Sapa-What a LOVELY place Part 2

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Asia » Vietnam » Northwest » Lao Cai » Sapa
June 16th 2010
Published: June 19th 2010
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Wednesday, June 16th
Woke up to roosters and enjoyed crepes with honey, bananas and coffee for breakfast. The coffee in Vietnam is so good that I have been drinking coffee. The 3 of us had one cup and wanted more but our home stay didn’t have any more so 2 of the girls that we gave English names to yesterday showed up. We gave them money to go up the hill to the local market to get us more packets of coffee and they came back with a better price than we would have paid, we gave them the change for their services.

We said our goodbyes to the family, grabbed our bamboo walking sticks and started our trek for the day. It has rained the last couple of nights so the hike will be even more muddy or at least that is what we are expecting. Lonz said we had just a small hike today to the waterfall, visit another village and then have lunch with a ride back to town to end our 2 day trek.

While on the trek it was VERY muddy and were just waiting to fall since there was so much mud with
little boy that followed behind on the treklittle boy that followed behind on the treklittle boy that followed behind on the trek

has a little bird in his hands
puddles everywhere. It was a great hike until we got to the bamboo forest. WOW straight down a mudslide, not really but we held onto the bamboo plus our walking sticks to make it down the hill. There were quite a few close encounters of falling down but all 3 of us managed to get down the hill with just muddy shoes. I named it a new sport called mud skating.

Our trek was probably about 2 hours and at the end we came upon a great waterfall that we could get in the water to wash off our shoes. After I cleaned my shoes in the water I went back up to the little hut to have a seat and relax for a little bit. A girl from Australia said to me you have something on your leg. I looked down and just saw some black worm like thing flopping around on my leg. I quickly swatted at it to get it off me and the tribal women all said “lychee lychee” what they meant was leech. Yes, this was the 1st time I have ever seen one in my life and it was trying to attach to my leg. UGH what a gross feeling I had after that. I took off my socks and shoes to make sure I didn’t have any inside my shoes, I was in the clear.

We ate lunch while being hassled by many tribal women trying to sell us things. I bought a little sachel that had a strap on it for my camera so I could put it on like a purse. The women had a 6 month baby on her back and helped me through our hike today so I bought it in return to say thanks.

After lunch we visited one more village where the Red Dzao tribe lives. We saw a 2 room school house, many little children and entered a home with a man weaving a basket and the most basic style of living we could have imagined including dirt floors. The end of our hike was straight up a hill to a van that was waiting to take us back. It was a good 30 minute drive back to town along the narrow road along the hillside weaving back and forth.

We arrived back in town to Starlight Hotel and decided to switch hotels cause they wanted to give us the same room where the door opened in the middle of the night even after I locked it before going to bed. We walked up the hill to Darling Hotel where Laura was staying and got a better room for the same price. It was a struggle for Pete to get the money back from our first hotel as we pre paid for the stay. The internet was much better at our new hotel and we relaxed after a early dinner at Nature Bar & Grill.

During our time in Sapa we have learned that only the tribal women learn English since they sell their crafts to the tourists. The young girls learn to stitch at 8 or 9 years old. The children have to help in the rice paddies during planting season as they start their day around 3:30 or 4am. The 4 little girls that we named Christy, Abby, Susan and Angie were very excited that their families finished rice planting season this week as they won’t have to be in the fields early in the morning. They also told Peter he must have money cause he has a honey(me). No money No honey, if you have a honey you have money. WOW what they have learned from other tourists. They also told us that since we are from the USA we have lots of money, but we told them we live in China. Their response “ China is just like the USA” Our responses “Uh NO, very different trust us” We realized we were in a poor country but it really hit home when we heard these 12 and 14 year old girls say China is such a rich country.

Thursday, June 17th
We slept in and had breakfast on the patio overlooking the mountain at our hotel. I knocked on Laura’s door to join us for breakfast but she must have been out for the morning as she didn’t answer. After breakfast I read my book and enjoyed the sun.

I am reading the 2nd book in a 3 book series by Stieg Larsson called The Girl Who Played With Fire. AWESOME read if you get a chance. The 1st book is The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and the 3rd book was just released in May called The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. Thanks to my dear friends Kelly and Staci as I borrowed the 1st book from Kelly and the 2nd book from Staci.

The 3 of us decided we would rent motorbikes today to check out some other villages around Sapa. Pete drove and I rode of course, then Laura got her own motorbike. We got automatics today and they were much more comfortable to ride on than the bike we had on Tuesday. We headed to Ta Phin village as Pete and I started to go there on Tuesday but turned around as we were running low on gas or petrol as the rest of the world calls it.

We came upon a Monastery that was built in 1942 and then abandoned by the nuns in 1945 and burned down the same year, so we viewed the ruins. We got back on the bikes and continued further down the road and came upon a small path that Pete decided we would go down, it crossed over a bridge then the path turned muddy so we parked them and started to walk. Five Red Dzao women started after us to buy there crafts and we actually got them to take us to their home. We drank green tea with them, learned about herbal baths and took a shot of homemade rice wine that was 10 times stronger than what Tuong served us at our home stay. We paid the ladies a small amount of money for having us as guests in their home then back out to our bike we went.

