Saturday, 24 May 2014

Sa Pa

We boarded the night bus to Sa pa and were placed at the back of the bus - Oh no once again the red-head was placed at the back of the public transport - our red-head-Vietnamese-superstition Theory still holds true!! (and poor Joy had to suffer for being associated to the unlucky charm).  However, we thought we had scored big time as we had three seats between the two of us.  We were wrong.... as about half an hour into the journey- just as we had popped our sleeping tablets and were getting into sleeping position, yet another rice-wine soaked local man made himself comfortable right between us.  Roxy who was still sick tried to deter him with some tactical coughing fits.  Unfortunately all this achieved was to make the man snuggle up closer to Joy (who jealously guards her personal space and was seriously not impressed with his foot resting upon hers!!) Eventually, after calling his friend to come meet his new love and taking photos of Joy (while she was 'sleeping') he scuttled off to the front of the bus.  We soon realised why he deserted the back of the bus... Sa Pa is located in a mountainous area and to get there we had to drive the entire night through very steep and windy passes (always better not to actually watch the driving of a large bus navigating its way through these narrow roads).  Despite being half comatose on our strong sleeping meds,  we were constantly being jarred awake as we were flung from side-to-side (and were even sporting some attractive looking bruises when the trip was over). After this experience we know with certainty that we can survive anything that public transport can throw at us!!! Bring on the EC taxis.      

Roxy trying not to infect any other passengers

The normal single sleeping seat 

Joy cosy and happy - before her traumatising rice-wine man experience 

Never thought we'd see the beautiful light of day again (sunrise along the pass from Loa Cai to Sa Pa) 

Saturday - 24/05

Exploring the town 

After wandering around the town and sourcing appropriate accommodation, and a much needed shower and nap - we went in search of lunch and exploring the sights of the town.  Even though we went to a local place that gave us a separate English (and over-priced) menu, we enjoyed sampling the local food and Sa Pa's very own runny honey.  

View from our accommodation overlooking the fountain. 

Roxy posing at the fountain in the centre of town 

The Cathedral all lit up (as most of this quaint little town seemed to be)
We had been told that there was a town's people's variety concert (dancing, singing and instrument playing) in the arena that night and couldn't resist sneaking a peak - even though we stuck out like sore thumbs.
A singing/ rapping / 'dancing' performance by the obvious two young up and coming stars of the town (they had two performance slots and even did an encore to close the show). 

As we were the token Westerners, we unfortunately attracted some unwanted attention once again from a rice-wine soaked local- who thought he was being subtle and creeping next to us and getting a child to take a 'sneaky' photo of us while he posed in the background.  We took refuge with a Vietnamese family, who we quickly adopted as our own and the fiesty granny warded-off our obsessive paparazzi.

'Grandpa'was constantly trying to get his camera-shy grandson to pose with us girls- quite entertaining as he was so embarrassed and kept trying to run away.  

A little 12 year old boy also politely approached us and struck up a conversation (maybe his adult counterpart should have taken some tips).  His English was really good and we shared our berries with him in exchange for some sunflower seeds (look Ryanie the trend has finally caught on).

Sunday - 25/05

We enjoyed another sunny but cool day (which was great reprieve from the weather we had been experiencing in Ha Noi).  We took the day off to walk around the beautiful lake and chill on the grass in the park (this was especially a treat as everywhere else we had been - sitting on the grass in parks was strictly forbidden)


Joy hiding amongst the flowers 

View from the place where we had lunch that day - sadly a disappointing spaghetti bolognaise  

Joy made a little friend in the park who just loved playing with her sunnies, while his father tried to communicate with us via our 'user unfriendly' Vietnamese phrase book.

Beautiful sunset before a great storm set-in for the night

Monday - 26/05

Biker day 

After the great storm the night before, we were told that the waterfalls in the surrounding area would be particularly beautiful to see today (also Roxy still wasn't feeling well enough to do any trekking around yet).  So we hire a scooter for $4, filled it up with petrol and hit the road.  We first went in the wrong direction (bad start), but we soon realised our error and were off again to find our first waterfall...

At the petrol station - using the phrase book to instruct the petrol attendant 

Changing helmets as Joy's head was too small for the first one she tried on (this exercise brought back many fond memories for us of putting on the budget spray-painted helmet and beanie while riding Joy's Pasola back home in High School)

The first waterfall we encountered was the silver waterfall, which took a few hundred stairs to get to the viewing point - not the best with a chest infection 

We then zooted off on our next adventure on our trusty steed scooter, which we fondly named A-roar-a.  We came across an amazing viewing point overlooking the valley below. 
To infinity and beyond...

We are the great conquerors of the treacherous mountain pass  

We then backtracked down the pass to the love waterfall. There may have been less stairs to face in getting to this waterfall, but it was more taxing for some - Joy was groped by a Chinese lady in a group of tourists- love was in the air, or otherwise she just unaccustomed to seeing a well-endowed lass that she couldn't resist checking if they were BOTH real (awkies!!!)

We were told that tourists can swim in this waterfall and on arriving at the waterfall, even though it wasn't particularly warm, we decided to get our 30 000 dong's worth and take the plunge. There were no bathrooms around so we had to use our skills and have a sneaky wardrobe change.  The water was freezing, as can be seen from Roxy's pained expression (despite her trying to look relaxed and sexy).

