27 November 2008

Shivering in Sapa

We've had a great couple of days in Sapa, but it's been bloomin' cold! Due to it's elevation (over 1600 meters above sea level) and location in the Hoang Lien mountain range it is often shrouded in mist and fog. Unfortunately for us we were visiting during off-season when the weather is at it's coldest.

Being as everywhere else we're going to (apart from Nepal and Tibet at the end) should be hot we have only really packed warm weather clothes. This has resulted in us wearing most of the contents of our backpacks at the same time. Liz has even had to go out to buy a fleece. Even worse though is the ultimate fashion no-no that she has committed . . . wearing socks with her traveler sandals!

The town of Sapa is a bit of an odd place and I didn't really like it to start with. I think I was expecting it to be more in the French colonial style, when really the style is a bit of an ugly mish-mash. That coupled with the cloud, fog and cold weather put me in the wrong frame of mind about the place. However, once I had acclimatised after the first day it was all good and I began to enjoy the place.

The views from the edge of town to the mountains and valley below are really spectacular. Towering above Sapa and the valley is Fansipan the highest mountain in Vietnam. Apart from the views the other thing that gives the town something a little different is the people from the H'mong and Dzao hill tribes who come into town to run the market and sell (hawk!) their traditional wares to the tourists.

Whilst we have been here we've had a couple of trips out. The first was what Liz would like to describe as a "trek" to the H'mong village of Cat Cat, which is 3km away down the valley. I personally wouldn't call a half hour walk a "trek". Looks I might have a little trouble talking her into the 14 day trek to Everest base camp that Jeroen and Judith did in Nepal.

Life for the villagers of the hill tribes looks really tough. In Cat Cat everyone was living in little huts, either farming the land, without the use of any agricultural machinery, or making items to sell to tourists. Neither of these activities generates much money and on the whole they are incredibly poor. Down in the village the only brick building is an old disused French power station which has been converted into a cultural center where they put on traditional shows.

Whilst on the walk, as well as soaking up the scenery and seeing life in the village we also got to see some of the local animals and wildlife.

The other trip we made was a ride out in an old Russian army jeep to Thac Bac (Silver Waterfall) and the Tram Ton Pass. The Pass, at 1900 meters, is the highest road in Vietnam and the trip along it was certainly something of an experience. Thank god that our driver was more sane than the bus driver from Lao Cai. The road in places is so bad that it was smoother going off road!

Despite the coldness of Sapa there is only one hotel in town with central heating, the four star Victoria. As you may have guessed our backpacker budget would not strech to such luxuries. Although we did spend a couple of afternoons making the most of their very nice centrally heated bar, free board games and pool table!

Back at the Cat Cat View the heating in our room was provided by an open fire, which gave me plenty of opportunity to earn man points and prove my Ray Mears survival skills!

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