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Lao Cai, Vietnam

Sapa is one of the most popular destinations in Vietnam for a reason. The city is nestled in the northwest mountainside region. It's views of the largest mountains in Vietnam and its terraced rice patties that descend down the mountain make it a premier spot.
Getting here, we took an overnight train to Sapa on the friendly express. After our debacle of a train ride from Beijing to Zhengzhou, we now only travel in style. Soft sleepers all the way.... There is still a danger though. A soft sleeper holds 4 people so you never know who your going to get along the way. Luckily, a great couple that were English teachers in Japan landed in the cabin.
After a bumpy ride throughout the night, we arrived in Lao Cai, a sleepy border town connecting China and Vietnam. Here we were accosted by overeager van drivers wanting to overcharge us for the hour ride it would take to get to Sapa. If we had read our bible (Lonely Planet) we would have known that the cost of a ride was only 25,000. (just over a dollar) Luckily, a westerner helped us out by letting us get on a bus that was leaving just a few minutes later. After he told us about the real price we should be paying one of the hecklers shoved him violently in his shoulder. The ride from Lao Cai to Sapa was stunning. We could get a glimpse of the terraced rice fields coming down the mountain as the fog started to roll away.
Once we arrived we had to find accomodations. Of course we soon had people shoving cards advertising their hotels in our faces. We ducked into a hotel the lonely planet recommended. The place is called Mountain View Hotel for a reason. When fog hasn't enveloped the city you have a front row view of the breathtaking landscape.
After we rested for awhile, we ventured out and started to walk towards one of the villages. Scattered throughout the city are the indigenous Indian women and children, the H'mong people, hawking their goods. A nice thing to say about these children is that they are persistant. You can use your imagination for other words that would describe the children. We ran into what had to be the spunkiest tribal member selling her goods. Here is an excerpt of the exchange:

Indian: You buy from me?
Me: No thanks.
Indian: Why not?
Me: (Tries to avoid her)
Indian: Why not?
Me: I don't have any money.
Indian: If you have no money how you get to Vietnam? I'll take you to ATM, You think I'm stupid, Never forever we be friends. Liar liar pants on fire!!

We really admired her spunk but still didn't support her abrasive selling style.
After we had lunch we started towards one of the villages. Once we began to descend down the mountain the fog began to lift and we feasted our eyes on some stunning vistas. As far as the eye could see were mountains with terraced rice patties. In some of the rice patties water had flooded the areas which gave off beautiful reflections while glancing down.
I have to say that the tribal people were much more friendly as we passed down the mountains. Most didn't even ask us if we wanted to buy something. All of the female indians wore traditional indian garments. They are black with vibrant colors in a reocurring pattern. We're not sure if the reason that they wear these outfits is because of a desire to keep their traditions intact or if it's because of the tourism boom.
After a 5km walk down a mountain we opted to have a couple of the villagers drive us to town on the back of their motorbikes for just a little money.
Today we decided to get a motorbike to cover larger distances. It was so much fun driving throughout the countryside. We toured one of the traditional villages called Cat Cat. Water buffalo were walking all around us, along with boars and chickens everywhere. After the village, we retraced our steps and took the same path as yesterday determined to make it farther. Again, just as yesterday, once we descended, we started to get great views of the valley. Part of the road was a little treacherous but we managed to drive through the base of a small waterfall unscathed. I think we're going to stick around for another couple of days here before heading south. We love it here!

permalink written by  zachel on March 31, 2009 from Lao Cai, Vietnam
from the travel blog: Zack and Rachel's Asian Chronicles
tagged Sapa

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