Monday, 30 September 2013

Day 55 - Waterfalls and Heaven's Gate

The initial plan was to leave tonight for Hanoi but I decided to stay an extra day in Sapa and enjoy the landscape and hospitality here.

After my long walk yesterday, I should have probably taken it easy but decided to walk the 14km to the Heaven's Gate, Love Waterfall and see the silver Waterfall on the way.

While the views from Heaven's Gate and he Love Waterfall were great, the way there was mostly along a dusty main road so not the best and most scenic route. I would therefore recommend to skip this walk and just hire a bike or get someone to drive you there and back.

One thing you get while walking is strange looks but also some nice conversation with other people and you have time to think. Despite the way not being all that nice and scenic it was a decent walk overall.

Tomorrow, I will be heading to Hanoi in the evening so might go for another walk during the day.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Day 54 - Through the Rice Fields

What I said yesterday about never walking alone holds true but if you do want to walk alone, you can do so and it's quite a rewarding experience to be out there on your own hiking and enjoying the quiet.

I decided to go for a long walk today as the weather was great and I had no further plans, people here are surprised when they see you waking on your own and you always get the offer of them joining you in case you change your mind about buying something but they also leave you alone if you are clear about not buying anything.

While walking around on my own through the rice fields I could see people working to harvest the rice, carrying it back to the village, see water buffaloes grazing, kids playing and so soak in some of the way of life here for a lot of people.

Joining a tour is fun and you meet other people but when you come here make sure you also take a few days just to go out and explore yourself. While there are no proper maps, especially when it comes to the hiking paths, you can use Google Maps somewhat to navigate around. Should you feel lost, just ask someone and they will point you in the right direction so you will always find your way back.

Upon my return from my walk, the people in the hotel made fun as I walked over 30km today but did not really find it tiring or exhausting at all. On the contrary, I had a great time and will look for another waking challenge for tomorrow.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Day 53 - You Never Walk Alone

Waking up with a bit of a heavy head after all he rice wine and to a heavy rain, I was glad it was till early and we were not due to head off until later.
Once everyone was up an we had our breakfast, the weather was also looking much better.

The fun (or annoying) thing about Sapa and in particular walking with a guide is that you always attract and entourage of people following you in the hope to sell you stuff later on.
You can always make use of this situation however and hire them as a guide or just if you need some company for your solo hiking.

Despite the rain, the terrain was not too muddy or slippery and side from a part while walking through a bamboo forest it was easy going.

One thing I don't like about tours is that you are not fully flexible or free to do as you want so you need to head onwards to make the lunch point and then get crammed into a bus for the drive back rather than have the option of a walk back.

Still, it was a great experience an a lot of fun so I am glad I met everyone before an on this tour.
While everyone is getting ready to head back to Lao Cai for the train to Hanoi, I will have another two day or more here in Sapa to enjoy the landscape and people here.

Friday, 27 September 2013

Day 52 - The People You Meet

I know, I probably said this before but travel is as much about seeing a place as it is about the people you meet along the way, I would probably say it is mainly bout the people you meet.

Sometimes you meet people, have a chat and then go separate ways, other times you spend a lot more time with people and they become part of your journey. This is what happened with two fellow travellers from Germany, I met on the shuttle bus to the hotel.

When I decided to come to Sapa, I just booked a train ticket and hotel without anything else planned or booked.
Over a drink, they invited me to join them for their day and a half guided tour to Lao Chai, including an overnight stay in a traditional homestay.

We set out reasonably early in the morning an as soon as we left the hotel, we already had an entourage of Hmong ladies joining us for the trek to their village. We were not alone as every other tourist group we met along the way had their own entourage following them along.

After a foggy morning the sky cleared up just enough for the remaining cloud to provide a great contrast against the mountain backdrop. The views were fantastic and I ended up taking way too many photos of the landscape an rice fields.

We arrived at the very basic homestay just after lunch and initially planned to go out and explore the town a bit.
This did not quite happen once we started talking with the other people staying at the homestay, a very nice Australian family and a Thai couple. We all had so much fun chatting that it was time for dinner before we knew it and with that also time for some rice wine.

This was a great evening with a lot of chatting, drinking and having fun till late at night.
Not sure how the morning will be after all this entertainment but at least we have a later start to the day.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Day 51 - The Sound of SaPa

Sometimes you only realise how badly you needed a break from the city when you are in a place where the only sound you hear is the wind and a river or waterfall in the distance.

Coming to Sapa was exactly what I needed as I started to feel less creative and inspired by the various cities I visited. It was just having a constant noise level of cars, scooters, the persistent honking and masses of people everywhere around me what started to become too much.

Sapa is great so far, not only is the landscape amazing, it is quiet and the people here are also great. I did take a lot of pictures and did not want to stop taking pictures, at least till I got to a quiet spot along a river near Cat Cat village where I jut sat down and enjoyed the sound of the water and having nobody around.

While it's the landscape that grabs your attention at first, it's the people living here that are really what is special about this place.
The Hmong people are simply great and seeing parts of their culture is fascinating, it is just sad to see that they seem to waste their skills and potential in making and selling trinkets to tourists and being treated like tourist attraction.

Walking around Sapa and cat Cat village was great and just what I needed after being through so many cities recently, a different pace and seeing a completely different culture. I can't wait to explore and see more of Sapa and the surrounding villages but also finding out more about the Hmong people and other ethnic groups in this area.