me of roads back home. Only difference was the overtaking. In NZ we have a rule that you can overtake if you can clearly see no oncoming traffic within 100 meters. That is not the case here.
She made me this while we were walking! So much talent.
Funny thing is, I am totally okay with their driving style. Somehow, I don't know how, but somehow, it works.
My homestay was 2km up the hill from the main center of town. We actually drove right past in on the way in but I was too polite to ask them to stop. Fate was helping me out with that one because otherwise I wouldn't of met Mama Do.
Mama Do is from a small village Hau Thao and approached me as I was trying to walk confidently to my homestay. I was very hesitant at first but after some small chat and a bit of haggling, we agreed on $20USD for half a day trekking and that included lunch. She even walked with me to my homestay but I think that was to make sure I wouldn't run away.
I was able to check into my room super early and even managed to have some tasty tomato and pork Pho, before heading out with Mama Do.
During our time together, I learnt a lot about her and the villages around Sapa. She was 40 years old and had three children all of which no longer
live at home except her youngest who is 11. It sounded like her other two daughters were married off to men at a neighboring village and so she has nobody to cook for her. Her English was way better than my Vietnamese so it didn't bother me when I couldn't understand her. She loved that I was married and gave me a couple of bracelets to keep and told me one was for Harrison.
The views in Sapa are amazing of course. I think I was very lucky to have a day where it was sunny and not too foggy. After hiking for 4 hours though, that fog was welcomed by both myself and Mama Do.
The thing I liked the most about this day was the peacefulness. We saw other tourists as we walked but a lot of the time it was just her and I.
Once we got to her village, I was ready to sleep. Luckily we organised her husband to drive me back to my homestay on his motorbike - that was exhilarating!
I knew from the ride back that I wanted to hire a scooter the next day and explore this place on
When I got back home, I asked to attend the family dinner which guests can do if they want.
The family who lived there were so kind. We sat round a big pot of broth and lots of bowls of different vegetables. The mom controlled the cooking of the fish while the siblings laughed at each other while they dared to eat wasabi soy sauce and sashmi. The meal was amazing and I haven't had anything like it since.
The following day I packed all my stuff and headed into town to hire a bike. Things like this are surprising easy and really cheap. Having experience on a scooter before I was really confident despite the quality of the roads and the craziness of other drivers. I headed back to my homestay to check out and grab the rest of my things but when it came time to turn the scooter on, nothing happened.
Another thing to remember - Scooters in Vietnam are not the same as in NZ.
Sure the principal is the same but I needed a guest from the homestay to help me get it started and show me the tricks.
very lucky to be where I was when that happened because I would of been really stuck if it was anywhere else.
Back on track I used google maps to guide me to Fansipan, the tallest mountain in Indochina.
Google is great, sometimes. If it cant pronounce the street name, it doesn't even try. "In two hundred meters, turn left. Turn left." Meanwhile, I'm driving at a reasonable speed about to turn left up some stairs that clearly aren't for vehicles.
It took a few stops but eventually I found the base of Fansipan and the new cable car system to take me up - What? You thought I was going to hike up 3,143m to the top?! Don't be silly I only had 3 hours until my bus back to Hanoi.
The cable car is it's own attraction which currently holds two Guinness World Records -
1. The longest non-stop three-rope cable car: 6292,5m
2. The greatest elevation difference by a non-stop three-roped cable car: 1410m
I was able to leave my bags at the bottom and although I entered a cart with a group of chatty tourists, I had enough time to quickly move
to the next cart, which I had all to myself.
Something I learnt - When you are sitting somewhere and you aren't happy, just move!
Up at the top it was COLD and that temperature drained my phone battery so by the time I hauled ass up the 600+ steps to the summit, I was able to snap a few pictures before it died.
Something that I still can't get my head around is how much passion there is for religion and culture. Apart from making this amazing cable car system, they had huge statues of religious figures and temples. It just amazes me that they go through all that effort but for what? Money? Recognition? Acceptance? Maybe one day I'll figure it out.
Once I got back down and to my bags I realised that I hadn't really eaten since breakfast. I found some crackers in my bag from the train ride and let me tell you - they were the tastiest crackers I have ever had. That might of only been because I was starving though...
Before I found my bus back to Hanoi I met two lovely tourists from somewhere near Russia. I'm only
assuming that as the first thing the man offered me was a drink from his glad-wrapped plastic drink bottle full of clear hard liquor - I politely declined. Sometimes you just have to say no people.
The bus back was an easy 5 hours and I was able to sleep a bit and watch the scenery change from endless rice paddies to farmland to crazytown.
I'll end this blog with three things;
1. I lost my make shift wedding ring that Harrison bought for me before we left NZ. I quickly bought another ring off a village lady in Sapa center for $3 but it gives me the green ring of doom so I had to take it off.
2. I met my first kiwi! He moved from Christchurch to Ho Chi Minh so technically an ex pat but I still count it.
3. Sapa remains on my top three places so far that I've visited thanks to my amazing homestay, the inspiring Mama Do and of course, the incredible views.
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