On the 2nd
Jan we booked a train to leave that evening to Sapa which is North of Hanoi and in the mountains. Meant to be colder then Hanoi but I looked on the web and temperatures seemed similar at around 10-15c which we could handle I am sure. We had booked the cheapest sleeper compartment on the train possible which is the top bunks in the hard sleeper section. 6 bunk beds in one lockable room with the top bunks being the cheapest because you do not get as much head room as the other bunks but you do get a compartment at the bottom of the beds to keep all your belongings which is safer then storing them under the bottom bunk. Terry was not happy at first as really was a squeeze for him to get onto the top bunk as he could not sit up straight but soon as he was settled he said it was ‘alright’ – phew! Asia really is not geared up for tall people.
We shared the room with a Vietmenese family whom unfortunately the father snored loudly so did not get too much sleep. The train ride itself was
not as smooth as in India, very jerky, noisy and the hard bunks are a very slim mattress on a wooden bench so again not as comfy as the lower class beds in India but definitely much cleaner.
We arrived in Sapa the next morning and was approached by lots of men and one lady asking if we needed a ride to Sapa. The nearest train station to Sapa is Lao Cai which is 32Km away and as we arrived at 5.30am we would have to take a mini bus with other travellers to Sapa. I had researched the price of these taxis beforehand so we would not be ripped off but everyone tried it on. It was like being in India again, soon as the train arrived we had lots of touts come onto the train asking us if we needed a mini bus with some quoting as much as 400,000 Dong (£14) I know it should only be around 40,000 – 50,000 Dong (£1.50) so we told them where to go and walked out of the train station. At one time we had around 15 touts surrounding us and trying to get us to go to their
mini vans. As we were last off the train we found that the other foreign tourists had, for some reason, spread themselves out into the numerous mini buses so there was not one bus that was full and would be ready to leave. I knew another train was arriving from Hanoi in half hour so after getting nowhere with the touts, still quoting 400,000 dong, we said to them we will wait for more people then choose our mini bus. In the end Terry started a bidding war between the touts but that did not really work either as they obviously did not want to lose face in front of each other, so we settled down to wait 15min for the next train. The touts left us to it and the only lady tout (who had started off very high) agreed to 50,000 each and even had tickets printed with this amount on –so must of been the going rate haha. We said we would sit in her bus but if they do not go when more travellers arrive from the next train then we would leave a find another bus. We refused to pay her until we were literally
pulling out the car park. Never be too quick to hand over your money here!!!
Next train arrived early and Terry got out the bus to try and encourage more backpackers to join us, it worked, seems the lady was keen for us all to go so everyone seemed to be paying 50,000 dong and we were off. Thankfully we did not have a crazy mini bus driver and we steadily climbed the twisting mountain roads on route to Sapa. We soon hit the fog and could not see more then 10 metres in front of us, but still our driver and other drivers overtook on blind bends. I just kept hold of Terry’s hand and chatted to the other travellers to take my mind off it.
Once in Sapa we found a hotel for £6 a night which seemed the going rate but was a lot nicer then the other budget hotels we saw in the area recommended by our aging guidebook. One thing we have noticed in SE Asia compared to India is that we are finding cheaper accommodation by staying away from the ‘recommended’ cheap areas suggested by Lonely Planet. The book is useful for
the maps once you arrive at a new area but I would look for accommodation just a few minutes away from the ‘budget’ district as so far we have found nicer and cheaper places. Anyway we check into the hotel, which was full of lovely Vietmense tourists, and went to explore.
Sapa was cold, especially as we did not have that many warm clothes with us we were not geared up for it, and it was damp as the place is covered by thick mist. We were hoping to hire mopeds to explore the surrounding minority villages but it was too wet for this. We took a hike down to the nearest village called Cat Cat which is a few metres below Sapa. Soon as we start out descent down the trail we came out of the fog and were met with beautiful views of the area. Had a great day walking around the village, meeting the crazy looking village ladies dressed with their bright head gear, trying to sell us anything they can. We walked along a few trails and soon found ourselves alone surrounded by greenery, bamboo trees, wildlife, was incredible.
Next day was a bit
of a wash out, literally, as it rained non-stop all day, Terry and I were soaked and so were our shoes, and what with our rooms having no heating there was no chance of us drying out. It was really cold too, even though Sapa was a beautiful, it was just too miserable to stay. We were meant to be staying 3 nights in Sapa but I had a feeling we would not of booked this long and made Terry recheck our tickets. Thankfully I did as he had got his dates mixed us and we were only spending two nights here. So after two nights we were ready to catch the overnight train back to Hanoi where we would spend another day int eh city before catching another over night train south to Hue...
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