Sapa And The Roof Of Indochina

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Asia » Vietnam » Northwest » Lao Cai » Sapa
November 16th 2011
Published: August 9th 2017
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Geo: 22.3945, 104.056

Country number three and a big change in pace from a population of 7 million in Laos to 87 million in Vietnam. We were looking forward to exploring Vietnam and what better way to start off than from the north west. We crossed the border three days after we had planned from the start of our visa.
The bus got us to the border and the first thing I did was "mark my territory" on Vietnamese soil, unintentionally of course, then we continued to the first major town of Dien Bien Phu. We had to stay one night in Dien Bien Phu for the 6am bus direct to Sapa. We would have liked to do the north west loop by bike, but starting in Dien Bien Phu would have mean't a bit of backtracking and also after seeing the conditions of the road to Sapa and the Vietnamese driving it was a good and safer decision not to.

Dien Bien Phu had a nice statue symbolising the victory over the French in a war that took place in the area in the 1950's, from there it had views of the surrounding mountain landscape. We also found some extremely cheap internet at 15 cents an hour, almost unbelievable! I found the locals to be friendly and often saying hello, but the driving in Vietnam is unorganized and loud with constant horns, and littering is more predominant, a similar version to India.

The bus ride to Sapa was quite rough as the roads are in poor condition and the driving is more than crazy when they constantly overtake on mountain bends. There are frequent road works along the road to Sapa, we had to wait 20 minutes for some works to clear the road to pass, giving a local woman enough time to notice and pick some white hairs from my head.
At a later stage we picked up whole van full of locals which had broken down, this included the two Korean girls. We already had in the bus a Belgium couple and the Spanish and Irish girl from our trip over the border, but the Koreans had paid more for the van which they crammed more people in and about an hour later on the bus a local had vomited a little bit on one of their bags which the Korean had to clean when we arrived, so they had a rough day.
But the scenery of the bus route was amazing as the road passes through mountains and up high passes.

We were relieved to finally get to Sapa in sunny weather in a place that's renowned for constant rain and cloud. We were planning to stay in Sapa for quite a few days especially for the first few so we could finally relax as we had been traveling for 6 weeks and having spent mostly everyday in the last week on buses or boats all day from the bottom of Laos, so we were completely exhausted and run down and needed to relax and do nothing. Thankfully Vietnam accommodation provides televisions with cable so we enjoyed watching movies and doing nothing most nights.
After walking around for a while trying to find accommodation for less than $10 a night, we managed to get in to one of the more fancier hotels after the owner was happy to give us a room for $8 but told us not to say anything as the other guests pay $25 a night. But he took my passport and said we could pay when we checked out and this got me worried we wouldn't be true to his word after giving us nothing to prove the amount, so after a few hours of paranoia we asked to pay the total amount, with reciept and collapsed in to bed.

The next day was television till late morning, lunch and a little walk around town, then back to the room for more television then dinner and more television. It felt really nice to do nothing for once and also watch tv as it had been a long time since we saw any kind of English speaking channels.
Sapa appeared more expensive than I thought, accommodation is quite expensive, but I think that's standard throughout Vietnam, the food was more with plenty of high standard restaurants. It's a small town but caters a lot for tourism with plenty of activities around the area. It reminded me a lot of Darjeeling in India with the town on a hill, honking horns, mountain backdrops and colder temperatures. For the first time in almost 7 weeks I had to put on pants, jackets and eventually shoes and socks.

The morning of day two was slow. We booked our trek to Mt Fansipan for $75 each which seemed to be the cheapest in town, we also went to the information center to use the free internet as it's basically one of the few places in Sapa with computers, no internet cafe's because most restaurants and hotels provide WiFi, but we don't have anything available for WiFi so we miss out a bit, but it is also nice not to be a slave to facebook everyday.
After lunch we hired a motorbike and cruised around the area seeing some nice tiered rice paddy fields, my favourite.
We also visited Cat Cat village, not too far from Sapa, which was basically a joke, what I am sure was a genuine small village amongst the paddy fields in the hills was now a village of souviners and exhibits for the tourists, gone of any authenticity and not worth going to. It would be better to go to other smaller hill tribe villages.
It was then back to the room for rest.

The next two days were to be devoted to climbing "the roof of Indochina", aka Mount Fansipan, the highest peak in Vietnam at 3143m high and can be done in one, two or three days. We chose the two days for $75. Day one includes around 5-6 hours of walking and staying overnight at 2800m high, then the next day involves around 2 hours to the summit and 7 hours back to the start along the same route, a three day trek returns via a different route.
Our guide was from a local village but spoke no English and quite old, so the eldest porter around was taking the youngest trekkers around.
After a bit of waiting around we left for the higest pass in Vietnam and the start of the trek. From our Morocco experience we bought all our jackets and I bought my sleeping bag even though we were provided with some very thin ones, one each.

We started the trek through some nice forest for about 2 hours and stopped for lunch with two big groups of trekkers. Our guide Nee, or Knee made us some chicken sandwiches for lunch and we continued for a further 3 hours up some very steep and challenging terrain, climbing up big rocks, using bamboo and ladders to climb up and down ledges. It was pretty tough work but a great challenge and a proper track.
The weather was cloudy but broke at times. As a group of two we were quite faster and our guide who does this 3 times a week sometimes, almost floated to the top as we struggled at times.
I thought it was odd that our guide had no tent strapped to him and when we arrived to base camp we set up our mats and sleeping bags in an iron shed. We basically had dinner straight away and it was pretty cold as night fell and we were in bed by 6.30. So they provided a sleeping bag each but they were incredibly thin and not suitable for 3 - 5 degree weather. So it was a good thing we bought my sleeping bag too because it saved us from a very cold night. The night was pretty horrible and we knew it would be.
We both had three jumpers on, a crappy sleeping bag each and my sleeping bag, making a total of 6 layers doing just enought to warm us up. I only had one pair of socks so I had to wrap my toes with toilet paper which worked surprisingly well, but on a side note remember to remove the toilet paper in the morning becuase I got lazy and left it and it got pretty uncomfotable while walking and made a big mess.

Locals had dinner where we were sleeping and were very loud for sometime, especially one guy. I drifted off a couple of times but only got a few hours sleep for the total 12 hours lying in bed. It was also pretty uncomfortable with my side in an awkward sideways slant.
Dawn broke and I was pretty relieved to be on the way up to the summit by 6.30 and before everyone else except the locals who left 30 min earlier.
It took us about 1.45 hours going up and down in tough terrain again but slightly easier as we got to the top. We caught up to the locals as we got to the top.
The weather was fantastic, clouds spanned the horizon at only one level beneath us and where peaks popped out as we enjoyed an amazing 360 degree view and accomplishment. The locals offered us some food and were able to take photos of us. It was very memerable and rewarding.

We stayed on top for about 45 minutes before heading all the way back to the start of the trek, taking about 6.5 hours where the last hour seemed endless as our muscles and feet were sore and we were both so tired. We were picked up and bought back to Sapa in a tired and scruffy condition and the first comment made by the travel agent was "You didn't sleep well did you?".
The trek was exceptional and another one to tick off the list. We immediately found some accommodation, took a shower and crawled in to bed......with our television and movies.

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