Thursday, 14 February 2013

To the mountains by train and mini-bus


So, after my great trip to Halong Bay I got back to Hanoi, had a brief respite at the Hotel, and then took the night train to Lao Cai.

Ruby, my “man in Hanoi” took me to the station, and made certain that I was on the right train, in the right compartments, and in the correct sleeping cabin.  Thank goodness!

I shared the cabin with a fifty-something couple from Paris, and their French speaking Vietnamese guide. The couple were jovial and affable and we chatted as much as we could in my bad French and their good English.  Then we all slept.  The berth was comfortable and the clunkety clunk rhythm of the slow train became a soothing lullaby.

At 5:00 a.m. in a cold and misty Lao Cai I was met by Sinh, a very kind 23 years old man who was to be my constant companion for the next 36 hours.  He expressed the traditional Vietnamese respect for older people in a way which made me feel deeply cared for.

From Lao Cai we drove for about an hour in the mist, climbing higher and higher until we reached the mountain town of Sa Pa. which is located in Lao Cai Province, north-west Vietnam, and 380 km north-west of Hanoi, close to the border with China. The Hoang Lien Son range of mountains dominates the district, which is at the eastern extremity of the Himalayas. This range includes Vietnam's highest mountain, Fan Si Pan, at a height of 3143 m above sea level. The town of Sa Pa lies at an altitude of about 1650 m. The climate is moderate and rainy in summer (May—August), and foggy and cold with occasional snowfalls in winter.

Sinh and I arrived at the Cat Cat Hotel (named  for a nearby village) where a day room had been reserved for me (a place to sleep and get a shower).  The hotel was in utter darkness, with the front door locked.  Sinh made a phone call, and within a few minutes a very affable Vietnamese man of Chinese background emerged to let us in, and explained (in his flawless English) that he’d been at a party the night before and was still hung-over.

From Sa Pa I visited the ethnic village of Cat Cat. This was a bit of a bust as the performance of music and dance was cancelled for lack of a sizeable audience.  It was also from Sa Pa that I set on the proposed 10k trek to a village – a trek which I failed because of pretty severe hip pain.

More about that village stay tomorrow.

Sun rise in Sa Pa 

Dawn breaks in Sa Pa

View from Cat Cat Hotel Balcony 1

View from Cat Cat Hotel Balcony 2

Across the street from Cat Cat Hotel  (loved the Santa/Father Christmas!)

The mini-bus driver from Lao Cai knew which side his bread was buttered

Heading towards Cat Cat Village

Waterfall in Cat Cat Village  1

Waterfall in Cat Cat Village 2

Sinh, my guide and caregiver Lao Cai/ Sa Pa 

Trek for 10 k on this road -  no way!

Treking was impossible. The motor bike ride for which I paid $5 was "interesting"!

Looking across the Red River in Lao Cai at the Chinese border post


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