Tuesday, May 19, 2015 to Wednesday, May 20,2015
My 36 hours in Vientiane was so successful I thought I would try the fast-paced sightseeing in Sapa, Vietnam.
Every time I mentioned I was going to northern Vietnam, people would always ask,
“Are you going to Sapa?”
Originally, the answer had been no, but with a change in my schedule I had just enough time to make it up there for one night.
Slightly more than 24 hours IN Sapa, but here is how my trip went…
I had paid for a round trip ticket on Sapa Express (~35 USD), a bus line that runs back and forth between Hanoi and Sapa. They offered to pick me up at my hostel, which was excellent!
7:30 – 1:30 PM
You would think by now I would be used to long trips. Nope. Every time I think, “Oh, it won’t be so bad, and I’ll be there before I know it”. Yeah, NO. I am ALWAYS uncomfortable and the trip always seems to take FOREVER.
The only perk of this ride was that the bus had WIFI. Woot. Woot.
Once my computer died, and the internet became painstakingly slow, I managed to take a nap, waking up at the bus made the winding ascent up the mountain.
1:30 – 2:30 PM
The hostel, Go Sapa Hostel, provided excellent directions from the bus stop, so I found it in no time, just needed to climb a steep hill 🙂
I spent the next hour settling in and figuring out exactly what I wanted to do.
2:30 – 3:30 PM
Finishing my plans, my first goal was to find an ATM. Since landing in Vietnam, I had not had the time to get to an ATM in order to get the local currency, dong.
Walk to the ATM:
Luckily, there was an ATM on the main street. With my pockets bulging (ha, not really), I wanted to find someone that would take me trekking to the local villages.
Trekking. It is the thing to do. A lot of tourism companies provide 1 night, 2 night, 3 night trekking adventures that include hiking and sometimes a homestay in the local village. I had barely one night, no interest in doing a homestay, and no partner in crime to help navigate the trails, so I wanted to find a local to help me.
A warning about Sapa: The hill tribe women will be in your face selling their wares. No matter how many times you say no, they will keep trying. I just kept smiling, kept saying no, and kept walking. You can’t buy something from all of them so don’t feel bad saying no!
While walking I found this woman…
As I was looking at her homemade collection, a group of hill tribe women approached me with their own merchandise. We started talking, they had decent english, and I kept telling them I wasn’t interested in buying anything. I finally mentioned that I was looking for a guide, and that is when I met Ana or Zuzu, she went by two names.
She was a short woman, with a gold tooth, decked in her traditional garb, and covered with the goods she was selling (purses, wallets, bracelets, etc.). After some haggling we agreed on 300,000 VND (~15 USD) for a morning of hiking the following day. Since I had to be back on the bus by 3:30 pm, I told her I wanted to start at 7:30 am (I think most people start around 9 am).
Leaving Ana and her friends, I was happy to have guide to help me see the sights, but I was also slightly uneasy. Would she show up? Would it be fun? Would I se what I wanted to see?
Only time will tell….
A little more wandering around town….
3:30 – 4:30 PM
I always seem to find the restaurant with a social cause 🙂 On the corner of the hill towards my hostel was a coffee shop and café called Baguette and Chocolat. The café is managed by a NGO to support disadvantaged and disabled tribal youth who are interested in tourism and hospitality training. How cool! Hot and tired from my quick stroll around town, I decided to try my first Vietnamese Drip Coffee, iced of course!
How could you no love coffee and condensed milk?!? Yup, you heard me right, CONDENSED MILK 🙂 So many memories of licking cans while my grandmother made coconut flan 🙂
4:30 – 8:30 PM
I relaxed at my hostel, enjoying the beautiful view…
Eventually, I ordered some noodle soup for dinner, which I totally forgot to take a photo of!
8:30 – 6:30 AM
SLEEP! I had a big day the next day and I knew I needed sleep, especially since I haven’t been sleeping very well 🙁
6:30 – 7:30 AM
GET READY. Waking up was no easy task but I got myself out the door and to the store where Ana and I had agreed to meet.
And I waited….
7:50 am rolled around and another hill tribe woman approached me. I explained that I was waiting for Ana, well at that moment I had forgotten Ana’s name, so I described her was a woman with a gold tooth. Surprisingly, the woman knew exactly who I was talking about and went running to get her. Apparently, Ana is her husbands’ sister.
