Sapa

An overnight train from Hanoi to Lao Cai followed by a minibus took us to the town of Sapa, in the very north of Vietnam and famous for its mountains covered in rice terraces.

The train had been pleasant, efficient and comfortable enough to get a few hours sleep in. When we arrived we were deposited in a hotel and told to have breakfast there, which we did, we then hang around waiting for our guide who would lead us and the other members of the group on a couple of days trekking through the hills.

After a small eternity, we got going and although nobody had specifically made it clear we were part of this group, we (correctly) assumed we were. We walked through town and up into the hills where we soon realised the spectacular views that we’d come for were hidden behind thick cloud. Yet again the weather in the hills was against us!

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This cloud didn’t move for the rest of the day, so we did our walk able to see just enough to make us sure it was beautiful, but not enough to see across the valleys. Regardless, the walking was nice although slow given our group had ended up fairly large.

We were joined for the afternoon by some locals who ‘helped’ some of the group for the more awkward bits of walking and at the end of the day wanted to sell us some of their goods. This wasn’t too bad, but a few of them were children who should have been at school so we didn’t want to encourage this and refused to buy anything. It was a weekend so we were told it was OK and that they wouldn’t be there tomorrow when school was back on.

We walked past a few of the rice terraces which had been harvested a couple of weeks before and could tell they would be stunning in the full scale, but couldn’t see it at all. We did have a couple of good stops, including a look inside one of the local houses, as well as many of pointless stops which were clearly meant for the view, which for us was pure white.

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Along the way we learned how the locals make clothing and the plants they use to dye it indigo, that they all had an occasional marijuana plant “for clothing” and got to see a whole array of wildlife.

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In the evening we stayed in a homestay in the hills, which was comfortable and had plenty of food. The owners were insane though and insisted on us all drinking plenty of happy water (watered down home brew rice wine). For some reason I ended up being labelled at various times by the owner as ladyboy, lazy banana and lazyman. It was all very bizarre but in good humour! Their pet puppy also got himself into trouble by chewing up various shoes overnight, including Claire’s which meant I finally convinced her to buy a new pair that actually had some grip, yay!

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The following day was much the same, with still limited views, lots of looking around the local area including a couple of well attended schools, and a nice walk through the area. One of the local dogs decided to join us for the day, but was scared of bridges so some people decided to carry him over as he started whining when we walked across. We also came across a woman making Happy Water which was interesting to see.

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We finished our walk with lunch and a drive back to the town where our bus was waiting for us and duly took us back to Hanoi in time for a late dinner and bed. I’d like to go back to Sapa at some point but would try and do it without a group and in early September when the rice is due to be harvested and the weather should be a bit better!

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