Then we came upon a small village where we stopped to have a coke and use the bathroom. WOW check out the bathroom photo. I have seen some crazy bathrooms while our travels in Asia but this was hilarious, they tried to make me pay to use this bathroom that had no toilet paper and you had to pour water down the toilet to flush it. We refused to pay plus Pete bargained the cost down on the cans of coke from 15,000dong a piece to 3 for 30,000 dong. $1USD=19,000 dong we are literally millionaires in Vietnam as 1 million dong is roughly $52.

After our drinks we continued on the path and it ended at a cave. I decided I didn’t want to go in as we have seen many caves during our travels
green oranges very common in Asiagreen oranges very common in Asiagreen oranges very common in Asia

yes they are ripe and good
this year. There was a man trying to rent us flashlights that wanted money for them and an entrance fee but he only could say numbers in English nothing else. A couple with a guide came to the cave while we were there and the English speaking guide told us the cave is 2 hours long and exits in another place. The 3 of us decided to turn around and go to Cat Cat village on the other side of town that we had heard about.

Back through town and to another entrance fee gate even though they don’t charge much money it is a hassle as everything starts to add up as everyone is trying to make a dollar. The village was only 3km from town but no one had told us it was a very steep hill and had construction on the road. We were glad we had the motorbikes instead of walking back up the hill. We came upon the waterfall and a man wanted 5,000 dong to have us park our bikes on his land so we just moved them 25 yards away and parked for free. The waterfall was a disappointment as there wasn’t really a clear path to it. Back up the hill we went and back on the motorbikes.

We decided to go see the next village as we still has gas in our bikes and wanted to return them with little to no gas. There was a landslide that had taken up much of the road but just enough room for a motorbike to get through. This was awesome as it kept out all the van and minibus tours that many people take. We have done the more adventurous tour by going on our own or walking.

We arrived in Sinh Chai the best village yet of our time in Sapa it was almost untouched and we only saw 2 other foreigners there. We drove along a very narrow concrete path and made it to the very end. There were so many children in this village that all had smiling faces and saying “Hello & Goodbye” Time to head back to town as we needed to return the bikes and felt satisfied with our day of self touring.

We ate dinner at Little Sapa, Laura’s favorite restaurant in town and needed to get back to the hotel to get our bags and catch a van back down to Lao Cai for our 8:45pm train back to Hanoi. Darling Hotel offered a van ride down the hill for the standard 30,000 dong=$1.58 but it left at 5pm so we didn’t want to sit at the train station that long. We knew there were numerous vans that made the 1 hour trip up and down the mountain.

We found a van that was almost full and flagged it down. We put our luggage in the back and asked if the price was 30,000 dong. The guy didn’t act like he knew much English but didn’t say no to the price, Pete said the price 3 times to the driver and the man helping load bags. No other price was said back to us and the dumb founded look we get often with the language barrier. We were the only 2 white people in the van along with other Vietnamese tourists and 6 tribal people getting rides back out to their village. No one else spoke English or at least they didn’t attempt to say hello or help out.

About 30 minutes into the drive the guy started to collect money from everyone. Pete handed him 60,000 dong for our two fares, he said 20,000 more. What? Why? We confirmed the price before getting in the van was 30,000 and there was no conversation to us that it would be 40,000. We refused to pay the extra money even though it was just over a dollar. The man understood English just fine and tried to get us to pay multiple times, we refused. He even had the driver pull over get a piece of paper with a red stamp on it that said 40,000 but NO other van charged that price so we refused. When we arrived at the train station we got our bags from the bag and left, they didn’t say one thing about us not paying the extra fare. So we won, many people probably just give in and pay the extra money and that is how they make more money.

As we arrived in the waiting hall we saw Alice and Ludick from our trek in Sapa 2 days earlier. We sat next to them and chatted while we waited for the train. We were on the same train but we were in car 10 and they were in car 7. They had 2 different brokers come up to them asked to see their train tickets and tried to put them on an earlier train. They refused since it seemed strange and we later read in Lonely Planet this scam happens in Lao Cai train station often. Unsure if the tickets are duplicate so you really don’t have a bed on the overnight train or what.

Vietnam is known for scams it is plastered all over the Lonely Planet book and we have heard about many and were part of some. We booked our return train tickets in Sapa since we wanted to make sure we had beds back to Hanoi, the booking centers all charged 450,000 dong for a return ticket to Hanoi when we only paid 330,000 to get to Lao Cai. We asked why is it more to return the same distance than when we came? No response of course. When we arrived in the train station the posted price per ticket was 330,000 DAMN brokers made 240,000 of off us even though they assured us it was the cheapest price. We even checked multiple broker offices and had our hotel owner go with us and he lied straight to our face not telling us you can get the same ticket at the train station for 120,000 dong less per ticket.

The money adds up when you get ripped off numerous times in a trip but more important it is the principle of doing honest business as more people would return to Vietnam for another vacation. It is beautiful but tiring with all the scams and haggling. Being aware of all of these is great and helps you out but it still occurs when trying not to get ripped off.

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