Bit of a squash! So we boarded our 'locals'
train expecting squalor and were happily surprised with what we found. Although the beds were obviously made for an Asian person, as Nick's head and feet touched the walls!
We got a decent night sleep and arrived at Lao Cai (the nearest train station to Sapa) where we were swamped by mini bus drivers fighting over the tourists. It was another example of fill the bus to the brim and then shoe horn in a few more!!! The drive to Sapa started off a bit foggy but as we got higher it cleared to show some of the breath taking views which were awaiting us!
Sapa is a tiny town that sits in the middle of the Hoang Lien Mountain Range, the highest in Vietnam. As you look up your eyes focus on the nearest mountain, then you look behind it and find that behind each huge mountain is another, and then another until there barely any sky left! The morning mist gradually rises up and disappears throughout the day revealing these stunning mountains.
The tribes from around the area all congregate in Sapa's market, each dressed in their traditional clothes. It makes the market place extremely colourful and you can see who is part of which tribe. We spent our first day simply walking round the town and the market, then around the lake and the main square.
In the evening our hotel manager requested one of us go to the police station with her to "check in" as we didn't have passports because they were at the Chinese embassy in Hanoi. I had visions of Nick having to bribe himself out of jail and sent him down there with every other form of ID we had, plenty of money, plus the number for the British embassy!! In the end it turned that it was just the tourist police and that every hotelier in the area had to take the passports of every guest down and register them! Good job I'm not paranoid!!
The next day, as we had only one day, we decided the best way to see the sights of Sapa was to hire a motorbike. It was a semi-automatic which took Nick a bit of time to get used to as you had to use a foot pedal as well, although there was no clutch. or 'crutch' as the lady kept saying! I insisted on us both wearing helmets, but Nick couldn't see the pedals with his on so refused. I however kept mine on practically the whole day, only just about taking it off for lunch!! It was an enormous helmet too, so that whenever Nick moved his head when we were driving, he bashed it on my helmet! And it was just impossible to have a quick cuddle with the thing on!
We headed south of Sapa first, towards Su Pan. It is definitely the best way to take in the amazing scenery. You feel so free with the wind in your hair (Nick especially!!). The road wound its way down the valley, taking us through lots of little H'Mong tribes where all the little kids yelled 'hello' and waved. The mountains just looked so incredible rising up either side of you, and looking down into the valley you see all the paddy fields with terraces for the crops, which look like contour lines on a map.
There was barely any traffic apart from the odd motorbike and we had the road to ourselves. At some points the waterfalls were overflowing onto the road and we had to make a few wet crossings!
Next we headed west out of town to Cat Cat Village where we paid a café owner to guard the bike with his life while we walked down into the village. There was a lovely waterfall at the bottom of a very steep path, as well as more gorgeous children playing in the river and waving. It was also interesting to see how the villagers used the water for power. For instance they had all these contraptions that ground corn, using huge buckets with a grinders on the end. As the water poured in and filled it up, the grinder lifted and when the water got too heavy it would empty and go down again, bashing the corn.
After lunch we drove north to the Thac Bac waterfall. We'd been warned that the road was a bit bumpy, but we weren't quite ready for the off-roading dirt track that it was! Nick did well though, weaving in and out of cranes and road works, over boulders and in ditches! Most of the locals seemed to find the presence of us inexperienced motorbike riders wobbling through their towns! We both had pretty sore bums after the 12kms it took to get to the falls! Luckily it was pretty impressive, although we didn't bother to walk up to the top and just admired it from below.
Finally our bike adventure took us east out of the town towards Loa Cai where we'd arrived on the train. We didn't actually get too far down this road as it was starting to get dark and we had our overnight train to catch, but it did give us more fantastic views of the mountains.
Once the bike was safely delivered back to the rental place, we celebrated a great day with sausage and mash and a beer in the Sapa 'Red Dragon'!
That evening we got the overnight train back to Hanoi. We spent one very lazy day back in Hanoi before getting the morning bus into China. We're quite sad to leave Vietnam as we've loved all of it, and I'm a little nervous of how easy everything will be in China, i.e. travelling, ordering food, getting around when we don't understand a single symbol! Still, it will be all part of the adventure!!.