The overnight train to Sapa was fairly decent. For $24 you had a tiny room with 4 beds, in which Jamie and I shared with another pair of travelers. To ensure I slept on this ride, I purchased some Valium that is very easy to get over the counter at any pharmacy.
We arrived in Lao Cai(close to the Chinese border) around 0530 A.M. and caught a mini bus to Sapa for 30,000 dong. There were guys trying to rip the tired tourists off for trying to sell them a spot in their minivan to Sapa for $100-200,000 dong, but I told them to take a hike and go hustle someone else. The 1.5 hour ride to Sapa was very scenic and beautiful, regardless of the haze and clouds. We were planning on staying at the Mountain View Hotel because of their great reviews online and views of the valley, but the mini bus stopped at a hotel a little north Sapa center and offered to wait while anyone wanted to check out the rooms here. Jamie and I decided to check out a room for the heck of it, and ended up really liking it. It had a balcony, great view(when the clouds cleared) and had a bath tub. All this for $10! We were sold on the room and grabbed our bags out of the van to check in.
After showering and changing, we set off on hiking up to the tv radio tower for a not so great view since the sun wasn’t burning off the clouds or haze yet. We walked back into town, had fresh spring rolls for lunch and walked 3 km down to Cat Cat village. We followed a small trail off the regular path to a nice flowing stream where we stripped down to our skivvies and took a dip in the cold and refreshing water. We then spent a few more hours of hiking then ended back up in Sapa town. This Northwestern town in the mountains had more accommodations, restaurants and stores than I expected, and more are being built as we speak. Great little town though with beautiful mountains and surroundings. Sapa is home to various hill tribes who buy, sell and trade in town. A very colorful group in the streets here to say the least!
To get the most out of the area, Jamie and I booked a 2 day trek through Mountain View Hotel. This trek was chosen because it was one of the more difficult ones, with plenty of strenuous hiking and stopping through various ethnic minority villages.
The first day of the hike we met up with our Guide, Nam, at the hotel and drove about 15 kilometers down the road to Ta Van village, where we were to start off at. The beginning of the hike was great and what I expected. Walking through and over green rice terraced paddies, through bamboo forests, and a few villages. There were two Black Hmong women that followed us most of the way till we stopped at a waterfall, then it became apparent as to why they were following and walking with us. They pulled out plenty of handi crafts , pillow cases, etc…. Jamie bought a couple of things, but I was happy just chewing on my sugar cane that my guide bought us at one of the villages.
For lunch we stopped in a Red Dao village where we were welcomed into a family home for some sticky rice with beans and pork in the center wrapped up tight in leaves and some rice wine. The red Dao women have a red hat, cloth type on their heads and shave their eyebrows. During the hike we ran into some construction workers who were more than willing to have us come on over to hang out and smoke tobacco with them during their break. They were very friendly guys with warm smiles and laughs. Jamie even tried smoking and got quite a head rush from it. At the end of our 1st day we ended up in Ban Den village in the Ban Ho community, and were introduced to one of our hosts, Ming. Ming looked like he was 13 or 14 years old, but turns out he was 26 years old and married with a 4 year old son. He lived with his mother and father, grandparents, and uncle lived next door. Pretty big house that consisted of 4 generations of family. Dinner ended up being a pretty big event, in which numerous friends and family came over. The men ate in the living room and the women in the kitchen. For the first time in our homestays, we were initially included on the meal and ate everything that was on the table. A variety of great dishes that consisted of pork, beef, veggies, and pork intestines. For drinks there was rice wine, in which you took in shot glasses and everyone ended up toasting to everyone at least 3 times! Yes this is the happy drink!! Probably one of the best meals we have had and best dinner experiences with a family on this trip. After dinner we walked into the big community/tourist friendly village and watched a show of traditional dancing. Karaoke is really big here in Vietnam, so Ming and Nam walked us over to a karaoke bar where were sang our hearts out to Lionel Ritchie, Whitney Housten, Cat Stevens, The Eagles, and so on while drinking plenty of beer. Ming and Nam also sang plenty of Vietnamese songs, along with a group of 17 other people and tourists in the village. At the bar we also ran into some of the construction workers from earlier in the day. When 1130pm rolled around, our guide Nam reminded us that we had to get up earlier to start off with another hard day of hiking, so we stumbled back to Ming’s house and crashed.
Waking up the next morning I did have a bit of a hang over. We said our thank you and good byes to Ming’s family. Ming chose to go on the hike with Nam, Jamie and myself today, so I was looking forward to that, regardless of him not speaking any English. He was a very fun little guy to be around. We hiked our asses off! About another 9 miles through more villages, up and down steep mountains, and had a pit stop at a really nice water fall that was part of the national park there.
I caught a bad stomach bug(it had to be those damned pig intestines I tell ya!) early in the morning on the 28th, which ruined plans to rent a motorbike and cruise the areas we didn't get to see the past 2 days. Just spent the day taking it easy and walking around town and buying a few of the goods at the markets. Took a mini van to Lao Cao and a night train back down to Hanoi.