We got the soft sleeper to Lau Cai, the best you can get unfortunately we weren't aware that the class varys drastically depending on the age of the train and we were on the oldest most decrepid one, we shared a carriage with an English girl and a very smelly pissed up Belgium not the most restful night we've ever had. From Lau Cai it's a 90 minute minibus ride to Sa
Sa Pa is beautiful... in the pictures. We haven't actually seen it as it's been shrouded in fog since we arrived - oh well you can't go on a year long trip and get optimum weather everywhere you go.
When we arrived, early Thursday morning, after an overnight train journey from Hanoi, we couldn't see more than 50 metres. The town is 1600m above sea level and January is the middle of winter here too. We expected the cold (sometimes 0 degrees at night) but the fog is unreal. We're told that the views from our hotel (The Mountain View Hotel !) are spectacular but we've had to buy some postcards to see it! Still it's no colder than we're used to, in fact it's very familiar.
Undeterred by the weather, and much to the surprise of the hotel owners, we went on a two day trek to the top of
Mt. Fansipan (the highest point in all of Indochina at 3124m).
We left, with our guide and porter, on Saturday morning completely shrouded by the fog and dressed in full waterproofs. Our porter, Hang, from the local Black Hmong tribe wore just thin cotton clothes and plastic sandals!
We walked for a couple of hours, through thick forest wet from the fog, until we gained a couple of hundred metres and got above it,coming out of the trees into glorious sunshine. We had a lunch of bread and cheese, prepared by Hang, in a clearing by a stream minus the waterproofs and enjoyed the sun for the first time in days. After lunch we continued up the trail for 2 more hours to our camp for the night stopping on the way to take some pictures of the mountains and the fog below, swirling around the valleys.
Our camp for the night was 2200m high and had little going for it. The little bamboo hut we slept in was filthy and because the fog had closed in again everthing was damp. The sleeping bags provided were mouldy and the toilet was as bad as any Tony saw in Africa! Still, our guide and porter cooked a surprisingly good meal of pork and rice with lemongrass, ginger and garlic and we, hesitantly, went to bed early. Thankfully, after initial shivering, we got a few hours of broken sleep and were only too happy to make an early start the next morning.
The second day of the trek was a strenuous climb to the summit followed by a long walk back to the park HQ where we started from. From the camp the trail went steeply up through the trees and we were soon scrambling,hands and feet, to get up the path. We had to climb over huge rocks, pulling ourselves up on tree roots and sometimes prefixed ropes to get over the obstacles. After 4 and a half, unrelenting, hours of this we reached the summit completely exhausted and drained of spirit. The fog was thick and being blown into our faces by high winds so we took a few quick photos to prove we made it and decended 100m to a sheltered ledge for some much needed lunch.
After some food and a short rest we began the long descent, climbing down steep, slippery rocks and tree roots. Because of the wet conditions going down was as slow as going up and our enthusiasm ebbed away with the remainder of our energy. We finally made it down, with aching feet and sore muscles,5 and a half hours later completing a gruelling 10 hour trek.
After returning to the hotel we said farewell to our guide and porter and headed straight for the shower. We dropped off all our filthy clothes and mudcaked boots at the laundry and went out for a well earned steak. After a couple of beers for Tony and a couple of glasses of red wine for Tiff we felt human again. To say we slept well that night has never been such an understatement!