Day 16 (31 Dec 2009): NYE in the hills [Sapa]

For your convenience, please refer to The Journey for the itinerary and the latest updates.

Weather: Clear in the morning but misty from afternoon onwards

Distance covered today: 328km
Distance traveled from Guangzhou: 1,529km
Distance remaining to Singapore: 3,575km

I woke up bleary-eyed when my train (SP1, dep Hanoi 21:15) pulled into Lao Cai Station (KM 1495) at 5.30am. Mr Manh asked me whether I wanted to follow them and his offer was eagerly accepted. We were whisked to a minivan for Sapa (30,000 VND) which lies around an hour away.

Reaching Sapa (KM 1529), Mr Manh made me another offer which I couldn’t refuse: I would share a room with him and his wife for the night. The room had two beds and I got my own. Mr Manh also asked me whether I wanted to follow them on a tour to the surrounding villages. I had to decline their kind offer as I wanted to catch some more shut-eye and most probably I would not understand the Vietnamese-speaking guide.

Sleeping in the cold weather was nice but my hunger woke me up. I was out into the town on mid-morning in search for some food and a little sightseeing.

The street to where I stayed

The trees gave the place an European feel

School

School's out

Some sculpture

I was pretty lucky to enjoy good weather in my only day in Sapa.

Town square (with mountains in the background)

Stalls catered to the tourists at the town square

Sapa is touristy. I think that the town exists almost solely for the purpose of tourism. Most of the shops there are one way or another related to the industry. Tourists most probably outnumbered the locals when I was there. As described in guidebooks, there were many ethnic minority women (I think most are Hmongs) dressing in their traditional costumes and went around the town selling trinkets to tourists. I was accosted as well and I somehow managed to reject their offers politely.

The famous Sapa Market

After lunch, I consulted the guide uploaded to my iPod. Obviously most visitors to Sapa would at least do some trekking and the easiest one was to Cat Cat village, 3km downhill from Sapa town square.

Seen along the way to Cat Cat Village

Terraces

Doesn't feel like Vietnam at all

Cat Cat Village

Pregnant sow

It cost 20,000 VND to enter Cat Cat Village. Judging from the footpaths laid for the tourists, the money were being spent in the right area.

Footpath will lead down to a waterfall

Cat Cat Village close-up

Water buffalo

Clearly it wasn't the planting season

Some of the my co-users on the footpath:

Puppy

Rooster

Puppy

One would need to cross this bridge to reach the waterfall

Waterfall finally

The waterfall was kinda underwhelming but I didn’t expect much in the first place. Instead of taking the route which I came from, I followed the trail which led me to the other exit of the village.

Harsh light for photography

It was a uphill walk back to Sapa town and I decided to reward myself with some desserts.

Instant gratification

What do I like about touristy places? It has to be the presence of WiFi. There were many unsecured connections around the town which I could tap on for free.

Fog desceded onto Sapa by mid-afternoon

I sorted out my transportation to Dien Bien Phu (US$12 or 216,000 VND) at one of the numerous travel agencies before taking a rest back at the guesthouse.

I ventured out in the evening again for dinner.

Full moon

Yet another humble dinner

Neon-lit church

After dinner I went to a cafe to take advantage of the WiFi. I would go back early (around 9 pm) because I had quite a long day and there would be another one coming up the following day. How exciting for NYE.

Fog was really bad by then.

Could hardly see beyond 5m

I chatted with Mr Manh when I got back to the guesthouse. It was really interesting hearing about his story. He is 72 years old and used to study in San Antonio, Texas. Prior to the fall of the South Vietnamese government, he worked in the navy and had to became a driver after liberation of Saigon. He has a son who left Vietnam on a boat in 1980 and lives in United States now.

Reading or watching movies on history was one thing but talking to real people who been through those times was another experience. Meeting interesting people is what makes traveling amazing, isn’t it?

Mr & Mrs Manh with me

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