Oct 25, 2006 – Sapa

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Oh, Beautiful Mountainous Sapa!!

After the beauty of Halong Bay, with dread we made our way back to the city of Hanoi.

Back at our guesthouse, we found out that if we wanted we could catch a 9:30pm overnight train to Sapa. Hmmm, what to do???? Catch one more night’s sleep in Hanoi or get out and sleep on the train and make our way to a place we were pretty sure we would like a bit more.

After a family discussion and a quick shower and a repacking of our bags we made our way to the train station and then nestled into the soft sleeper rooms that the train provided for us. Tor and I bunked out with a couple for Malaysia and Ger slept with a Vietnamese family who were from England.

Tor loved the train sleep and Ger and I, well, it was okay. The white sheets were kinda of grey and it was a bit odd sleeping and being in very close quarters with complete strangers, but hey, this is the travelling lifestyle, so whose complaining, eh? At least we were able to stretch out and there was a relatively soft foamy to do this on.

By 6:00am we were in Lao Cai, and then we hopped on a mini bus to Sapa.

We were all pooped from our travels and grabbed the first room that was offered to us when we arrived.

Sapa is absolutely beautiful!!! The mountains, the deep valleys, the terraced rice paddies and the morning fog and mist are stunning. The weather was most definitely cooler and more like our fall and we were happy to be wearing shorts and T-shirts during the day and long sleeves and pants in the evening.

Here in Sapa we had the opportunity to go trekking on our own, without booking a tour. Yippee! This seems to be almost an impossible thing to do in Southeast Asia. In Sapa there was rough map of some hiking trails that we were able to purchase and so we spent two wonderful days trapsing through the mountains and valleys, over rivers and across terraced rice paddies, meeting the local village people and watching them work the fields and live their lives in little mountain huts.

The ethnic people that farm the land and live way out in the mountains are poor and they have to work hard to make a living.

Outside our guest house we had a group of about 6 or 7 young girls ranging in age from 7 to 22, who would carry a variety of local hand made crafts on their bodies and would walk around town trying to sell tourists something, anything. Amazingly these girls had a fairly good command of the English language and although at first we found them rather bothersome, I eventually fell in love with them.

Get this… in their culture, the girls usually get married (usually arranged) when they are 15 or 16 and by the time that they are 19, they often have two or three kids. These girls hung out on the streets for most of the day and I could not find out from them why they were not in school, other than to be told that they had finished schooling.

The interesting struggle for these young women, is that due to tourism and the western influence, they are fully aware that there are other opportunities in life and so they are caught between their cultural norms and moving to a more westernized lifestyle.

They were very charming, witty, bright young women and I couldn’t help but wish for them that they will be presented with further educational opportunities so that they may have a better future.

One of our main reasons to come to Sapa was to be able to climb Fansipan, the highest peak in Vietnam at 3143 metres. Since we didn’t have a lot of the necessary gear we booked a guide to take us up the mountain. We were joined by Marcel and Alexandra, a wonderful couple from Switzerland. We all got along famously and had the time of our lives hiking through rain forest, bamboo groves, up rocky paths and finally to the top of the mountain. Once again our hike was made relatively easy as we had three porters, who carried the food, cookware and camping equipment. We spent one night at 2900 metres and since they only brought two tents, Ger, Tor and I squeezed into a two person tent, yes, that’s true, three of us in a two person tent. It was cozy, very cozy, needless to say.

Since it was dark at 6:30pm, and a bit chilly we all went to bed early. 12 hours in a two person tent with with two big guys. Lucky me!!!!!

The next morning we peaked the top at about 8:30am and spent 1/2 hour enjoying being at the top of the mountain. Since we were so high and there is a lot of fog and mist in the area, we were ever so lucky to have about 5 minutes of sunshine peer through the clouds and let us have a quick glimpse at the surrounding beauty. It was Magical!!!!

We hiked all the way down that day and ended up back at our guest house ready for a good, restful sleep in a normal bed!

After one more day of hanging out in Sapa we hopped on the day train, ready to get out of the mountains and make our way to the coast, the beach and Central Vietnam.