South East Asia December 2012 – January 2013
28.12.2012 - 30.12.2012
Friday, 28th December
A good 10 hours later, at the inhumane hour of 5 in the morning, we arrived at Ló Caí station. Because we ordered a tour, there was no frantic looking for transport or places to stay: we got picked up by a mini-bus, driven to our hotel in Sapa, a good hour or so away, were given a breakfast voucher and the keys to our room. It was all very easy, which suited us just fine. The temperature difference was noticeable with Hanoi: Sapa was by far much colder. And despite the fact that the locals were huddled up in several layers, the air-conditioning was still blaring through all buildings and no heaters were seen. It seemed absurd. And cruel. I thanked my lucky stars that I bought some extra clothes the previous day – my body has become too acclimatised to the heat in Darwin (read: I have become such a wimp!).
After a hearty breakfast, we were awaited by our guide Dao for our first walk of the trip. Today, a day-trip through the local nearby villages was scheduled. It was a small walk that lasted approximately 5 hours and we had a really good time. We went through H'Mong villages where arts and crafts were sold. It gave a wonderful insight to the their life-styles, which have barely been touched by globalisation and modernisation.
We then walked on to a stunning waterfall, attended a traditional dance show and basically enjoyed the stunning rice-fields that surrounded us. We ended the walk with a lovely lunch before heading back to the hotel.
In the afternoon, we visited the markets in Sapa. Because most visitors come here to do walks and hikes, the town is a mecca for buying cheap hiking gear. We both waterproof jackets, Ben bought himself some hiking boots and trousers, etc. The materials get bought at local prices from the big factory in Hanoi, so we got the best quality at the best price. We were really chuffed!
Saturday, 29th December
After a night of shivers, another day in beautiful Sapa took place. This time, we were going to do a two day hike with local H'Mong guide Sô. We were really lucky, Sô was great and we were grouped with some great people, who we got along with really well. There was a Dutch couple: Brenda and Roland, soon-to-be-wed Canadian-Australian couple Tegan and Ryan and Kazu, a Japanese guy. That evening, we would all be staying in a home-stay and we had a long journey to go.
Our guide Sô
The scenery was gorgeous, but what had the biggest impact was the local H'Mong people who walked with us.
There was a group of women with a few children and all of them were beautifully clothed in traditional gear, kind-hearted and so interesting and rewarding to be around. We did realise that they were hoping to sell us some of their handcrafted goods at the end of the walk, but we cherished their company and decided to deal with the business-side of things afterwards. We were tourists after all and meeting them was definitely worth spending a few dollars on. Ben and I had our own to “chaperones”, as I called them. One woman was called Penh, the other one was called Son. If we lagged behind, they would wait for us. If we struggled through the muddy country-tracks, they lent us a hand, they were never far away. And every now and then, they would create things with twigs, teach us a few words in their local language and show us around.
We arrived at our home-stay in the late afternoon and were free to roam around for a few hours until dinner would be served. Every couple did their own thing and Ben and I decided to go for a little walk. As we walked past the sleepy little village, we came across a massage parlour and thought now was as good a time as ever to get our first ever massage. I mean, the Vietnamese were renowned for their good massages, right? We went back to the hotel, got changed into something a little cleaner and asked Tegan to join us. She was going to have a relaxing bath, whilst we were having our massages. We were welcomed with a cleansing tea and a bowl of grated, sun-baked ginger slices. They were surprisingly delicious. And then, we each got taken into separate massage rooms. Thankfully, the beds were equipped with electric blankets, so we did not freeze to death.
The massage involved “cupping”, which was a real South East Asian thing. If we had done some proper research on it beforehand, we would have never gone for it, but we were gullible. The massage itself was great, but the cupping was nothing more than torture and we were left with giant circular bruises for the following five days!!
Sunday, 30th December
We woke up around 9am and were served a massive plate of delicious pancakes. Yusss! We then all got ready and left the host-family at 10am, ready for the last part of our hike. The temperatures had dropped considerably since the previous day, and it was misty and rainy, with no sun to warm us up this time around. We therefore all decided to opt for the “easier” version of the walk back, which lead us to a small place with a waterfall where we would be stopping for lunch. We were told you could climb the waterfall, but no one seemed as keen to go for the extra trek, so Ben and I went alone, chaperoned by a gorgeous nine year old H'Mong girl named Se. It was a very slippery climb up and if it weren't for Se, the little mountain goat, I would have most certainly taken a few tumbles.
We were told later that day that moments after climbing the waterfall, the temperatures dropped below zero and the water had frozen over. In a way it made me feel a lot better for my constant whinging and moaning about the horrid cold.
After a short walk, a bus took us back to the hotel where we were able to have a (cold) shower and change into warmer clothes. We took a last stroll along the markets and then waited for our bus back to Lo Cai station where we would be receiving our final meal of the day before heading back on the sleeper train to Hanoi. No need for apprehension this time, we were both very much looking forward to the warmth and comfort of our bunks!!