Friday, September 30, 2011

Sapa trekking, spa, crazy roads and drowning in Hanoi

We left the hotel early on Sunday morning – oh alright then it wasn’t that early! It was about 9.30 and we were given a lift on two mopeds to the tour office to start the 2 day trek. We met our companions – a nice couple from The Netherlands and our guide 'Man', who would take us on the trek, before setting out. We weren’t surprised to see other groups doing pretty much the same thing with their guides and being followed, as we were, by local women, in their tribal dress, chatting to us on the way and trying to sell us trinkets and clothing. The trek was pretty good – great views down the valley, a lovely warm, but not too warm day and a pretty easy route, with the odd slippy path and Buffalo to negotiate past.Plus we saw a real life cock fight. broken up when a local woman kicked one of the cocks!!
 Lunch was in a nice little café by the side of the river and then we continued along, reaching our home-stay by about 3pm and then having a wander around the village Ta Van, checking out the river and getting another good few pictures.

The local tribeswomen at the start of the trek

Crossing a dodgy path

Local kids

Our homestay

Good dinner!

We returned to our home-stay at 5pm for dinner and spent the next 3 hours chatting drinking beers, eating some really great Vietnamese food and or course, trying out the rice wine. I said I had had my last one about 5 times before I eventually finished drinking it after 7 shots. Buffy was a little worse for wear and the Dutch couple went to bed early, leaving us sat outside reading a book and finishing my beer.

Trying out the rice grinder


Rice wine

Buffy passing a water you do

At the waterfall

Our view

The home-stay was really good – a typical local house, with a hole in the floor of the kitchen where they set a fire and cook. Upstairs is the loft, where there were about 6 mattresses on the floor with home made quilts and a mosquito net each – It was really comfortable and I slept really well, as did everyone.

We were up again at 8am and after a breakfast of pancakes and honey, we did the last 6 or 7 km of the trek. It was a bit harder going than yesterday with deep mud in places and lots of Buffalo 'chocolate', to avoid. We eventually found ourselves atop a high waterfall, where we cooled down by either dipping heads into the cold water or soaking hats if we wore them. Then we cleaned the mud of our shoes and made our way down the valley and up the opposite side to another tribes village, where we sat and had lunch, whilst waiting for transport. The bus turned up and took us back to Sapa, stopping just once when the driver put the nose of the bus under a waterfall, beside the road, to give the bus a quick wash!

Back in town, we showered and changed before going back into town, putting in laundry and having a quiet fruit juice as the sun went down over the valley. Back at the hotel we saw 'Zoom', as he and his blokes unloaded some small, comfortable looking sofas from a truck. We joked that the sofa should be in our room and were pleasantly surprised 30 minutes later with a knock at the door and in came Zoom and the sofa, which now sits next to the bed. This really is a cool hotel!

Dinner was in a quiet restaurant in town and then it was a well earned sleep.
Tuesday was the laziest day in a while. I didn’t get out of bed till just after noon and only ventured as far into town as the nearest restaurant where after a chicken sandwich for lunch, I went back to the hotel and spent the afternoon doing very little. It isn’t that there’s nothing to do, but that its been raining on and off all day and the mist that hangs around almost permanently has dropped down to ground level, meaning there is nothing to look at, except for an ever changing view over the valley as the patchy mist meanders across the hills. One minute it is actually coming into the room through the open windows and you can see nothing. The next minute there’s a spooky feel as it drifts away and you can see maybe 100 metres across the hill to the next patch. Its really cool!


Really? This way up?

Doing our impression of koreans


Messing about 

We did pop out for dinner and were surprised, when after eating we came outside and the misty clouds had lifted leaving it clear at ground level, but still very cloudy a short distance above. It was getting late though and so we headed back to the hotel and saw that the locals had paved the big hole outside the hotel during the evening -I suppose it was a quiet night in town.

