Arriving at Lao Chai & Sapa

23 10 2009

Thursday 22/10/09

No time for proof reading yesterday’s entry. The van arrived while I was still typing so I pushed ‘Publish’, grabbed our cases and headed for our ride. We felt pretty self conscience on our way because everyone else seems to be leaving their gear in Hanoi and only bringing a back pack. Not us! I had had to buy a new bag as my old one fell apart and I got a ‘big one’ in anticipation of all Maree’s shopping. (She’ll deny it when she edits this in a minute.) So there we were being crammed into a minivan with a crowd of backpackers together with our huge suitcases as well as our daypacks. The way they had to slam the backdoors of the van to get them shut on our bags was a good test of their sturdiness.

Night TrainNight Train2Again we tasted the ‘tour’ style of travel being herded around with long waits between each part of the trip. It seems the sections of the journey are ‘contracted’ out so at each point you have to wait for another operator to take us onward. Each time the tickets have to be checked to make sure you are in the right group etc. etc. and added to this are entrepreneurs making independent offers of transport. As we got off the train at Lao Chai we refused taxi hawkers, the inevitable ‘xe om’ (motorbike taxi), and other offers as we had strict instructions on how to identify our tour transport to get us up the mountains to Sapa. We managed that part ok and followed our new guide through the crowds and tour groups to the minivan where we were jammed into a very full van with our luggage, in spite of the dark looks of our fellow travellers, and waited to leave. After a while with a couple of tour operators talking loudly and waiving lists they did a name check and found that between the station and the car park Maree and I had managed to mingle with another tour and get herded into the wrong van. So we unloaded ourselves and our baggage and were guided (closely) to another van where we reloaded to the dark looks of another load of backpackers and travellers before making the journey of  more than an hour to the Summit’ Hotel. Just goes to show how easy to become lost when you don’t know the voice of your shepherd.

Everywhere you look is steep here. The hotel is at the street level on the bottom side of the road so everything is ‘downstairs’ from the foyer. From our balcony we look out and are surrounded by mountain peaks (when the cloud lifts) including the highest peak in Vietnam at more than 10,000 feet, so it is pleasantly cool here.

Girl on left was our 'official' guide. She's 18!

Girl on left was our 'official' guide. She's 18!

After we arrived we were fed breakfast and sent on the next part of the ‘package tour’. Maree and I were assigned a young girl of one of the many minority ethnic groups from the area (Black Hmong). With a few other members of her village tagging along, we were led down a winding path to nearby Cat Cat village where we saw locals weaving, dyeing cloth and embroidering clothes and material.

Grinding corn

Grinding corn

We enjoyed the sight of rice terraces, spectacular scenery and a beautiful cascading water fall at the confluence of three fast flowing streams. After crossing a couple of suspension bridges the walk back followed a slightly gentler route (relatively speaking) up a narrow unmade road to our hotel. The walk, having put Maree’s ankle to the test, defeated us about half way and we gave in to the offer of an ‘xe om’ ride back. The bikes were unable to get out of second gear in places demonstrating the steepness of the track. The cost of such a ride must be negotiated at the beginning and the starting price usually ends up being about 60 -70% of that at the end of the haggling. In this case 60,000 dong for 2 bikes – about $3.60AUD.Hmong children

Back at the hotel we were finally able to book into our rooms and have a shower. The most welcome shower of our life! After a long day seeing the sights of Hanoi in very muggy heat, with no chance of even a wash before a 10 hour train ride in a very confined carriage (even if it was a ‘sleeper’), we had travelled by crowded vans, train and motor bike as well as a long walk so we felt so sticky and smelly it’s not worth thinking about.

sight from hotel

sight from hotel

Tonight will be a welcome sleep!




2 responses

23 10 2009

despite the difficulties you still look happy and enjoying the the experience mum

23 10 2009
Roger and Maree

Good to have some fan mail, it’s good to know you are enjoying it.
Roger & Maree

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