Thursday, March 12, 2015

My first trip to Sapa (1st part)

Sapa - to me the name itself more than enough to attract the attention from the travellers. The only place in Vietnam where we could experience the snow, the real snow! I first heard of this town when Victoria Hotel launched their luxury Oriental Express connecting Hanoi with Sapa. At that time I'd love to try but due to different reasons, my plan to escape to this mountain-town in cloud, like in fairytale always failed...until few days ago. After visiting Halong Bay (I will review later!) we went back to Hà Nội and I made a quick decision this time with a friend, we both booked a 2-night tour to Sapa - one night in train, one night at the Sapa Summit Hotel and back to Hanoi by bus-bed, saving another night in train.

                     Sapa in March always in a thick fog from morning till late afternoon...

The tour agent took us to the train station around 21:20. The train departed surprisingly on time at 21:50. We paid 1,8 millions VN Đồng per each for the trip to Sapa with 1 night on the train, 1 night at the hotel, on the way back to Hà Nội, we'd like to take the bus-bed, so we will be arriving to Hà Nội, late at night, around 22:30 but on the same day, not another overnight train ride.

                   Our ticket for the basic soft bed, at some other compartments - very luxury comfort.

There was various soft-bed wagons in the train to Lào Cai, managed by different tour companies - from very luxury with only two soft-like-cloud beds in one nicely decorated compartment to our basic soft bed that you see in the above photo.
Anyway we had not a bad sleep on the train but it was a bit freezing at night. We arrived to Lao Cai at 6:15 am and when we went out - there was a crowd holding the signs to pick-up their guests to Sapa by bus (the route time around 1 hour)

We arrived to our Sapa Summit Hotel at Road Thác Bạc around 7:30 am and at the Desk Tour we were informed we could store our luggages in the store room, take a hot shower and have a breakfast in the first floor, then back to the Desk Tour at 9:00 am for the tour to Cát Cát village.

                         The magnificent view from our Sapa Summit Hotel.  

                   This crowd was waiting for us to sell things or to accompany to the village...

                   We walked from hotel, across the Cát Cát village

                  Impossible to imagine Sapa without these ethnic minorities in their colourful costume. 

                   It was a long walk, nearly hour...many shops along the way to village  

                   We were lucky with the wether in the first morning - sunshine with cool breeze  

                      The most striking view was the mountains, the valleys... covered in cloud

                   The view along the way to the village was more exciting than the village itself...

                     On our way we saw a funeral ceremony, people gathering with the white band on head...

                  The life here is very tough, seeing those minorities on their naked terraced fields   

                         We kept going downhill and I could imagine how hard the way back... 

                  Disappointed as the scene around Cát Cát village was in miserable conditions...

                       Unexpected residents along the way to village - pot-bellied pigs...

                       a mountain buffalo and the breathtaking view of the mountains in cloud

                    and the King of the Year - the mountain goats...right in Cát Cát village 

                       Traditional clothes for rent Cát Cát village-tourist centre. 

Cát Cát minorities village is a commercial tourist centre, with a small hall for performance, a water fall, a mountain river but with no water... many souvenir shops, eating spots...Actually I was a bit disappointed on Cát Cát, I heard a lot of good and bad things about Sapa before my trip. The magnificent mountains scenery, the valley with the terraced fields...surely indisputable beautiful but the way the local authorities managed the town, the new market building instead of the old traditional market, the construction sites that last years after years in one of the best locations in Sapa...and Cát Cát - the tourist centre, to me, quite commercial but not in the best way.

I was wondering why the performers didn't dance outside, in the open air with the water fall nearby as background, why in the small tiny house, on the stage? The weather was perfect in that morning for the outdoor activities.
I didn't feel the charms of the village or even of the lifestyle of the ethnic minorities here. I love their colourful and very artistic costume, I love to talk to them but unless I buy something, otherwise they will turn away whenever they see the camera.

                     An ugly pending concrete construction site - right in the heart of the valley 

After visiting Cát Cát village-tourist centre, we walked back to hotel by another way but I decided to take a motorbike, so we could have a quick rest, after an overnight train ride, and lunch at the hotel until 14:30 to hit the road again, this time with the motorbikes on our own.

                  The way back was a bit uphill, less view so I decided to hire a motorbike. 

                    On way back I saw these little girls making bouquets of wild flowers...

We have only two hours to take a rest, after an overnight train ride from Hà Nội to Lào Cai. While back to the hotel, time for us to check-in, we smartly switched our room to another one with the balcony to the valley, with an extra money of 10 USD!
I was ok despite my quite bad cold, sore throat...from the previous day during my climbing on Yên Tử mountain, right to the top in a very bad weather morning that I will review soon. After a so-so lunch at the hotel, we were ready to hit the road again....I was so happy to see the spectacular terraced fields scenery, the cherry blossoms and the Sapa in fog...Will come back!

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