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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Head For the Hills - Sapa Adventure

I recently had the chance for a lighting visit to Sapa.  I have always wanted to see those magnificent terraced rice fields but had never had the opportunity.  With life being incredibly hectic at the moment it was to be a very quick trip.  Flight from HCMC to Hanoi - catch the overnight train that night - one night in Sapa then catch the overnight train back to Hanoi and fly to HCMC the following morning.  Only 3 nights away but it can be done!!!!
Saigon from the sky

Hanoi Train Station.  We got a basic soft sleeper bed.  Nothing fancy as we were going to sleep anyway.  Approximately $55 return.  Our train left at about 8.30pm and arrived in Lao Kai at 5.00am.

It was all very eerie and misty.  We felt like school kids as we crossed the tracks in search of our carriage.

We actually didn't use Livitrans which are apparently quite nice.
We stayed in Sapa Rooms.  I can highly recommend this hotel.  Even though we could not check in until 0900, when we arrived after the 45 minute bus trip from Lao Kai and they welcomed us with free breakfast and managed to give us one room to check in early.  Fabulous service.  The hot chocolate was also to die for! Cost...Around $50 for the night.

A massive fog rolled in just as we arrived.  It felt so amazing to be in the clouds.  At one stage you could barely see your hand in front of your face.  Temps were about low 20's.

We decided to check out the Sapa Market which is literally out the front door of the hotel.  You are immediately stuck by the minority people in their traditional dress.  Absolutely beautiful!

Selling fresh bamboo

Beautiful lunch at the Hill Station.

Trout farming is emerging in this area.  One of our lunch dishes was this amazing smoked trout that you dip in the lemon, mix with the greens then wrap in rice paper.  Divine! 

That afternoon we went on a short 3km walk organised through Sapa Rooms.  It was to the nearby village of Cat Cat.  Terraced rice fields...check! Cost with guide $12 each.

I can't tell you how much I love this pig!

and then he gave me the stink eye!

These beautiful kids are changing unfortunately.  Some tourists, for some ungodly reason, give them candy when they pass through.  It's really disappointing.   I guess they mean well but the consequences of this are many.  Poor dental hygiene and health as well as the "expectation" factor all make this a really really bad idea.

Meanwhile, back in town!

Time for bed....just a little bit excited about our 7 hour trek tomorrow!

We set off at about 0900 for our 16km walk.  We were prepared but not as prepared as this little guy!

After about an hour we came to our first village where everyone had gathered for a wake.  We were invited in to share some rice wine.

We were befriended, whether we liked it or not, for the next few hours of hiking by these three.  I knew we would be expected to buy some trinkets at the end but that was fine with me as I needed to get some small gifts for the kids anyway.

WOW....just WOW.

The old

And the new (ish)

We did this second full day tour with Sapa O Chau who are a fabulous local social organisation who are supporting local youth.  The cost for the full day tour was around $30.  We were exhausted by the end of the trek but were one again welcomed by Sapa Rooms even though we had checked out and they gave us a room to shower and change in.  How good is that!!  We then caught the 5.00pm bus back down to the train station where our train left at 7.30pm to arrive in Hanoi at 0430.  I was on a flight back to Saigon by 0900 and home by 1130.  Phew!  In summary, Sapa was amazing.  I am so glad I did it.  It is the Vietnam you see on the brochure in all of its glory.  There is of course more to the story.  There are the bald mountains where trees have been chopped down for housing and fuel, there is the desperate poverty and lack of opportunity for many of the ethnic minorities as well as a lot of work that needs to be done with regards to education and sanitisation.  It is not my place to comment on these things but it is good to be aware and perhaps choose a company that is doing its best to rectify what they can when deciding who you want to trek with.  Sapa, beautiful Sapa.....thank you.  And to my travelling buddies, I can't think of 2 more wonderful people to share this amazing experience with (except perhaps the snoring Chinese guy in our cabin, but then, he had no choice!)