Sapa Update

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March 9th 2008
Published: March 9th 2008
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This is our last day in Sapa. We are supposed to be going out on a trip today but it has been raining all night and is still raining so we may have to cancel it. The weather has been on and off rainy the whole time we have been here. We have had very bad visibility and lots of fog but we have had a wonderful time inspite of the weather. From what I understand the weather is usually bad here but September is supposed to be nice -- temperatures are rarely above 20 degrees -- we will just have to come back and in the meantime content ourselves with postcards. There are a lot of people hawking postcards and I wondered how many sales they do with everybody having digital cameras these days. I guess most people spend their time here and on the last day when the weather still hasn't cleared up, they go and buy postcards -- at least I probably will.

So what have we been doing? Sapa is a nice old French town -- built in the 1920s that has seen a great deal of conflict and war and that has been virtually abandoned since WWII (at least by tourists). It has been rediscovered in the last few years and the influx of tourists has made a big difference here -- good and bad. What has made this place special for me is the Hill Tribe people that come into the town every day. They are gentle, quietly spoken people and completely authentic in their colorful clothes -- not worn for the benefit of tourists that is how they dress in their villages too. The children attend school now but that is only a recent development -- most haven't had any formal education whatsoever but many of them can speak English (and other languages) that they have learnt from the tourists. They accompany you everywhere, trying to sell their handicrafts -- they are persistant but not aggressive and as a result I am now the owner of a rather large collection of embroidered pouches, bags, hats, etc. that I have no use for but I feel it is the least I can do because they have greatly contributed to my enjoyment of this place. They are mostly very poor (in money) but seem to be largely self sufficient in their villages and very happy people.

We came up on the night train from Hanoi. You leave at 9 in the evening and arrive about 6 in the morning. We had soft sleepers and it wasn't too bad. The other couple in our cabin were Vietnamese and did not talk or even look at us but we must have behaved well during the journey because they said goodbye. Even though it was quite comfortable I didn't sleep much so was happy to have my mp3 to keep me company. Micha slept well but had wanted to take the whole cabin because he didn't want to share -- I promised to give him the top bunk because I didn't think we should pay for 4 berths and wanted to appease him. Unfortunately, I put my back out and there was no way I could get up there so he had to and had the air conditioning blasting away on him for the whole journey so wasn't very happy. Anyway we arrived in darkness and it was raining so we couldn't see much. We booked the first night in a hotel from Hanoi and then went to find our own accommodation. The hotel was quite nice but we wanted something very special so that we could see the view from our room without getting out of bed -- it didn't matter because we couldn't see most of the time but the clouds did shift occasionally and we did get glimpses. Anyway, we found the perfect place -- top floor, corner room, windows on two sides. Luckily, they put in a lift just before we arrived, otherwise I don't think we could have stayed here -- or we would have arrived and then had to stay in the room for the duration. The lift goes to the 7th floor and then we have another 3 floors of steps. Sapa is quite hilly and has a lot of steps but because it is quite cold most of the time the walking is not too hard and we have really been doing some walking.

The first day we walked 3 km down to a village and then on to a waterfall. It was raining but when we got down to the bottom the weather cleared up a bit and was good for the rest of the day. We saw many people walking back up but we didn't want to (and probably couldn't) so we went back on motor bikes -- first time I've been on one for years and I was frightened but the driver didn't go fast so it was fine and I might even do it more often because most places have motor bikes that will take you around and they are much cheaper than taxis. We go out to the market at least once a day and walk around with the tribe people. They have wonderful fruit here -- we bought huge passionfruit and tried some other things that we hadn't seen before. The fog rolls in at around 4:30 so most people head back to their hotels. There isn't much night life but presumably people are tired from all the walking. On the way back to the hotel we passed a cafe called Baguette and Chocolat -- wow! Fantastic pastries and cakes. We haven't been eating things like that on this trip but we did have sandwiches and cakes there and it was delicious -- nice break from rice and noodles.

The next day we went out walking again and in the afternoon we hired a jeep and went up to the top passes and it actually cleared up a bit and we could see. We then went to a waterfall and went up the steps to the top -- I am not a good climber but I find if I do about 20 steps and then take a short break that I am fine and it is usually worth it. I am going to eat breakfast and will continue with this later (maybe).


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