Welcome to Sapa
Hello, What’s Your Name?
A three week adventure around Vietnam.
Do you ever have those moments when you’re travelling when you just stop and think “why the hell am I putting myself through this? Why am I squashed in a mini bus like a sardine? Why am I seeing my life flash before my eyes? Why did I catch a train for 12 hours and slept in a bed no bigger than a cot? Why did I not book a package holiday to Bali?” Well these were the particular thoughts that entered my mind as I was in a minivan overtaking on a blind corner, with a scary looking ravine on my left, a slow bus on my right, a big bloody truck coming towards me and a Michael Schumacher want-a-be driver upfront chatting on his phone, whilst doing something similar to what I might call driving. Niki and I were on our way from Lao Cai to the mountain retreat of Sapa in Northern Vietnam.
This particular incident was a the first of many and after about the tenth time, I was about ready to ask Shoooie to pull over so I could change my pants, luckily for all concerned we had just arrived into the perfectly back dropped Sapa. Nic and I had travelled all the way from Halong Bay the afternoon before, after a beautiful over night stay on a Junk we caught an overnight train from Hanoi to Lao Cai. We had travelled in the Fransipan express cabin and it was great. Complimentary fruit, nuts and water, a comfortable cabin and pleasant staff. The only downside was my top level bunk bed. I have travelled on many trains through out my adventures over the years, however the only way I could explain the level of rocking this bunk bed was experiencing is something similar to being strapped to a space shuttle on re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere. Similar to the thoughts astronauts might have about whether or not they were going to make it alive into earth, I was thinking whether or not I was going to break loose of the small chains holding my bed to the ceiling and launch myself through the carriage at the speed of light.
Arriving into Sapa is breathtaking and I’m not just talking about the high altitude. Set high up in the mountains, Sapa is perfectly nestled in-between a mountain range and everywhere you look there is a perfect photo moment. The architecture is distinctly, yet slightly out of place, French, with similarities to ski resorts in Europe. Sapa is also home to many ethnic groups including the Black Hmong, Red Dzao, Thai’s and the Flower Hmong. Dressed in their colourful hand woven clothing, draped with their local wares to sell, they pleasantly greet you and strike up a conservation whilst you walk to you hotel. The women were of all ages, with some carrying sleeping babies on their backs in slings, with others carrying large baskets of food and spices. The older ladies had the most amazing faces with hard lines etched into their skin to tell the story of the harshness of hard work and harsh environments.
we arrived, these friendly Hmong women took an instant liking to Niki, with five of these lovely ladies deciding to latch on to her and ask her the routine questions “Hello, What’s your name? Where are you from? Melbourne or Sydney? Are you married? How old are you? Do you have babies?” All this within two minutes of meeting us, they were just so charming that it was hard not to engage in conversation.
At one point I lost Niki as these women surrounded her and talked her ear off. She was loosing the battle; Niki was surrounded and stuck in the middle, unable to push past as the Hmong were just too damn nice that Niki could show no rudeness. From where I stood, it looked similar to a lamb stuck in the middle of a pack of wolfs about to be overcome. When Niki dropped to her knees, I knew it was time to stop laughing and go to the rescue of her. That’s what husbands do right? Grabbing her hand whilst she was circled, it felt like a cliff-hanger moment. You know that part in the movie where Stallone holds his wife’s hand, looks her in the eyes and then drops her into the ravine? Well I could see the same “please don’t let me go” and “stop laughing you bastard” look in my new wife’s eyes.
Rule No. 4 of being married – Dont laugh at your wife unless she’s laughing.
With these women following us all the way down the street, then back up the street after we realised we had missed the hotel, we were sure they were going to a find a way for us to part with our money, but they didn’t…or at least not then. They were just generally interested in practicing their English and having a chat. We were staying at the Pinocchio Hotel which has great staff and amazing views. The rooms were basic, clean and secure. The only slight downside was that if you’re a light sleeper, the traffic in the morning (namely the horns) can be a bit of problem due to the closeness of the road. Sapa had already captured my imagination and I’d only been here for two hours, the next four days was only going to seal it as one of the most amazing places in the world.