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The Traveling Lotus

Stunning Sapa

VIETNAM | Tuesday, 8 October 2013 | Views [517]


On Monday morning, we woke up to a knock on the door of our train cabin about 5am or so. We gathered our bags and got off at the Lao Cai station where we had a driver pick us up for the drive to Sapa town; about 45 minutes to an hour. The scenery on the mountain drive was beautiful, but I was fighting so hard to keep my eyes open, it being so early. The van stopped at a hotel in town to drop off some other guests, and a large crowd of local Hmong women crowded around the van door, all chattering at the same time in their own language. I am sure they were trying to convince the people getting off the bus to hire one of them as a guide for the treks. It was quite entertaining for us as they sounded just like the minions from Despicable Me. Hmong women will forever be associated with minions for me after this experience!

We got dropped off last at a guesthouse where we left our bags. We went to the rooftop cafe breakfast, where we had a stunning view of the valley. We then packed our day bags as we were going to be doing an overnight in a local village, and didn't want to carry our big packs. Then we met Zao, our local guide, and started on the trek towards Y Linh Ho. Immediately, 3 Hmong women latched on to our group, one with a traditional basket on her back, another with her baby strapped to her back, and the last an elderly lady. Soon, we were sweating from the heat, but it was worth it as we had perfect blue skies and a clear view of the valley; especially lucky considering Sapa is known for its fogginess.

Each of the Hmong women used local flora to fashion fun little bouquets for us. I unfortunately lost mine before getting a picture of it. We realized later that these little "gifts" were a way of "marking" us. The elderly lady gave me her "gift", then proceeded to help me along some of the more slippery parts of the trek. Looking back, it was quite funny that an older woman walking in plastic slippers was helping me, a fairly fit 29 year old in good runners. In all honesty, I felt her to be a hindrance more than a help because I prefer to find my own footing, but it was all a part of the experience.

Regardless, the views were utterly stunning, and I couldn't help grinning like a fool throughout the experience of it. I am a mountain girl, so being in mountains always puts me in a good mood, but Sapa's sheer beauty made it that much more amazing!

When we stopped for lunch at Lao Chai, before we could even sit down, our kind "helpers" moved in for the kill, pushing their wares on us, something that persisted (unfortunately) through the remainder of our visit in Sapa. They wouldn't leave us alone, and I finally bought a cheap bracelet for Alison and I because I did want to recognize they trekked a few hours with us. After that, these 3 particular women that did the morning part of the trek with us disappeared. However, as soon as we sat down for lunch, some girls came to our table and chanted over and over "Buy from us. Very cheap price for you, 3 for 50,000 dong." (About $2.50.) My response was "no, go to school instead" and one girl was apparently trained to say "school in morning" which I doubt was a true statement. The girls would not leave, and they kept chanting the same thing over and over, so we finally had to get a waitress to make them leave. We also had to wait awhile for our food, but luckily it was very good.

After lunch, we hit the trail again and made our way to Ta Van village, where our homestay was located. On the way, we stopped to pick up Zao's young son from school, and he walked with us to Zao's mother's house, a very primitive shack you would picture in Africa. We left Zao's son with his grandma and continued on. Jackie decided to purchase some candy, and passed it out to all the children we saw on the way. Oh, the smiles! Jackie really brightened a lot of kids' day! We also saw so many babies. Baby humans, puppies, cows, ducklings, etc. It was like spring seeing so much youth!

We made it to the homestay where the hostess, Dahm, prepared some Vietnamese tea for us. She also made us some delicious garlic French fries. We then walked down to the river. I stepped in a huge puddle of mud only wearing flip-flops, so it was slow going for me. Alison and Jackie had already made it to the freezing cold water and got in, but as the sun had almost set, I contented myself with just soaking my feet. We headed back to the homestay for dinner, which unfortunately I had little appetite for as I was still feeling the after-effects of Ha Long Bay. I felt so bad not eating more food, but I just couldn't do it.

Then, Dahm has us take a couple shots of the local rice wine. Ugh. It reminded me of soju, which wouldn't have been so bad if I hadn't been recovering from seasickness still. However, we did get to practice our Vietnamese toast: "Mot! Hai! Ba! Yo! Hai! Ba! Yo! Hai! Ba! Hwong!" Dahm's English was extremely basic: she knew about as much English as we know Vietnamese, so dinner was a little awkward. Luckily, she was focused on the TV which was playing a Mandarin drama, but dubbed in Vietnamese. What was entertaining is there was only one lady doing the dubbing, so when a man was talking on the show, you'd just hear a lady's voice.

Anyways, we were exhausted after an overnight train, trekking all day, and still recovering from Ha Long, so we showered, crawled up to the loft, set up the mosquito nets, and passed out on the mats on the floor by 8pm, and didn't get up until 8am the next day. We had delicious banana crepes for breakfast before Zao picked us up to start the second day of our trek.

We had a lot of uphill paths, so it was a bit slow going, especially because we kept running into groups of other trekkers on the path. Zao then gave us a choice of walking through more rice paddies or going through a bamboo forest. We opted for the bamboo forest because we figured it would be good to do something a little different, and also have some shade on the way. It was difficult though, as the main path was deep mud. We had to keep grabbing the bamboo trees as grips while we gingerly tried to avoid falling into the mud. By this point, a couple of younger local girls, maybe 8 and 10, had joined us, hoping to do the same thing as the ladies had done the day before. However, when it was made clear we weren't going to buy anything at the end of the trek, they disappeared.

After the bamboo forest, we arrived at a beautiful waterfall where we relaxed for a long break, taking pictures, and admiring the view of the valley. After our break, we hiked down to the valley, crossed a river, and started hiking up the other side to get to our lunch destination. By then, the sun was beating down, so it was hard getting up the last steep incline to lunch, but we made it. After lunch, we each got onto the back of a motorbike for a drive back to Sapa town.

Once back in town, we decided to explore after saying our good-byes to Zao, whom seemed very tired. The local Hmong women walking around town trying to sell their wares were extremely pushy, and unfortunately ruined the town for me a bit. Once we got off the main drag and to the small lake, it was a little more peaceful. Sapa town itself was lovely, and reminded me of any mountain town in the Rockies. We had dinner and headed back to catch the minibus back to the train station. We got on the train, and ironically the 4th berth in our cabin was the same man who was in our cabin on the way to Sapa. He was a local tour guide, so he was a very good roommate as he didn't bother us and had the train's routine down. After trekking so hard for 2 days, I quickly fell asleep, despite the fact the train was rockin 'n' rolling all night.

Tags: hmong, mountains, overnight train, sapa, trekking, vietnam


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