Clouds and Rocks galore!
08.03.2006 23 °C
Like being woken from an afternoon nap by puppies licking your toes, Sapa greeted us with that warm fuzzy feeling that can only come from sunshine and beautiful scenery especially after 3 weeks in the busy and loud city of Hanoi.
We took an overnight train from Hanoi to Lao Cai, a town about 35 km from Sapa and 5km from the Chinese border. The train bounced around a bit, but was pretty comfortable (as long as you don't mind peeing in a hole on a moving machine). We were able to sleep some in our soft sleeper cabin, which was a huge advantage compared to the overnight bus rides we've taken.
Our 4-bunk cabin
From Lao Cai we hopped a ride to Sapa, which took about an hour as we were heading uphill the whole way on super curvy roads. I managed to score the passenger seat, Amber was not so lucky and was a couple of rows back with no view of the road to speak of. Luckily for her, and everyone else in the van, John, Paul, Ringo, & George sang to her from the i-pod and no chunks flew. Most of the drive was overcast and misty, but suddenly we broke through the clouds near Sapa and we were smacked in the face with blue skies and bright sunshine.
Our guidebook gave one of those "travelers secret" tips to visit Sapa during the week as the town is empty and prices are way cheaper. Our experience with those great tips usually goes something like this...
Lonely Planet: Coome's Coffee Shop is a terrific place to have a fine cup of joe where the prices are disgustingly inexpensive, great jazz is played, and the friendly staff is always there to top your cup off.
Then, you go there and find a packed coffee shop with high prices, lousy service, and Britney Spears blaring.
So when we got out of the van in Sapa Monday morning and noticed very few westerners and tons of hotel owners offering big hotel discounts, we were delightfully surprised. Don't ask me why tourists stay away on the weekdays, but they seemed to. Sapa is how a mountain town should be, with just the right number of places to grab a coffee or a beer, not an absorbent amount of tacky souvenir shops, and a good mix of mountain bikes and pickup trucks occasionally making their way along the small streets.
The saleswomen of Sapa.
We settled on a nice room above the town with a panoramic view of the valley and mountains and a fireplace for all of 10 USD
Our room is the one sporting the towel on the balcony.
Morning cloud cover over the valley south of Sapa.
Mount Fansipan in the distant, the highest peak in Vietnam.
Figuring that it was a gorgeous day and we couldn’t spend all our time looking off our balcony, we headed out to a village about 13 km from town. The slow downward walk through the open valley to Ta Phin village was spectacular. Along the way we passed several small "homesteads" with the Mom & Pop working in the fields and the children playing around the house. The rice fields are currently between seasons, but the views were still amazing.
Recently cultivated rice terraces.
A friendly water buffalo.
The different tribes in this region dress in varying traditional clothes. It sounds a bit Disney, but it didn't feel like a tourist attraction, as men and women far from the tourist areas worked in the colorful handmade clothes without attempting to sell anything to us, unlike the villagers who travel the town of Sapa, who surround you trying to sell all kinds of textiles.
Amber showing the kids how to operate a camera, but with a subject like me it's a breeze...
About the coolest kid in Sapa.
Once in the village of Ta Phin, we wandered around a bit, then were invited into a home of a Xao tribal woman, where we got a no-pressure viewing of some blankets, bags, etc, that she has embroidered.
After walking for most of the morning/afternoon, we opted for a motorbike back to Sapa where we relaxed in a nice café with a hot chocolate. Later that evening, we watched the fog roll back into the valley like a slow-moving body of water. It was breathtaking!
Better than TV!
Pleased with our navigation abilities and quite sick of being told where to go, how long you have, and when to come back; we decided to venture out on a more ambitious trek the following day. We bought what later turned out to be a horrible map of the area (no operator error, of course) and headed down into the valley south of Sapa, with a few villages to see along the way and a 3 pm pick up by our trusty moto-driver, Lum.
The scenery was amazing and even more spectacular was that we saw virtually no westerners, and for several hours of the hike, I can safely say we saw none. So, long story short, we ended up way west of where we intended to go, although on wonderful trails through terracing rice paddies and small villages where we got puzzling smiles from the locals and a few encouraging jesters helping us snake through the village.
An amazing trail that we had all to ourselves.
This little guy whizzed passed us on his bamboo stilts.
Beautiful scenery and the mountains and rice terraces ain't too bad either.
Yes, we're bringing her home with us.
Our internal compasses got aligned and we made it back to the main trail and managed to cross paths with a couple of guided tours. We were excited to get a local to tell us (in English) exactly where we were, but were quite disappointed when he told us that we were a 10-hour walk from where we were supposed to be in less than 3-hours. This seemed ridiculous, an even though we knew the map was bad, there was no way it was that far off. So, we continued on assuming we were correct and the local guide wrong, we "stayed the course" and made it to meet Lum 15-minutes early.
Our last day in Sapa we decided to hit the road on our own, and we rented a scooter. Our destination was Tram Ton Pass, elevation 6,200 feet and the highest mountain pass in Vietnam. It is a place where two climates collide, the cool, wet east (towards Sapa) and hot, dry west. We made our way to the west ascending in elevation while the temperature continually decreased. But once we made it to the top of the pass, we were smacked with warm breezes coming towards us from the valley below.
The road into the warm valley west of Sapa.
Thank you for all the comments and Justin will keep the stach a bit longer as it seems to be getting warm receptions.
Anyone know a good spot to watch the SEC final in Laos??