After the fourth knock on the door, I grudgingly opened my eyes and climbed down from the top berth of the Fansipan Express carriage I was sleeping in on the Hanoi to Lao Cai overnight train. It was still dark outside as we had arrived at the ungodly hour of 5.30am. That, coupled with the complete lack of sleep I got after sharing a carriage with a crying baby, rolling through a bumpy and twisty railway track meant that I was going to have a long day of trekking ahead.
Sleep aside, the only other thought in my head when I arrived in Sapa was, “Why the hell is it so fricking cold?“! It turns out that I had rather unluckily, chosen to do a 2 day overnight trek in Sapa in some freaky, uncustomary cold and foggy spell that had hit the highlands. The temperature hovered between 10-13°C over the 2 days that I was there. There was also a very thick and persistent fog in the air of the wet variety – the type that leaves small water droplets on your clothes and skin as you walk through it. Basically, it was extremely lousy conditions for a trek through the mountains. 😛
The plan was to do a two day trek through the Sapa highlands, stopping for the night along the way at a local home stay. I was to be accompanied by my Black H’mong guide, M, a 20 year old, experienced trekking guide. What also tends to happen is that a local lady (/ ladies) will accompany tour groups along the way to then try to make some money off the group at the end of the trek.
We started off in Y Linh Ho, passing through Lao Chai (8KM trek), before stopping for lunch at Ta Van (another 4KM along). The humid fog conditions meant that trails were pretty muddy and wet, as well as being slippery in parts.
We passed a number of these guys along the way…
I was also offered a share of my guide’s “trail mix” equivalent…
…which we ate here…
…whilst watching a local man build fences with wood and bamboo.
It was unfortunate that the spectacular views of the rice field terraces were blocked by the thick fog in the air, but these photos give some idea of the landscape I was trekking through. As this is not rice growing season, none of the green rice shoots can be seen, hence the masses of brown earth and rainwater seen instead. Any green seen will just be grass growing on the land until the farmers turn the soil over for the new season.
Stopping for lunch in the Tavan village was bittersweet. I was extremely hungry after the early start and trekking done so far, but also very cold – too cold to be sitting in a chair, within an open restaurant for too long. There was also the swarm of Black H’mong ladies to contend with as they target, surround and badger trekkers into buying their crafts over lunch.
After lunch, we continued walking for another c.40 minutes to reach the local home stay where I would be spending the night. We stopped at one of the traditional houses along the way where my guide demonstrated some of the tools used to create commonly used materials and crafts.
There were also some steep uphill trails to tackle, where we passed by buffaloes, chickens, pigs and ducks doing their own thing.
Though the accommodation was basic (and cold! – there were no heaters and the toilet was located outside in a separate building), it was a great experience to be able to have dinner with a local Dzay family and see how they live.
We all went to bed at about 9pm as we wanted to keep ourselves warm under our duvets with not much else to do.
After a quick breakfast of pancakes and tea the next morning, we headed off at 10am for a short 2 hour trek towards Giang Ta Chai, home of the Red Dzao people. The route I chose took us through a bamboo forest, a waterfall and a suspension bridge (which overlooked the old and rickety Cloud Bridge).
After lunch at Giang Ta Chai, I was transported by motorbike back to Sapa to wait for my connection back to Lao Cai and Hanoi. Nearly frozen numb, I was keen to get back to warmer climates further south. I was however, somewhat sad to leave Sapa as I didn’t feel like I had really seen the best of what the highlands have to offer. Still, I’ll be leaving with some good memories, especially of some of the little ones I met along the way. 🙂
Ever been somewhere where the weather just wasn’t what you expected? Good or bad? Tell me about it!