After two weeks of not so patient recovery following my motorbike accident, I could finally walk. No more gimp, no more bandages and no more outward displays of pity as I hobbled past en route to my next place of isolation. My scars were shiny and pink, but they didn’t stop my skin from stretching, my knee from bending or my foot from stepping. I could walk!
I waited for my knee and foot to swell, to render me again immobile, but they didn’t. My body had done it’s job. Now it was time to do mine.
What? Chasing summer by hop-skipping around Southeast Asia is totally a form of employment. I write about it here don’t I? These posts don’t publish themselves people!
Seeking new source material and a change in scenery, I booked onward passage to my next destination. This city girl was heading to the mountain town of Sapa!
Getting to Sapa
There are two ways to travel to Sapa from Hanoi. Prior to the opening of the new highway connecting Lao Cai (the city you must stop in en route to Sapa) to Hanoi, the only form of transportation up the mountain was via train. Now, you also have the option of taking a day or a night bus.
Prone to intense motion sickness when aboard any moving vehicle and ignoring the warning cries from my friend that swears by the day bus, I opted for the overnight sleeper train. The opportunity to pop a couple dramamine and snooze the entire trip while saving on one night’s accommodation is a no-brainer for me. I also prefer not to waste my day away trapped in a metal box. But to each his own. Or perhaps my preference for the overnight sleeper train is owed entirely to luck. After all, the train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai didn’t even have a door closing off the compartment and I slept like a baby!
Either way, my journey to Lao Cai proved another success. Thus, I continue to swear by the overnighters.
I had a very entertaining group of three friends in my compartment that, within minutes of boarding, had me doubled over in fits of laughter. The men were speaking to each other in Italian, the woman translating and addressing me in Spanish and I was some hybrid of both my native English and my adopted Spanish. We were quite the group.
If I wasn’t already convinced of my love affair for these three, their desire for lights out around eleven firmly placed them in the camp of best train buddies ever. Plus, there was a door separating us from the rest of the car so external noise wasn’t a problem at all. In short, I was out cold until a train member rapped on the compartment door the next morning and told us it was time to wake up.
Not knowing about the local bus at the time, I arranged to be taken by minibus to my hotel in Sapa at a cost of 50,000 dong. The drive was about an hour long and I was deposited on the doorsteps of my accommodation— still not a bad deal, just not as cheap as the 28,000 dong ticket that buys you a seat on a larger bus with less people. More on that later.
Admiring the landscape and reading by candlelight
Amidst the breathtaking natural landscape and the manicured rice terraces, I’m not ashamed to say I found myself completely enamored with Sapa within minutes of arriving. I gazed out my guest room window as rain poured lightly from the dark sky and fog cascaded slowly from the distant mountains. Heavy mist rolled through the valley floor and continued rising until it cloaked the still sleepy town.
I didn’t get up to much that day but with everything going on outside, I was quite content to oscillate between watching it all enfold and reading my new book. That was also the night we lost power for a few hours. The hotel, unlike any would have in the States, supplied its guests with candles and matches until the power could be restored. Instead of being perturbed at the inconvenience, I thought the solution quaint and rather romantic— I read by candlelight!
Trekking through mountains
I admit I was skeptical of the quality of my trek when I signed up. It began at 9:30 and was set to end at 2:30pm, hiking only 10 kilometers total. I had read about ones that covered far more ground and I felt if I was making the effort to venture out, I wanted to go big.
Our guide was fantastic and well paced to satisfy the mixed group of avid and not so avid hikers. This comment is in reference to the mother and daughter more appropriately dressed to attend “an ice cream social” (as my friend so aptly put it) than hike a muddy countryside.
My only regret was that I selected a one day trek rather than a two day trek. I would have loved to have seen more. And at $18 for the day (surely there would have been a discount on the two dayer), the price was certainly right!
Walking through Cat Cat Village
Though there are tours offered to take visitors through Cat Cat Village, I can’t imagine the value of such an expense. Aside from transport to the actual village, you guide yourself by strolling along the provided path.
Not needing to add any superfluous charges to this trip, I wandered from my hotel down the sloping hill to the base and town of Cat Cat Village. The entrance cost is 40,000 dong and though nearly the entire path is lined with handicraft vendors, I was glad of the walk. Much of the trail is stone steps, either ascending or descending, with a few delightful surprises along the way.
The perfect relaxing afternoon on my last day in Sapa.
Persistent street vendors aside, I’m really glad I ignored the nay sayers that labeled Sapa “too touristy” and not worthy of a visit. The trek was absolutely gorgeous, I met some great travelers and I had time to relax.
The view didn’t hurt either.