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Published: March 13th 2007
I was up early to catch the train to Sapa. I ended up with a hard seat in a packed carriage. The ride took 9 hours and it was hellish. The one time I got up to use the bathroom, someone took my seat. I had to argue a bit to actually get it back. It was interesting, though, to see how the Vietnamese travel.
We arrived in Lao Cai in the late afternoon and I found a minivan for 30k to take me up to Sapa. After a few minutes of waiting, I got moved to another van. By sheer coincidence, Mickan was also in the van. I thought she was off to China for a few days, but apparently she changed her plans.
The ride up into the hills took about 45 minutes. We got dropped off at the HI hostel. It turned out to just be a guesthouse but it was cheap enough so we decided to stay. There was a great view of Fansipan mountain from the guesthouse and the sunset was really pretty that evening. We grabbed dinner and then went to get a couple drinks. We found a local restaurant and sat down.
It wasn't long before a group of Vietnamese invited us to join them. We moved over to their table and shared a couple drinks of rice wine. Mickan was getting sleepy so she headed back to the guest house. I decided to stay with our new friends and they spent the next hour trying to find out how much beer I could drink. There were six of them and they took turns drinking with me, which made for a fun hour!
The next morning we made french toast for breakfast. The baguettes weren't great but it turned out ok. After eating we set off to find a good map of the area. We found a couple different ones, but they were all expensive garbage so we ended up walking into a travel agency to see what they had on offer. By chance, there was a group of Vietnamese who were heading up Fansipan mountain and we could join for the same price they paid. We thought about it for a minute and decided to go for it.
We ran back to the guest house and quickly packed up. We were back at the travel agency about 30 minutes
later and we met the rest of the group. After a little waiting we all piled into a van and drove about 15 kilometers to the trailhead. After some pre-climb photos, we began the hike. Our first day lasted about three hours and we climbed up through the dense forest to a windy campsite.
At the campsite we met three english people and we all sat around chatting for a while. Once the sun dropped behind the mountain the temperature dropped off pretty quickly. We made a fire, but the wind was whipping it around and eventually one of the guides put it out before we had a great dinner out of the wind in a bamboo hut.
After dinner, everyone went to bed pretty early. We were promised warm sleeping bags, but the hut only had some lightweight summer ones. There were a couple of blankets as well, but not enough to go around, so it ended up being a cold and mostly sleepless night. Thankfully, the next morning was sunny and it warmed up quickly. We had breakfast and hit the trail around 9.
Once we got going, we quickly outpaced the rest of our
We traded hats for the photo
Vietnamese group. After an hour or so, the group of english people caught up to us and we started hiking together. The trail wound its way up through the forest and then emerged onto a windswept hillside covered in low bamboo. We continued up through the bamboo until we attained a steep ridge. We followed the ridge for some time before contouring along another hillside towards the summit ridge. We reached a saddle and then dropped about 300 meters before beginning a long climb to the summit. I decided to stretch my legs a bit and ended up pulling away from the rest of the group as we climbed up a steep gulley.
I reached the summit and stood soaking up the sunshine and the gorgeous views for about 15 miuntes before my group caught up. It took another 30 minutes before the Vietnamese reached the summit, and then we all ate lunch and hung out for about an hour before starting down.
The descent was brutal. We took a different route, and the trail basically went straight down the mountain. It took us over three hours of treacherous and nervewracking hiking before we reached camp. There were
points where we had to use ropes to get past steep sections of rock, and when we weren't using the ropes we were downclimbing through roots and around massive trees. We were both exhausted and happy to be done for the day when we reached camp.
Our second camp was larger (and dirtier) than the first. Thankfully, it had a much larger selection of sleeping bags and so Mickan and I grabbed some good ones. It didn't take long for the rest of our Vietnamese group to arrive in camp and soon everyone had settled in. We had another great dinner and then the guides built a roaring campfire. We sat around the fire chatting and playing a Vietnamese singing game for a while before everyone turned in.
The next morning was sunny once again and I was sore, but in a good mood after actually being able to sleep the previous night. We ate breakfast and then set off on the final leg of our descent. We hiked for about 4 hours down a steep ridge. The hiking wasn't as treacherous as the day before, but we were both incredibly sore so it took a lot of
effort to get down.
Once we reached the bottom everyone enjoyed some watermelon and then we walked up into a nearby village to catch the van back to Sapa. We checked back in to the guest house and then, after some well-deserved showers, headed into town to get lunch. I had a cheese steak sandwich and a chocolate pancake and they were both delicious. We spent the rest of the day hanging out and exploring the markets a bit before going back to the same place for dinner. Once again I had a cheese steak and it was just as good as the last one.
We went to bed early and then got up around 6 to catch the bus into Lao Cai.
That's it for Sapa, stay tuned for my return to Hanoi.
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