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Mud and Mists of Sapa!

View Doyle and Dan's Adventure on doyledan's travel map.

We'd organised a 4 night and 3 day trip to Sapa from our hostel in Hanoi, aptly named Hanoi Hostel, and were looking forward to getting out of the hectic city and see the rice paddies and a slower way of life in the north.

Our adventure began with our first ever sleeper bus! Which is the most random transport we have been on yet. It was crazy being stacked in three rows of double decked reclining seats in a bus complete with multicoloured lighting effect too. It was like being in some kind of spaceship transporter thing that you would see on a sci-if programme.


It was not long though before the novelty wore off as we soon realised there was no toilet and very little space even for me and I'm not exactly tall! The prospect of 12 hours on here seemed a bit daunting but we buckled up and hoped for the best. Fortunately there was a loo stop after a couple of hours and the Vietnamese music videos kept us entertained, which later turned into ridiculously violent martial arts movies not exactly the kind of thing to help send you to sleep. Once you got to sleep though it didn't last for long as the bus went up steeper and more bendy roads so it took all your concentration just to stay in your seat!

Day 1...

We arrived in Sapa at about 6am tired and disorientated as you could hardly see anything due to all the mist. We were staying at the Sapa Summit Hotel and were guided through the mist to the hotel already clad in our waterproofs due to all the moisture in the air. It is advertised as having the best views but all we could see was this...


But the mist and dew made it really pretty


As our rooms weren't yet ready we had breakfast before setting off with our group and our local guide Sun for a morning trek to Cat Cat village and some waterfalls. Sun is a tiny lady and brightened up our day not only with her smile but her multicoloured coloured umbrella, which was sometimes the only way we could spot her in the mist!


As we walked along we noticed that there were spiderwebs everywhere which oddly made the trees look like they were covered in snow and reminded us that the festive season is coming up soon...an eerie Christmas in Sapa!


Sun pointed out to us how the people used the water coming down the mountains to help them crush the rice that they grew in the paddy fields. The water runs down bamboo pipes and when the end pipe fills up with water it drops to the next level, lifting up the back end and dropping back down to pummel to the grains in the trough beneath. Genius use of water power!


It was hard to make out the rice paddy fields due to the mist but it all added to the atmosphere.


We stopped to look in one of the H'mong houses at Cat Cat village, it was really dark inside but you could see where they cook over an open fire and store food in the relatively open plan living space. In the darkness you could also make out a television in the corner and so they do have mod cons too. The Cat Cat area seems to be very set up for tourists and is pitched as a way to preserve their culture so it is unclear how true the aspects of life we saw are to how they live today when the tourists are not around. Sun told us that the main form of income is still from agriculture but they also make textiles and we were shown where they dye the material and how they weave and sew the fabric into clothes etc...


We made our way through the village and much to Suns amusement would stop at every pig, duck, chicken and puppy to take pictures.

I want to take this one home!


At the bottom of the village we crossed a suspension bridge to some spectacular waterfalls, sampled some of the local grub, checked out the local crafts and again found some puppies to play with.


But as everyone knows when trekking if you go down you have to go up again so we built up an appetite for lunch heading back up the hills to the hotel through the paddy fields and some close encounters with water buffalo.

We had a free afternoon to explore Sapa but it had got even more misty so you couldn't see where you were heading too, even if there were meant to be views or interesting buildings to see we couldn't, so when we stumbled across the well named Misty bar with its warm fire it seemed only right to pass the time in there playing pool, cards and chatting over beers.


Day 2....

Fully rested after a night in the hotel we set off for our 12km trek to our homestay. It was a very different experience from the day before as within minutes we were surrounded by local women and girls who were going to escort us along the way.


They were all smiley and enjoyed talking to us although you ended up having the same conversation with each of them as they had learnt to ask your name, say it was beautiful, ask if you had brothers or sisters and boyfriend or girlfriend, and could tell you the same about themselves. Some seemed to think Dan was a catch for a future husband :) many were way younger than me with kids already so I think they thought we should hurry up! In their village I would be a spinster as they marry young at around 13!

