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Hanoi/HLB/Sapa – Part II

Packed our bags to leave for the night on the Sleeper train to Sapa! The bunks were smaller than expected and we ended up being forced to make friends with a couple from UK/Thailand. They were a laugh; we talking late into the night and barely slept on the bumpy train for more than 5 hours before they started blasting Viet music to inform us of our arrival to Lao Cai.
Day 5 (20 Apr 2017, Thursday) Sapa
Was met outside the train station by our guide and driven to Sapa town, straight to our hotel. After freshening up, we had a buffet breakfast with an amazing view!

Our trekking plan by Trekking Sapa
We paid about USD 395 (SGD 554) for the following itinerary, including the sleeper train, accomodation at Bamboo Sapa Hotel and all the meals over the tour period.

First day route: Ta Phin village and Ma Tra village
Second day route: Golden Stream Valley, Lao Chai village and Ta Van village

We changed the plans so we did the second day’s route first as it promised better views and according to the weather forecast, it was sunny that day and storming the next.
Thus started our first trek! 
It was a tougher trek than expected. Even though the weather was clear, it rained the previous night and some paths were still slippery. I was crawling along like a snail because, check out the steep dirt paths we were taking! Note, it’s like climbing down a cliff. 

Beautiful rice terraces and the life-endangering paths we took
We were stepping on shaky rocks and muddy puddles. Half the time I was just concentrating on my next step to absorb the gorgeous view.

Some tips: tighten your shoelaces, sling your camera sideways to gain some balance, don’t be afraid to get dirty! Hold on to plants/ rocks, you can bring some wet wipes to clean the mud off your fingers.

Our guide, Dzung, was practically strolling along in the front like she was in a garden, while Ks and I were trying to balance for our lives, it’s really quite funny.
She told us about the three common tribes in Sapa – Black H’mong, Red Dao and Dzie.

She is a H’mong, is married and has a little three year old daughter. The description of her daughter reminds us too much of Jy; stubborn, loves dressing up, talks too much and very affectionate. 🙂
Then came two H’mong tribe women to join us. I’ve read so much about how she shouldn’t talk to them, how they only want to sell us stuff. So I politely smiled and kept my mouth shut. But they started holding my hands along the steep dirt paths and guided my way along the stream, even waking ahead so they could direct my footsteps.

With the two H’mong ladies

Honestly, without them, my trek would be even slower, and more dangerous.
On and on we went, for three hours until we reached Lao Chai for lunch.
There, the two women displayed the goods from their baskets for us to buy. We really didn’t want anything but were thankful for their help so we simply tipped them. They wouldn’t have preferred if we bought the goods but were satisfied nonetheless and went off home. 
It was mainly flat roads after lunch and when we arrived at Ta Van village, Dzung explained that lots of Vietnamese visit Sapa over weekends on holiday. They hate the sun, so they would take a transport directly to Ta Van, wear the tribal costumes, pose for a couple of pictures and go back to rest in their hotel.
From Ta Van, we took a car back to Sapa town to check in. After a rest, we went exploring the town and stopped for some drinks.
Fansipan Terrace Cafe

Another guide took us to our dinner location – Indigo restaurant
And we had the loveliest sleep that night.

Day 6 (21 Apr 2017, Friday) Sapa
Breakfast at our own hotel this time which is rather inferior to the day’s before.

Also, there was construction going on at 6am. Good thing we were already up by then.
We had some time to spare before our trek and headed to another cafe for one last drip coffee!
Checked out of the hotel and started on Day 2’s route. The paths were way easier than the first day and much flatter.Mandatory jump shot!
It threatened to rain the whole day but didn’t! The storm only came when we were done and resting at the tour’s office. How blessed we are!

Children of minorities

Dzung says they are often left to play alone while their parents get on with their chores. 
But they are never lost and hardly in major accidents. We saw them climbing on motorbikes, playing with bricks and weaving in the rocks.
“Once they fall, they’ll learn”, she said. “Protection can only do so much.”
We told her how different our upbringing is and perhaps impossible for our children to play like that.
We also talked about marriage and she said it’s common for girls in her tribe to get kidnapped if a guy is interested in marrying her. HUH?!!

So apparently the guy will plan with his group of friends and kidnap his prospective wife in broad daylight in the marketplace (Nowadays, on a motorbike). If the girl is willing, both families would come together to make arrangements.
Otherwise, she would be returned to her family and offer rice wine to her kidnappers as an apology.
We told Dzung kidnapping has a death sentence in Singapore. -_-

Starving after all the talk and walk!

We went into one of the houses for Homestay and got to try some home-brewed rice wine. And wow, it’s strong! Dzung says well brewed wine is strong and takes effect quickly but doesn’t give you a hangover the next day.

We also saw a smoked pig’s head hanging at the fire place since the beginning of the year. They’ll keep it the entire year till winter when food is scarce and eat it then. Smoked bacon, anyone?

Water buffalos are expensive and useful animals to the farmers. During winter, the farmers cook food and put blankets on them to keep them warm. However, the past two winters have been merciless and several buffalos died from the cold. 
Cafe in the clouds after trek
We also got some tarts from the local bakery. They tasted horrible, so don’t bother.
Showered at the tour’s office and proceeded to Lao Cai for dinner.

Scampi in Sapa honey sauce

Sleeper train for the night! This time we bunked with a French couple, but we were all pretty beat and had a early night. 
Day 7 (22 Apr 2017, Saturday) Hanoi
We reached Hanoi at 4.30am and headed back to Oriental hotel where we kept our luggages. Plenty of taxi drivers will pounce on you once you leave the station.

Only take green Mai Linh taxis; they are a large Taxi company and drivers are willing to go by meter. If they try to cheat by taking a longer route, you can always complain to the company.

Bun Rieu Cua for breakfast
This is noodles in tomato, seafood broth that’s spicy and sour, a bit like Tom Yam. I believe this caused my stomach upset, because it’s not the best food to have in your tummy at 5am in the morning. Having said that, it’s still very much worth a try!

We explored another cafe again – Cafe Nang. This place has quite possibly the most affordable beverages on offer, out of all the cafes we’ve been to.
Egg coffee AGAIN! Yes, we cannot get enough haha. VND 35,000 (SGD 2.14)

Wanting to grab every last opportunity to have a massage, we made our way to Omamonri Spa. It’s rather out of the way; we took a taxi there before going to the airport, and you have to find it. Instructions can be found here.

This spa is jointly incorporated by Blind-link, a NFP organization. So their masseurs are blind (maybe not completely), and we were happy that’s it’s for a good cause as well.
Honestly, one of the best massages for me. Firm strokes and targeted spots were smoothen out; they also applied acupressure, prefect after all that trekking. Ks preferred his massages from Spas Hanoi but this wasn’t too far from it.

13 cups of coffee
7 massages
3 Bahn Mis
3 bowls of Pho
3 Bun Bo Nam Bo
4 bottles of beers
6 new friends later,
We leave Vietnam very much refreshed and rejuvenated. Prior to this trip, I was pretty bogged down by work stress and wasn’t sleeping too well. The experience really made me re-value what is important in my life. Gratitude and contentment – Giving thanks for everything in all circumstances. How blessed I am to be born in Singapore, with a loving family.. I have enough. 🙂
Marriage time is always important to us, but it’s really difficult to spare precious quality time for each other. A good week made us appreciated one another more and I’m proud to say we’ve had no fights! (Maybe just one disagreement, heehee)
We also thought the kids should be exposed to developing countries, to appreciate the quality of life they have. Well, that’s a thought for another time!


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