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Hanoi to Sapa

Booking the tour to Sapa was relatively painless, just hand over your cash to one of the many tour operators in Hanoi and hope for the best. We booked with Sihn Cafe (or likely one of the fake ones). The system is one of organised chaos, tickets arriving at the last minute, different drivers, and that’s just to get you to the train.

Be careful when booking your tour and make sure that you get exactly what you paid for. The tour companies appear to book your train tickets after they promise you the nice cushy VIP berth, when in fact they have no idea of availability until later in the day. This means that you can be stuck with anything from a VIP ticket to a hard seat for 10 hours. We booked soft-sleeper and had hard-sleeper, although we were lucky by all accounts as other travellers fared much worse.

Once we arrived in Sapa everything seemed to go much more smoothly and was definitely worth the trouble to get there. We booked a 4 night 3 day tour, which started off on day one with a easy trek to Cat Cat and a beautiful waterfall. Benjamin (the Chilean photographer) and I couldn’t help but go for a swim. The water was clear and cold and worth the effort scrambling over a few rocks. We spent the first night in the Sapa Summit Hotel, which was clean and had an amazing view from our fifth floor room. The food included in the tour package isn’t the best, so if we were going again, I think I’d skip it and go into town. (The chocolate chip and raisin cookies at Baguette & Chocolat were amazing!) We spent the night in the Sapa Summit Hotel, which was lovely and well equipped for dealing with sweaty, dirty hikers.

The second day was very wet, forcing us to buy lovely ponchos…everyone was laughing at me as I looked like a monk. The trek itself wasn’t too bad for most of it until we reached the muddiest hill I’d ever seen. Without the help of the village ladies who were following us the whole way, none of any of the groups would have made it down. The H’Mong women were amazing, no taller than 5 feet, but more sturdy than mountain goats. It took two of the them to hold me up (yes, I checked my pride at the door and accepted all the help I could). We spent the night in Ta Van village, with a family. Both the stay and the food were excellent. We had friendly conversation (mostly with sign language) and they even managed to get Jen and I to have a couple of glasses of their home brewed rice wine. Waking up in the morning to mist over the rice terraces and the smell of pancakes from the kitchen was amazing and made the upcoming muddy trek seem better. Four hours of muddy/rainy treking later we were back in Sapa ready for the bus back to our train to return to Hanoi.

After all the walking, climbing and sliding we were ready for some relaxation in Halong Bay…

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