I still remember how cold is it when I was arrived in Sapa, Vietnam. It was an early morning, we were just not having so good luck when we stepped in Sapa for the first time. Started by an anger to a Van driver that left us alone in an unknown street, which make me and my friend, Alfin, had to find our hotel without the city map at all.
We went from Hanoi last night with a sleeper train to Lao Cai. The journey took around 9 hours, while we departed from Hanoi train station at 9 pm and arrived in Lao Cai at 5.30 am. Before we took the train, we wished that perhaps the other passengers that join in same berth as us are nice person, because we expect to have a good sleep while the train starts to walk. And yes, it happened! A nice couple from France just be so good to be our travel partners that night. They have a long trip in South East Asia, as usual, make me a bit jealous. They will spend few days and surprised while hear about our plan to spend only 1 day in Sapa – not even 1 night 😉
When I posted my plan to visit Hanoi-Sapa, a good friend of mine from my Senior High School just text me that he interest to join the trip as well since he will be around Hanoi on the date I plan to go there. What a coincidence! Happily I agreed to meet him in Hanoi after my few days backpacking in other cities in Vietnam as well.
Sapa is a town located in North West Vietnam, 380 km from Hanoi, close to the border of China. The town of Sapa lies at an altitude of 1650 m. It’s always rainy and windy because of the ranges of mountains dominates the town. It is famous that in Sapa you can feel 4 season in one day, it’s because you can feel the heat of Summer, the soft of Spring, the windy Autumn and the Coldness of Winter in one day. Cool, huh? I am so curious about Sapa, since it’s in the very North of Vietnam and also because some minority such as Hmong, still live in Sapa.
After departed from Danang airport to Hanoi, I feel a bit dizzy seeing the busy Hanoi. If you ever visited Saigon and think that city is busy, come then to Hanoi and you will be more surprise. Saigon is the biggest city in Vietnam, but Hanoi that night is so full with people, or maybe I just arrived in one of peak street of the city.
I met with a nice Vietnamese guy on my flight from Danang to Hanoi. As usual, people think I am Vietnamese because of my face and skin. So this guy (which later I know his name is Thuc), quite wonder when he listened the stewardess talked to me in English. That pretty flight attendant also recognized me wrong previously and talk to me in Vietnamese while help me to put my bag on the cabin box. When I told her that I don’t understand what’s she talking about, she became shy and realized that I’m not one of them. So did Thuc, he looked at me curiously after later started a conversation while he saw me open the flight magazine. I tried to find out which places to visit in Hanoi. My intention to visit Hanoi more to because I wanna meet my dear cyber friend, Holly, and want to see Sapa – which should be reached through Hanoi.
We spent almost 1 hour talking. He explained some areas in Hanoi and suggest me some places to visit. From our conversation I knew that he is working in Danang and sometimes return to his home in Hanoi. Because of him, I know that the cost of taxi from Hanoi airport to any place in Hanoi cost you around 370.000 Vietnam Dong (VND) – no matter how the meter showed different rate. Also there is one price from any place in Hanoi city to the airport, around 350.000 VND, cheaper. After promise to keep in touch in Facebook, I said goodbye to him and thank you for such a nice conversation we had. Was a good started to be in an unknown place by meeting with nice people, it gives you a good and positive impression of the city.
Without any map, me and Alfin should find where is Elysian hotel is. My friend was so mad and annoying about the Van’s driver did to us. He asked us to pay around 100.000 Vnd/person while the other pay around 80.000 vnd, and promise to take us to our hotel. But the result is, they left us that way! In a place that we never been before. When we refused to go out from the car, they only pushing us to walk to our hotel and talk to us with local language and trouble English.
I tried to make myself and my friend calmed down. It was an unfortunate for us. But as long as we were getting lost together, I still think it’s ok. While walking and see around, I think, I already fell in love with Sapa. This town influenced a lot by France style. And the cold weather make it more nicer even in misfortune, at least I have a friend to share the feeling right now. But for him, that kind attitude really annoyed and make him want to punch one’s face (not mine! :P).
After going around in same street for so many times, turn left-turn right and ended up in a place that I was sure we were there before, finally we found the hotel. Yayyy!! It’s a tiny hotel but so cozy. They use the first floor for a restaurant while on the up stair is the hotel itself.
Our disappointment turned to be a joy when a very friendly guy, which later we knew as the Hotel Manager, welcoming us and show lots of genuine caring not because we were their guest, but more to human. He served us with welcome drink, which is a tea with lemon grass – taste sooo yummy for our thirsty lungs.
The decoration of the restaurant also very charming. Suddenly we both felt in love with the hotel. But our room not yet ready since it still around 7 in the morning. We need to wait for few hours. So we just decided to eat our breakfast there and maybe rent a motorbike to see the city.