The next morning we decided on a day out. We first climbed Ham Rong – a steep hill next to town, with a small lookout on top. We were told it would take between 45 minutes and an hour to get to the top and so when after 20 minutes we were close to the summit, we were pleasantly surprised – Unfortunately, the signs weren’t very good and as we followed a sign saying 'GO UP', it actually ended up with us missing the top and heading back down to one of the flower gardens. We turned back though and still made the summit easily in under 40 minutes. We spent a while there taking pictures and Buffy had a strange time, when one local woman started to stare at her and get closer and closer, until she was just a couple of feet away from her, staring intently at her. Weird!

We went back don into town and then hired two mopeds from Zoom at the hotel and rode out of town to see the Silver and the Love Waterfalls. They are both spectacular – Silver waterfall being over 50 metres high and great to view from the road, whilst Love Waterfall is beautiful, in a secluded little canyon and a good walk from the road – It was almost the perfect waterfall, with the canyon walls, deep pool and high water cascading down.

Love waterfall

me on me bike


Sapa lake

View from the bar

Steam box

Herbal bath

Our last stop of the day was about 2 kilometres up the road, where Vietnams highest piece of road looks down on a stunning valley below and a brilliant bit of road, winding it way towards the Chinese border – we were told it was the best view in Vietnam and we weren’t disappointed -our photos do not do it justice. Its called Heavens Gate and you can see why!!

At Heavens gate

Me doing a Rooney

Back in the hotel after our day out, we were surprised by a knock on the door and even more so, when it turned out to be Zoom and his assistant Doan, who gave us a bottle of local wine to enjoy. What a brilliant hotel.

Our last day in Sapa was spent mellowing out – but even more so than before. We spent nearly 2 hours at a spa, recommended by Zoom, where we had a while sitting in a steam box, with just heads poking out while the ginger flavoured steam made us sweat profusely. Then it was a traditional Red Dzouw herbal bath, which smelled like berries and was lovely in a deep wooden pine bath. Finally, we had a Vietnamese massage, where we were pummelled and punched, by two Vietnamese women. It was really good and we both felt a lot cleaner and relaxed afterwards -It cost us about £7 for the lot! We had dinner and then said our goodbyes to Zoom at the hotel and then Doan a he dropped us off at the bus in town on the back of his motorbike. I arrived after Buffy, who already had made friends with the locals and had a few of them queuing to play her guitar. It was a great stay in Sapa and one of the best hotels and experiences we have had in Vietnam. I wish we would have stayed longer, but the stay was perfect. We are now travelling on the overnight bus to back to Hanoi.

The bus journey was OK – the only thing to note was when about midnight, we got stuck between a truck and the side of the road – In the end after a bit of toing and froing, the truck and us danced together down the road until we were far enoughapart to pass – it was fun though as at one point, the truck was literally touchiug our side window.

On arrival in Hanoi, it was raining – hard. We were dropped off at the bus station, which resembled a mud bath and grabbed a taxi to our hotel in town. We arrived at 6am and were told that to book in early would cost us $15. Bollocks to that!! We decided to wait till later to book in and left the hotel, leaving our bags there and taking two umbrellas to keep dry. Hanoi is weird at this time of day- its really quiet in places that are jam packed during the day – although I suppose the rain didn’t help. We decided to walk down to the river and see the famous old Iron Bridge and we were really glad we did. We ended up way out of the tourist zone, passing peoples front doors as they packed their good to take out to sell, brushed their teeth and in one doorway we saw two ladies chatting as one shoved a duck into what looked like a mincing machine. She turned a handle and the duck squirmed and twisted around as it got mashed. The ducks in the basket just a foot or so away didn’t look too happy!

Messing withe the local sapa dudes!

Man carrying tree

Thats how close the truck was

On the sleeper bus

Cool bridge!

Working in the photo

Deserted Hanoi at 6am!

After our little adventure we had breakfast in a nice little café and then went back to the hotel where we were allowed in our room at 8am. Then we caught up on our lost sleep!

A real life cock fight!"!

In the herbal baths!!

Stuck with a truck....

Riding the mopeds down from Heavens gate...

More pics and videos are on you tube and picasa!!!

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