Finally a chance to write!
Things have really been go-go-go for the last four days or so. It’s always horrible to go back and try to recount what you’ve been up to. Today, however, was pretty relaxed, so I feel like I’ve finally got the chance to write an entry – more than scribbled notes.
On Friday night we caught an overnight train up to a town called Lao Cai, which is up near the Chinese border. Getting there was an absolute mission, as Friday was the Autunm Moon Festival, and there was absolute gridlock in the streets! Scooters everywhere, everyone honking, no-one able to get through.
We had to race out to the square with these two Asian-Australian guys (who turned out to be really good value) and hail a cab. I wasn’t feeling too well as we’d spent the afternoon at a Bia Hoi drinking 20 cent (2,000 d) glasses of beer and I felt so bloated and ill. (Beer was beautiful though.) We got taken slowly to the train station, through the chaos, and found ourselves amid even more chaos – people everywhere, we didn’t know what was going on, we were just standing there waiting for a guy from the hotel to get our tickets for us (in retrospect, it would have been more straight forward if we had got them ourselves but there’s a fair amount of hand-holding that seems to go on).
Finally got the tickets, and then we were off again, following him over tracks and around trains, pretty willy-nilly it seemed, till we found ourselves in a carraige of “soft sleepers” (as opposed to hard sleepers) – nothing like the wood panelled picture we’d been shown… still, the mattresses were soft, though I wish I could say the same for the trip! It was pretty rough going. We woke with a start at 6am when we realised the train had stopped. We quickly threw everything together and stepped out into the station.
There were people everywhere holding up cards with names on them – none of them ours. We stood around for a while, getting more and more nervous, when finally a guy with a clipboard came over and luckily we were on the list.
We hopped on a bus and found ourselves winding up into the hills, past small villages, people on bikes and scooters, animals – dogs, water buffalo, children walking to school, people standing outside their houses watching the world go by… they all go by so quickly, each one’s like a picture postcard, or a poem you read and then forget.
We wound up and up, into the mountains and into the mist. Cloud, really. We were dropped off at a place called The Royal View Hotel (or something), where we again found ourselves in chaos – this time, a hotel full of tourists. No-one knew exactly what we were doing, but it was all soon cleared up, and it came out that we were going to be doing a hike that day, and then staying at a farmstay in one of the villages. After a quick breakfast of Pho Bo, we met our guide, Zao, who led us off on our hike out of Sapa. We walked down hill, past women and men in brightly-colored embroidered clothing, the H’mong people, one of the minority groups from up in the hill country surrounding Sapa.