We were discussing a bit whether motorbike or cycle that must be perfect transportation for going around the city? We thought bicycle can be so cool and adventurous. But imagine we have to ride it on the huge steep hills that we saw before on our way from Lao Cai to Sapa, made us hold the desire to renting 2 cycles. Better rent a motorbike. I know Jakarta is crazy with cars and motorbikes. But here in Vietnam, is more than that. I was a bit scare and doubting myself before whether I am able to ride the rental motorbike by myself or not. After counting my spirit, I was thinking “well better try than regret” so I said 2 when the friendly manager asked how many motor we want to rent. 1 for me, 1 for my friend.
Finished breakfast my delicious Pho, we get ready to try our motorbike. Oh, I was so nervous! I drive motorbike sometimes in Jakarta, but here is having different system of way comparing to Jakarta – such as the left and right way to go. Anyway, travel gives you an opportunity to do new things, so I took the challenge and encourage myself that I could do it. We need to fill the tank with gasoline first, ok, sound to be simple maybe, but keep gave me some nerves feeling. Well, it went well. After finished fill the Fuel Pump, we try to find Cat-Cat Village.
Sapa is really a cold place – literally. The weather is around 15 degrees when I was there (on March). The city is quite small so will not make you confuse that much, even you still need to adapt on your first time being there. But the mountain is HUGE! There’s so many rice field on the mountain that actually become the tourist attraction including it’s people of course. Hmong people is another appealing thing to see there. They are mountain people that able to walk very far away, up and down the mountain – so healthy! I heard from a friend that Hmong people usually only take a bath twice a year, maybe because it’s so cold there. I have no idea whether it’s right or not. I hugged them dearly when I finally met them and able to do that without think too much about cleanse matters, lol.
But you can’t easily being close with them. Their other way to make living is to sell some embroidery stuff they made. So don’t be surprise when they run to you if you take a picture of them. I know they are really a good photography object to be captured with our camera since they wear so many colorful clothes and accessories, but they have an understanding if you take pictures of them, you should give them money or buy their stuff. They are poor people so I think it’s fine if you wanna spend some money to buy their hand-made stuff, since it’s so good and nice quality anyway. And imagine how they’re walking that far by going up and going down the hills only to sell their stuff exactly make you feels to buy their stuff.
We can’t find where is Cat-Cat village, so we just went around the mountain and enjoying the view. It was a good experience tho’ since the view surrounding us was so priceless. The air is so fresh and the wind so strong, we must be careful with our stuff and keep balance of the motorbike because probably the wind can blow us away and fall down from the cliff. I almost broke my hands while can’t handle the motor when the wind shaken me up.
Finished riding around on the mountain – which I felt grateful we didn’t take the bicycle, with that kind of up and down road, we might never return to the hotel easily. We returned to hotel, now, our room already able to enter. We went to relax for a while and quite surprise with such a pretty room we had. After clean myself and enjoying the free of Vietnamese instant coffee on the table (which is still taste nicer than we have in Indonesia) – we walked out to find restaurant which still served lunch.
It’s already 3 pm and now we understand, in Sapa, restaurant not always open all the time. They have certain time, such as now – mostly they already closed. Lucky to us that finally we found a nice restaurant which is still served lunch.
Finished eating, we walk around the city and find the local market. It’s on a hall while Hmong put all their goods on the floor and try to sell it. I bought only 3 bracelets cause on this Vietnam trip, I forget to bring my ATM card and just survive for 11 days with $ 500 that I brought, which also for pay hotels, transportation and meals as I hop to many cities in Vietnam for 11 days I was there. But she was so happy when I bought the bracelet, make me almost teary my eyes.
When the time is up and we have to go back to our hotel and again take another Van to bring us to Lao Cai train station, this time, we asked to that friendly manager to booked the Van for us. Actually the Train will leave Lao Cai to Hanoi at 9 pm, but the last Van from Sapa to Lao Cai is at 5 pm, so we were being so hurry where depart from Sapa but had so plenty times waiting for our train in Lao Cai. Planned to had a massage but we didn’t see any proper massage place around the Train Station, so we just waited on a small cafe. This time, we didn’t have a cool partners on the same berth – 2 Vietnamese guys just stayed with us but they always talk and receiving phone with loud voices. That tiny room such turned to be a hell when I tried to sleep but their voices fill the whole of room. I was so tired and I feel I want to keep their mouth with my sandals – sorry to say, but why we buy the sleep train tickets if we don’t want to sleep? I didn’t remember when they were finally shut up their mouth – maybe around 1 am, I woke up with sore body, but one day trip to Sapa maybe sounds crazy for you – but it worked for us 🙂