There were too many things I've been carrying round in my bag that I was starting to think weren't ever going to be used.
Sapa has changed that. The weather the day we arrived was proper cold, the hat, gloves and thermal vest all had their first run out.
After the cold and rain the following day was all sun. We took a short trek through some villages and decided it was time to do something challenging. Knowing that Kate had climbed Fansipan mountain helped swing things, it had to be the big one. We signed up for the three day trek, Tom wanted to go for the two day option but I didn't think I met the criteria of being experienced and physically fit (it wasn't much more than a week earlier I could hardly walk five minutes down the street in Luang Prabang without needing half an hour rest and shade to recover).
We set off the following morning with Li and Sho, guide and porter from a local Hmong
village. All pretty much uphill on day one, camping in a clearing 2800 metres up where they've kindly now built a hut, unless its really busy tents aren't needed. Combining the food and cooking with another group, Li and Sho cooked up a feast. The night was ridiculously cold and I lay awake freezing and uncomfortable for the most part of it, in all my clothes, including both pairs of socks. For some reason we were the only people sleeping directly onto bamboo when everyone else had mats. I was grumpy until breakfast.
The second day was an early start to reach the top while the weather was at its clearest. The last stretch was the trickiest terrain but we'd had a great breakfast and were feeling strong, arriving by about 10:30 where we were rewarded with views in most directions, not towards Sapa though but you can't have it all. Then it was back to the campsite for lunch followed by an afternoon of walking downhill. This is where I struggled, my weak tubigriped knees keeping me slow as I sought, with limited success, to avoid the pain I've caused myself on other hikes in the past.
We actually made it to the second nights campsite by mid afternoon and in hindsight could have finished in two days, but I didn't mind dragging it out, it was paid for after all and we could be sure there was more good food coming. This time Li refused to cook with the Vietnamese guides (the previous evenings food had suffered as a result we were told), so we were treated to a purely Hmong meal. Delicious too.
The third day was just a few hours walking back to the start where we were picked up by jeep and returned to Sapa. We spent the afternoon in the english (or welsh perhaps?) Red Dragon pub celebrating our acheivement with their excellent versions of fish & chips and sausage & mash, along with a few sips of the local beers.
Sapa isn't actually the first place we went to, but as we went to Hanoi before and after that entry will follow.
A short word about Vinh, the city we arrived in from Laos - pants. You hear stories about the extra hostility and money grabbing that comes with Vietnam travel but still try to approach with an open mind. Having been dumped half way off one overcrowded minibus (which we'd been led to believe would take us all the way to Vinh) onto another, the predictable attempt to charge us again followed. Once in Vinh we dropped into the bus station to check on times and costs of buses to Hanoi, only to be stopped by a policeman and directed to his mates who we were told had the only (extortionate) bus to Hanoi that evening. It's the kind of bullshit that can give you a bad impression of a place. We caught the train instead.
I still haven't used the mosquito net.