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Published: November 24th 2007
So the day after David's birthday we packed our bags again, this time cramming everything we'd need for 3 days trekking into our day packs as we were off to Sapa in the far north west of Vietnam.
After spending the day walking round Hanoi we caught the overnight train to Lao Cai, a few miles from the Chinese border, and arrived just as the sun was coming up. We then got the tourist-packed minibus to our hotel. The hour long journey to Sapa (1650m) took us on windy roads past some great scenery - hills, paddy fileds - all covered in low cloud and lit by the bright orange sun.
After checking and admiring the view of Fan Si Pan (Vietnam's highest mountain) from the hotel garden, we met the rest of our walking group - 2 French couples (whose names for some reason we didn't find out, other than Jean Paul, and I think that was so we could try to get him to stop snoring later in the trip), Leigh from Canada and our guide Phinh (pronounced Peng), a 23 year old girl from a local village. There were also about 5 other women in the same
tradional dress as Phinh who walked with us. They were really friendly and chatty and it didn't sink in straight away but they were all there to try and sell us things.
The first day we walked to the local village of Cat Cat which is home to the Black H'Mong people. They're called the Black H'Mong due to the colour of the clothing they wear which is dyed with indigo. We then carried on walking, over the first of many very wobbly suspension bridges, to a waterfall and then from there we made our way back to Sapa in time for lunch.
We had the rest of day to ourselves so wandered into the centre of Sapa. It's a strange place, a bit like a town in the Alps, and when the sun went in during the afternoon and it turned really cold and grey (the fleeces and waterproofs were on!), we almost expected to find stalls selling Gluhwein in the market. Except we didn't...we found dog instead, easily identifiable by the paws and tail!
Almost every other building was a hotel, cafe/restaurant/bar or shops aimed at tourists and there were local villages in their tradional dress everywhere
selling handmade clothes, blankets, jewellery etc, but it still had a nice feel about it and was buzzing with locals.
We stayed at the hotel that night and after a beef noodle soup breakfast we met our group at 9am to begin the second day's trek. We walked through Sapa and past rice paddy after rice paddy to a river and then along to Lao Chai, Phinh's village, for lunch. We'd a had a pit stop on the way where we were all given some bamboo to try, it was really good!
After lunch we carried on walking for a couple of hours - the scenery was constantly stunning, although a bit cloudy - until we reached Ta Van village, which was to be our home for the night. On entering the village one of the first sights was 4 or 5 tables with pub garden type umbrellas - a bar with a fab view! We also saw a small shop which doubled as a karaoke bar, but other than that it was a quiet village with people going about their daily business. Our homestay house was great. The bedroom for the 11 of us staying there was a
mezzanine round the edge of the room that overlooked the living room below, with a mattress, bedding and mozzie net for each of us. We'd joined another group at the house so also staying there was Lynne from New Zeland and Mette, Louisa and Anne from Denmark.
Leigh, David and I went for a short walk round the village before ending up at the "bar" and were soon surrounded by local women - "you buy something from me??" Leigh tried bargaining his torch into a deal with one of them who left about an hour later promising to return the next morning to seal the deal!
There were about 10 or so local boys playing football on a makeshift pitch beneath us and the temptation was too much for David and Leigh, although once they joined in the goal celebrations turned from fancy cartwheels to old man forward rolls!
Summoned back for dinner, we sat down with the others to a banquet of local dishes and umpteen shots of not-very-nice-at-all rice wine... We had loads of fun, especially after eating when the karaoke machine was turned on... and David discovered a talent for singing in Vietnamese!!
The next morning
Leigh's friend returned as promised to continue the bargaining (Leigh ended up buying what be wanted and managed to keep his torch) and then after a huge breakfast of delicious pancakes we said farewell to our great homestay family and set off. We walked up to a waterfall with a great view and over more rickety bridges and finally to a minibus to take us back to Sapa. It had been a great trip and one we'd definitely recommend.
We arrived back in Hanoi at about 5am and managed to kill time until the guys working at our hotel and woken up and moved their bedding out of reception! We spent most of the day walking round the city and eating and drinking before going to the water puppet show we'd got tickets for. Well, it was different but a long 45 minutes...!
That night we got a rather snazzy overnight sleeper bus to Hue. There's not a great deal to do in Hue unless you want to visit tombs and pagodas galore. We went to the Citadel and took lots of pictures of temples and old buildings but the best bit was buying a couple of bags of
fish food and watching the frenzy as hundreds of fish fought for a morsel! We spent the rest of the day in the DMZ bar drinking with Steve and Sarah, a couple from Cornwall who moved to Australia 30 years ago.
The next day we were back on a bus for a mammoth journey to Mui Ne (about 22 hours and this time the bus was anything but snazzy and sleeper-like). Mui Ne was great. We stayed at the Sinh Cafe resort where we had a bungalow a few meters back from the beach, a pool and the cutest puppy to play with, although we did splash out a bit and pay 10 pounds a night! We spent a very lazy 4 nights there, getting motorbike taxis to the town centre to go out for great meals - seafood skewers, a seafood and meat BBQ on our table, happy hour mojitos..... - and chilling out on the beach and in the gorgeous warm sea or at Jibes waiting for the wind to pick up so David could go kitesurfing. It never happened but we had fun waiting, even when we forgot about the tide and returned to the beach
to find our flip flops, my hat and our newly purchased frisbee floating in the sea (no frisbee arguments so far you'll be happy to hear!).
On the bus from Mui Ne back to Saigon we met friends Paul and Emily from Hampshire (hi guys). The 4 of us decided to join a 2 day trip leaving Saigon the next morning and arriving in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, the following day.
Next chapter coming soon....
Hope it's not too cold where you are, I'm off to join David by the pool!
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