24 November 2008

Hanoi to Sapa

Sapa is an old hill station close to the Chinese border up in the mountains of Northwest Vietnam. It is renown for spectacular scenery, treking and the local hill tribes. Getting to Sapa is an adventure in itself. Although its only about 380km from Hanoi the journey took us about eleven hours.

The first stage was a nine and a half hour overnight sleeper train for the town of Lao Cai, which left Hanoi at 10:05 on Saturday evening. We took what is known as a hard sleeper carriage. The carriages are arranged like you see in the old films, with a narrow corridor down one side with rooms on the other. The rooms on the hard sleeper hold six beds, in two banks three. Liz had great difficulty getting into her mid level bunk, much to the amusement of the four locals who were sharing our room.

Most Westerners take one of the earlier trains which have the more luxurious soft sleeper carriage, so there were a few raised eyebrows to see us there. The train was really comfortable and we slept virtually all of the way there.

Apart from Liz not being able to get into her bed the only other difficult bit was the toilet, which was a Asian squat style one rather than a Western throne. Using it was incredibly difficult on a train that rocked like a galloping horse!

Being as we were the only Westerners on the train every hawker, taxi driver and tout made a bee line for us as soon as we had pulled into Lao Cai on Sunday morning. The first couple had even made it to us before we had chance to get off the train! Thankfully we had booked a ride through the Cat Cat View Hotel where we were staying in Sapa.

The drive from Lao Cai to Sapa is 38km which is all up really steep hair pin bend hill roads. As is the way in these parts, if you can travel marginally faster than the vehicle in front then you must overtake it. Irrespective of how much road this takes and many blind hair pin corners are ahead of you. This is either . . .

a) really exciting, or
b) buttock clenchingly scary.

Sapa bus drivers and anyone else answering a) should seek the help of a psychologist.

There were several occasions when motorbikes coming the other way had to take evasive action and swerve onto the grass bank that seperated the road from the rice terraces below. We were both concerned about what would happen if something larger than a motorbike came the other way whilst we were doing some insane overtaking manover. Thankfully we didn't get the opportunity to find out and made it to Sapa in one piece

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