Sapa is a great example of how diverse the country of Vietnam is. I travelled to this beautiful green expanse of landscape from the bustling chaos of the streets of Hanoi, and I am so glad I did. Arriving early morning by night train, I was soon traipsing down the muddy streets of Sapa in search of my hotel, with 2 hill tribe ladies in tow. These lovely ladies walked with me around town trying to get me to come on a tour and home-stay with them. Along the way I learnt that one of the ladies daughters name was Tom (the same as my boyfriends name). She found it hilarious that they had the same name and delighted in telling him over and over that he had a girls name! Once she found out we were a couple but not married she also said she could marry us in her village. She certainly was a big character with a lovely spirit!
My first full day in Sapa was a busy one! I started off the day with a visit to the Cat Cat village. This little village, despite being taken over by stalls aimed at tourists, was one of my highlights here. An all downhill walk through the village lined with wooden buildings, with dogs, chickens and pigs (plus their litters of piglets!) running around, was a lovely sight to see. As Sapa is a mountainous area of Vietnam, it provides you with spectacular views, even if you go in dry season like I did. It is most well known for its beautiful green rice terraces snaking their way up the mountains, which are supposedly even more beautiful in wet season. Following the path down takes you to some wooden waterwheels in the river, cleverly using the force of water to pound some rice in large pots.
Here is also the beautiful Cat Cat waterfall (OK I admit that places I have visited are usually found high up on my list if there are waterfalls involved!). It is an easy walk through the village, it is getting back that is the hard part. You can get a motorbike back up to the top if you want, but there are some great photo opportunities on the way so on foot is best!
After an afternoon spent relaxing, I was soon back out on another adventure! This time I was tackling Mount Fansipan, the highest peak in Indochina at over 3000m. I would love to say I trekked up this but I must be truthful and say I got the cable car up to 2700m. I was pretty ill with a bad cold at this point (which days after turned into full blown sinusitis) so there was no way I could have trekked the whole way up! The cable car itself holds Guinness World Records for the longest 3-cabled cable car and the greatest elevation on a 3-cabled cable car, and has amazing views over the valleys if the weather is good.
It wasn’t a very clear day when I went up, but it was still amazing going through the mist up the mountain. If the weather wasn’t good on the way up then when we got to the end of the cable car it was horrendous. You could barely see 4 feet in front of you through the freezing clouds. Luckily we had bought hats from the little shop and put on ponchos before we ventured outside and got hit by the full force of the wind and icy mist.
The visibility was so ridiculous we couldn’t help but laugh our way up the steps to the summit. We had read about the amazing views we would see from Fansipan so we certainly didn’t expect barely being able to see each other! Taking those steps up was difficult, due to the altitude and my sickness, so we had to stop every so often to catch our breath. We finally made it to the summit and so posed for photos adventurer style with the flag at the top.
Now we thought at this point that going up would be the difficult part, but boy were we wrong! Going down the slippery steps was hard, especially with the sun rapidly setting, but we made it onto the cable car with 2 members of staff. We had gotten halfway across and were discussing what we were going to eat when we got back (the steps were hard work!), when the cable car came to a sudden stop! The car started swinging backwards and forwards and one of the members of staff started screaming. The cable car had broken down! We knew it was not uncommon for power cuts to happen in Sapa, however a power cut has never actually stopped the cable car before!
I’m not going to lie, I was scared. We were dangling in a little cable car hundreds of metres above the tree canopy below, at the highest point on the journey. We had no idea how long we could be stuck up here in the dark. What didn’t help our nerves was that the other member of staff was being sick into a bag. Very reassuring right?! After 25 minutes or so the power eventually came back on and we were on our way back to Sapa, shaken to say the least.
Despite all this drama, I look back fondly at this memory, partly because I’m still alive to tell the tale and also because the mountain itself was hilarious to climb! Do you have any dramatic stories to tell from your travels?