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Sa Pa, Vietnam

We stopped in Hanoi for a few nights to organise the trip to Sapa (separate blog entry on Hanoi to follow as we have to return there). We were hoping to get the train to Sapa but were distraught to learn that it was fully booked. Pizza in hand, we trudged onto another sleeping bus. We awoke at about 330am with the bus stationary on a windy mountain road, looking out the window we could see several other vehicles also stopped. We got up and out and went to check out what the problem was. About 200 yards further up the road was a small truck on its side blocking the road – we knew we would be here a while.

The accident was miles from the nearest town, yet several entrepreneurs arrived on mopeds selling cold drinks and baguettes – only in Vietnam! At around 730 a crane turned up which we thought would move the truck out the way – wrong. From what we can gather the driver of the crashed truck did not have the funds to pay for the crane to move his truck out of the road. By this time there was quite a crowd and by bumping the truck from side to side, a large group of people managed to move the truck far enough for traffic to pass. This goes down as our record so far, it took 16.5 hours to get to Sapa.
Sapa is relatively high up so, similar to Dalat, much cooler. To be honest, the heat at our last 3 stops had become unbearable so it was really good to have cooler weather. The surrounding mountains are home to a number of ethnic hill tribes, particularly Bllack H’mong and Red Dzao each of whom have their own distinct traditional dress.
Once we were off the bus we headed for a caffeine fix and were immediately befriended by two Black H’mong ladies who were rather insistent we should buy something from them. They were actually really sweet, particularly the old lady who was seventy. They didn’t speak a huge amount of English but despite this, through their actions and gesticulations, they made us laugh. When we wouldn’t buy anything from them, the older lady wanted to make us pinky swear we would buy something later, we thought this was highly amusing!!.

It soon become apparent that the H’mong people have a tendency to latch onto and follow you around, this can be a little unnerving. I managed to teach one lady two new English words – stalker and blackmail – this after she followed us around for 30 minutes but promised she would leave us alone if we bought something.

Sapa was incredibly busy and we were both surprised at the sheer number of tourists. A couple of fellow travellers on our bus really struggled to find somewhere to stay. It was also the most expensive place we have come across in our travels in Vietnam, the extra money does not equal extra quality here as we were to learn from our hotel!
We did a day trek which took us through some truly stunning scenery, the terraced fields here are like nothing we’ve seen before, the sheer scale and beauty of it is jaw dropping. Although the weather wasn’t great, hopefully you will see what I mean from the photo’s.

The first part of the trek was fairly strenuous, up hill for about 2 hours, thankfully thereafter it levelled out for the rest of it. We had 3 guides for our trek, two Vietnamese guys and a black H’mong lady (Shu). As we neared the end of the trek, we passed Shu’s house and she invited us in. The accommodation was pretty basic with an open fire for cooking and although they had electric, there only had one light bulb. We were very grateful to her for showing us her home and we even met some of her family and neighbours.

Once again, the train was full for the return journey so after procuring a pizza, we headed onto the overnight bus that would take us back to Hanoi.

permalink written by  Tim and Em on July 19, 2010 from Sa Pa, Vietnam
from the travel blog: Round half the world!
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