8:00 – 11:00 AM
Once I found Ana, we immediately started the trek down the mountain to her village.
Ok, yes, most of it was downhill, but writing this a few days later, and I am STILL SORE. I knew going downhill wasn’t going to be a piece of cake, but, HOT DAMN, I had NO idea it would put my body under so much duress.
At one point, about an hour into walking, we stopped to pay the entrance fee. Foreigners are supposed to pay a fee in order to visit the local villages. The man running the ticket booth told Ana that we needed to go back to Sapa to buy a ticket.
Ha. The idea of walking uphill all the way back to Sapa made me panic. I was immediately thinking, “If I have to go back, there is no way I am going back down!”
Leaving the ticket stand, I assumed we were walking back, then all the sudden, Ana had me get on the back of a motorcycle that took us maybe 5 minutes up the road. We got off the bike, and I followed Ana on this skinny dirt path. As we continued walking, Ana explained that we were taking the “back-way” in order to pass the ticket office.
It was definitely harder than just walking along the road, but with Ana’s help, I made it!
Once on the main road again, we kept walking…
By the way…Meet Ana!
We finally make it to her village, Lao Chai Village!
11:00 – NOON
Once in her village, Ana showed me to her home, and told me that she was making us lunch. Since I hadn’t eaten breakfast, I was pretty excited at the thought of food!
She had puppies!
It was impressive watching her cook in a kitchen that most people refuse to cook in. Every move was deliberate and methodic, as if she cook in her sleep. She also did most of the prep kneeling! My knees would HATE me if I did that!
Before I knew it, we had a table full of food!
The meal was buffalo stir fry with bean sprouts, some sort of spinach/vegetable, and rice. I finished my bowl of food and felt stuffed. She immediately filled my bowl again. While I was attempting to finish my second bowl, Ana started eating, and man can that girl eat!
Towards the end of our meal her sons came home from school for lunch. They didn’t say much to me, but I think food was their main priority.
NOON – 1:00 PM
To get back to the hostel we were going to walk through Ta Van Village and then get a motorcycle back up the mountain to Sapa. At that point, the sun had come out and IT WAS HOTTTTT.
We were both thankful to reach the motorcycle! For 170,000 (~9 USD) the driver was going to take us the 30 minutes back to Sapa. Not the safest ride in my life, but it sure did beat walking!
Sapa in the morning…
Sapa in the afternoon…
1:00 – 1:30 PM
I ended up paying Ana 500,000 VND (~20 USD) for the trip. We had agreed on 300,000, and I owed her 20,000 for the short motorcycle ride that helped us bypass the ticket office, so 320,000. When I handed her my 500,000 bill, and told her I needed 180,000 back in change, she acted like she didn’t have change (I really think she did…), so she suggested I give her the 500,000 and she would throw in a purse. Remembering my enjoyable morning and lunch, I agreed. She also threw in another little purse at the last minute.
500,000 VND was still cheaper than most of the tourism offices were advertising, and I felt good that the money was going straight to her and her family.
Leaving Ana, I walked back to my hostel.
1:30 – 2:30 PM
Even though I had already checked out, I needed to shower, so without really asking (I’m sure they would have been fine with it), I walked myself to the bathroom and took a shower. After a much needed shower, I relaxed and used their WIFI to check in with the parentals 🙂
2:30 -3:30 PM
I headed back to Baguette and Chocolat Cafe, for coffee, WIFI, and dinner to go.
3:30 – 4:00 PM
Board the bus!
4:00- 10:30 PM
The ride was enjoyable, until my computer died, and then it got worse when I needed to conserve my phone battery. With little to no entertainment I was staring at the clock watching the slow minutes go by.
At 10:30 the bus dropped us off in front of their office in Old Quarter. I thought they might shuttle us back to our hostels/hotels, but nope, I was on my own.
It took me a second to get oriented, but I followed my map and got myself back to my hostel.
I truly wish I had more time in Sapa!
I also wish I had my friends with me! Back home we have done a couple of hikes together, and it would have been great to explore the hills of Sapa with them! Miss you guys 🙂
Sapa is a must see, and I highly recommend more than one night!
Love always, Arianna the Wandering Pipette