Feb 26,27 Sapa
A taxi brought me to the Train Station at 7:00 for the night train to Lao Cai. A bit nicer than the soft sleeper from Ho Chi Minh. I had a full complement of sleeping companions and after some fussing around everyone was in bed. The American girl and her Spanish boyfriend slept together on the narrow bunk, rather than up down. It must be nice to be so young, supple and in love. The narrow bunks are just wide enough for me. Perhaps with a tiny Viet bt these two were full sized caucasians. I was on my way north to near the Chinese border to a small mountain village called Sapa. It is famous for its hill people, its rice paddies and for the trekking possibilities.
The train got in at about 5:30 a.m. and I followed some other back-packers across the square where fifteen minutes put us on a public bus to Sapa. It was still dark but I could tell we started climbing seriously so I turned on my altimeter. We climbed 1200 m over the next hour into moderate rain and cold 3C temperature. I had a room reservation, but once out of the bus I was so cold I just found the nearest café that was open and advertising a fireplace. This became the trend for the rest of the day.
My room, which I did not get into until 1:30, had only a small space heater for a large three bed room. While in the room the only way I could get warm was to crawl under the comforter. I scurried around in between rain showers to see the town but spent a lot of the time in coffee shops, none of which were very warm. The town is hung on the side of the mountain and seemed to have grown too fast for the infrastructure.
The hill tribes in the region, I think possibly Red and Black Muong among others, are noticeable in the dress of the women. They are a very small people, I think the women may average 5 ft tall or so. Walking around town they are constant companions selling their goods or trying to get you to go trekking with them. It certainly bothers me to see these people hawking goods like this, particularly when they enlist their often very young children to help. Signs around encourage you not to buy from any of the street seller but to use the kiosks instead. This doesn’t seem to discourage the practice.
My big disappointments are the very cold weather while I was here and my bad leg with precluded any notion that I had that I may be able to go on a good walk. There are stairs everywhere as the town tumbles down the slopes. After a while I found that I could walk up the stairs but that I would follow the streets the long way around, rather than hobbling down the stairs. My second day the rain had stopped and the sun came out a bit which made all the difference. I did walk to the next town which took me painfully down a fairly steep road. I went with the idea that I could always get a motor bike ride back but the walk up the hill felt good. I took most of my pictures on this walk.
It is too early for the rice paddies to show much; they haven’t even planted rice yet. Near HCMC they have already have had one harvest. I went with the idea of staying two nights, but that idea went out the window when I found that I couldn’t really walk very well. I took a mini-bus back down to Lao Cai late in the day so that I could see things as it was dark when I came up. It takes a good hour to do the 40 km as the road is very steep and windy as it plunges down through the rough terrain interspersed with rice paddies. It would make a wonderful bike ride, down not up.
The train back was another overnighter depositing me for my final two days in Hanoi.