Sapa, Vietnam

 

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A view from Sapa.

After a steep climb we got to Sapa sopping wet, freezing and on a motorbike short a few key pieces (more specifically, a back break). As much as I rave about this mode of traveling, there are days when I fantasize about throwing my bike off a cliff – this was one of those times. We’d spent the previous night in an all but abandoned hotel in the middle of nowhere. It resembled The Shining and was located in a town where we were hard pressed to find food that didn’t feature dog. The violent thunderstorm in the dead of night just added to the ambiance.

We checked into the ‘Honeymoon Hotel’ and were met by a hot shower, a flatscreen TV, a king-sized bed and a fluffy white dog, Poofball, that we adopted for the week. Jesse went out and got supplies (chips, pop, instant coffee and instant noodles) and we spent the next day and a half huddled under the covers watching movies on HBO Asia.

When we finally emerged we were ready for some ‘culture’ and ‘adventure.’ We hired a guide to take us to the top of Mount Fansipan, the highest peak in Indochina.  At 2000 metres above sea level we were already two-thirds of the way up (bonus!) and figured we could do it in one day. Most people do it in 2 or even 3 days, but we’re stupid and decided to do it in one. Clearly we didn’t think that one through.

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Our starting point. Mount Fansipan is actually behind these peaks shrouded in clouds!

After a breakfast of custard pies and instant coffee (I know, I know) we started the climb. And then it rained. The next 10 hours were a blur of pain, misery, nausea and regret.

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Our guide. He practically ran up the mountain, putting us to shame.
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Jesse on the path into the Bamboo forest.
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We made it! 3143 metres!
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Too cloudy to see a thing from the top though.

Vowing to never trek again, we tucked back into the Honeymoon Hotel for another two days of rest.

I had mixed feelings about Sapa. The scenery is extraordinary from the small town, but it’s an easy destination for tourists since the train station is only 30km away and many tour companies offer it as a package. The entire town has transformed around the tourism industry now and I can imagine it’s lost some of it’s charm in the last decade or so. The women and children from neighbouring villages come to sell their handmade textiles, jewellery and other hand-made products to the tourists. They are really friendly but very persistent that you buy from them which can get to be overwhelming. However when we talked to a few women we learned a lot about their lives and they were very generous in sharing information and letting us photograph their traditional clothes. They speak some of the best English we’ve encountered in Vietnam so communication came easy.

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During the hottest hours of the day, the kids cool off in the river.
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This little guy found a small bird and promptly put it in his shirt pocket after showing his friend.

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After 6 weeks in Vietnam we headed for Laos. Vietnam was the most foreign, frustrating, chaotic, interesting, beautiful and rewarding country I’ve been to yet. I wouldn’t be back in a heartbeat but feel that as time passes I’ll miss it and eventually will be drawn back.

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On a final note: Jesse’s lucky ear hair glistening in the sun…
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