We're back in Hanoi again after a busy few days in Sa Pa and a very unsuccessful trip to Halong Bay (you'll have to wait for the next blog for info on that). Sa Pa was unreal and one of our favourite places so far. We booked a tour through Hanoi Backpackers hostel and were very pleased. The itinerary went something like this:
Day One: Night train to Lo Cai
We all set off from the hostel towards the train station at about 8pm. We had to transfer vouchers into tickets and this was a long and drawn out process (usual for Vietnam we're finding). Eventually, we were granted permission to board the train and we were pleasantly surprised by the high standard on board. The cabin was 4-bed with a locking door so much more secure than Chinese night trains.
Day Two: Bac Ha Market
After I managed a full 20 minutes of sleep on the incredibly bumpy train (Rob somehow managed to sleep like a baby) we disembarked at the uncivilised hour of 5.15am. We were escorted to a local restaurant and informed our guide would meet us there at 8.30am. After some pancakes and a shower in the upstairs guesthouse, we felt slightly more human.
The time eventually came, and we got on the minibus which would take us to Bac Ha market. When we arrived we were greeted by the local minority people - the Flower Hmong.
The Flower Hmong are one of five local minority groups and we encountered most of these during our time in Sa Pa. Each of their outfits are distinct from each other and each have their own language and customs. We walked through the market and saw buffaloes, horses, ladies selling bags and various other things. It was super interesting and not like any other market.
After a quick bite to eat, we got back on the bus and drove a short distance down the road to a nearby farm. The farmhouse was very basic inside and the walls were made of mud. Apparently, this was a wealthy family by local standards which made us question how poorer people must live. We saw how rice wine is made and got to sample this local 'delicacy'.
After leaving the farmhouse, we walked 'the local way' back to the minibus i.e along a ridiculously narrow ledge through a rice paddy past other local farms. Needless to say, this did not go smoothly. As I hadn't been expecting to be walking through rice paddies until the next day, I was wearing flip-flops. When standing in one particularly squelchy patch, my flip flop broke meaning I had to walk the rest of the way (across buffalo dung fertiliser!!!) in bare feet. Nice.
When reaching the other side, this was the result....
And the only place to wash my feet was in the pig trough....
It was pretty fun though and it was cool to see how local Vietnamese people live. Getting back to the bus, we drove for another hour to the Vietnamese/Chinese border. Basically, the two are separated by a river and we stood on the Vietnamese side and could see China on the other side (not so much of a novelty for us). We could see traders with laden bicycles and rickshaws crossing between the two and could see numerous police patrolling the crossing.
After another long (and very bumpy) bus ride we finally arrived in Sa Pa town and checked into our hotel. The town is on a huge hill and driving up we saw loads of shops, restaurants and hotels which were very picturesque. Our hotel, Fansipan View, was great. It was ran by a family and they were super helpful and friendly. The food at the restaurant was great and very traditional. When chatting to my mum on FaceTime in the lobby, one of the girls, Hien, insisted on talking to her which was funny.
To be continued....