A kind fellow tourist took some pics of us both wading in the water.

We was feeling super energetic and decided to try and climb the slippery waterfall and 'cliff jump' into the water below.  What followed was too funny not to share with the world.  You judge whether this can classify as a legit 'cliff jump':)

After lunch and a warm shower to reach room temperature again, we decided to explore some surrounding villages nearby.  On the way we had to drive past a buffalo on the narrow road. Joy was a little freaked out by the beasts, but she persevered and we came out alive.  The beast seemed not to even notice us - a bit of an anti-climax really.

Skillful scooter photography.

When the road became more than Joy was willing to handle (ie. a dirt trek not even made for sramblers- however, the local scooter drivers didn't seem to be perturbed), we stopped to chat to some village children. Joy tried to use the phrase book, but only one child seemed to know how to read - he was 13 years old, but looked much smaller.  Sa Pa is known by the Vietnamese to be a very rural and poor area of the country and this was evident in this village by the dirty and snotty-nosed children that we encountered.  While in Sa Pa we were constantly charged to visit any of the surrounding sights (waterfalls, mountains and even villages). The money collected is suppose to go to enriching the lives of the local community members, however much like in Africa, a corrupt government sees to it that this money does not reach the desperate people it is intended for.

However, despite the basic living conditions, children still find ways to have fun and entertain themselves and the local people who spend their whole lives in a rice paddy to make enough food to get by still seem like a bright, colourful and happy people!


An incredible view of the patchwork that is the mountains and rice paddy fields that is Sa Pa 

We had an hour left before we had to return the scooter, so we headed off in another direction to try find the cave of Ta Phin. We navigated our way quite successfully (with the help of some local knowledge), but unfortunately time was not on our side and had to abandon the mission before the cave could be found - we later heard that it is not too impressive anyway so we didn't feel too bad about missing it.

Red Dao ladies
Roxy took the wheel as we sped off to return A-roar-a. We made it with a minute to spare!

For dinner that evening we treated ourselves to some locally grown berries which we were later told only grow in Sa Pa and are only ripe for one month during the year - lucky us!! They tasted and looked like strawberries but with a huge pip inside.

Tuesday 27/05

Trekking and Homestay

We awoke to the sound of rain, it did not bode well for the day of trekking that we had planned. We optimistically convinced ourselves that it was just a little storm and would pass over in an hour...boy were we wrong. After a buffet breakfast, we met our guide, Ta, and our fellow trekking group and had to face the reality that the sexy packet ponchos would have to be worn!

It is amazing how the paddy fields are built so that when it rains the water flows from one level to the next, evenly distributing the water.

It didn't matter if our heads got was all about protecting the bags!!
Along the whole way, local women and young girls try to sell you little bangles and trinkets that they have made. In our group they kept approaching these two British boys - they were obviously the weak links in the group and ended up buying all sorts of items they did not need.
British boys, Ben and Alex
After lunch, the rain had lifted to our delight and it was back off on our trekking.
In this area they make their own clothing using hemp as the thread and indigo as the dye. We walked passed both these plants growing in the village

Indigo plant
Hemp aka weed
We visit a local clothing-maker's home where we got to see how the hemp in weaved, softened, dyed and sewn into many different, beautiful items of clothing.


Roxy and our guide, Ta

Four-leafed clover - must be our lucky day!
Ta had previously owned the same camera as us and was blowing our minds by showing us all of the amazing features we could play around with!

Harold getting cosy amongst his marble souvenir counterparts
As only three of the group were staying overnight in the village, we had to say goodbye to the rest!

The other member of our group that did the homestay - the crazy, long-haired Japanese guy who intends on travelling for the next five years

Our homestay house wasn't exactly the most authentic Vietnamese village home as it looked more like a bungalow designed to sleep 20 tourists. However, after trekking the whole day for 12kms, we were glad for any rest stop available.

We did get to assist in some local practices, here is Joy trying her hand at rice planting. Unfortunately, it was always either too much, too deep or too skew...definitely not her calling in life! 

Children having boat races in the river just below our homestay house.

Our homestay house

View from our window on the second floor

Sunset over the rice paddies 

Wednesday 28/05

Trekking Day 2

We started the day with the most delicious stack of banana and Sa Pa honey pancakes!!! We then started our day of trekking over more rough and rugged terrain. 
Ta pointing out a field of hemp
We walked through a bamboo forest which was filled with butterflies. Such romantic scene!

Carnivorous butterflies feasting on a dead snake

We even had to walk along the steep edge of the rice paddy field walls.
While Roxy held out her hands to stabalise (so as not to stand in the mud like another guy in our group had just done) the locals seemed to glide over with a seemingly effortless grace 


Our challenging 8km trek through the villages, rice paddies and mountains came to an end at the river's edge where some daring Americans dived into the river and tried some Dirty Dancing moves. It was then a quick lunch before we were driven back to Sa Pa where we got all cleaned up and emotionally prepared for the death bus back to Ha Noi. Luckily, this time we were not placed right at the back of the bus but once again were in pole to the toilet! Thanks Roxy!!! Haha! 

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