We each got given a gift of a horse/cow made out of grass although some of us got more elaborate gifts than others!


With the mists clearing we were finally able to see the amazing views that Sapa has to offer of the Muong Hoa Valley.


The paths we went through got narrower, steeper and muddier and in true Sarah style I of course slipped over not once, twice but about four times in the same spot which is embarrassing when you are pulled up by an 11 year old who makes trekking in this terrain look so easy. At a well deserved and needed rest stop Dan got out the frisbee and little did we know how much this frisbee was going to shape our evening at the home stay later.


Now covered in mud a helping hand was never far away even if not really needed and they giggled each time my footing went a bit and I made the all too British woopsey daisy type noises!

It became clear that the group of women who were with us would not be joining us for the rest of our trek as we reached Ylinhho village for lunch as suddenly we were bombarded with cries of "you buy from me, you buy from me" whilst having different bags, bracelets etc that seemed to have materialised out of nowhere shoved in our direction. It was a bit overwhelming as we dived into the lunch area to get some peace. This was different from 'stopping in the village for lunch to see local lifestyle' than I had interpreted from tour info we had been given. The women were from the Black H'mong tribe and this village was their home so they would not be coming with us to the next village.

We continued on through the village after lunch with a couple of hangers on intent of making a sale. It was quite jovial though and we enjoyed the banter.


We moved into the next village which is Lao Chai and bigger than the last with 4000 people living here and a large school in the village. As we went by the children were out in the playground and we watched as the older ones played football and the younger ones did some kind of dance exercise which was cute to watch. They only go to school in the morning as the boys are needed to help on the land and the girls are needed to help sell and keep the house in the afternoon. As we went through the village we saw racks of incense sticks drying and more farm animals before following Sun further up the paths to our homestay at the Ta Van village.


Again this was different to how I had imagined and instead of the group being split to stay with individual families in the village to help make dinner and be shown their way of life in more detail we were brought to a large two storey building complete with TV, computer, wifi & pool table and joined two other groups.


Although this was not what I expected we ended up having a great time. The family that also stayed at the homestay (again I am not clear if this would be their home without the tourists) were really friendly and the food was great.


They had a little boy who took and instant liking to Dan once he brought out his magic folding frisbee. It made the kid go a bit mental with excitement and the funny thing was that he would only let Dan or one of the other guys fold it up to put it back in its bag for him to pop it put again. Then he was taught to throw it and all hell broke loose as it rebounded off everything and everyone to his delight. Wild screams, giggles, jumping on beds and people followed until it all got a bit much and he accidentally hit his own head on the floor! It was definitely his bed time!


Not for us though as Sun and the other guide pulled up chairs and lined up the shot glasses! The local H'mong whiskey was their shot of choice and we all gave it a go....lets just say it has a unique after taste and the rest of the shots were only done out of politeness but after the third one almost made a reappearance I had to say no. It probably would have been ok if they gave you time to recover but they wanted to do them back to back!


Day 3....

Pancakes for breakfast were a welcome sight and it is safe to say we were all feeling affects from the night before, although the fun memories were worth it. The groups split up again and we started off on the final part of our trip in Sapa a morning trek to our lunch point before the bus back to the hotel. We had a new group of local women today who instantly clocked my muddy trousers from yesterday and knew I was one to watch on the slippery paths and if it wasn't for their help I would have been caked head to toe in mud that's for sure! Particularly as when I was left to my own devices I fell over in the waterfall!


At one point in the trek there was a bit of a commotion ahead as a giant centipede walked across the path. You know not to touch something if the locals keep a wide berth, they can be quite aggressive and have a painful bite. Apparently this is also the only type of centipede that has ever been attributed to a human death when one bit a 7 year old girl on the head and she died 29 hours later (so the Internet tells me).


We were not disappointed with the views today as the cloud filled the valley


But the best view was saved for last when we got back to the hotel, with the mist gone the colours of Sapa came to life and the Summit hotel lived up to its name


Huge thanks to Peter, John, Coral, Mandy, Sam and Alan for making Sapa and our homestay so much fun. Safe travels xxx


Posted by doyledan 08:40 Archived in Vietnam

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