Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Sapa

Shopping:
Many stalls selling knock off North Face clothing, traditional clothing and tourist gifts

Clothing:
During December Sapa is freezing, think ski-ing without the snow! Take very warm coat, jumpers, trousers and make sure you layer when going out, especially whilst riding a moped.

It was daylight by the time we arrived here and the views from where we had stopped were breathtaking. It was a clear sunny day and we could see the clouds resting below the mountain tops.

The best views of Sapa that we unfortunately only saw for one day

We were dropped off at a hotel called 'Hoang Ha Hotel' and after enquiring, booked a double room for $10 a night, whilst the other four had a room for $15 a night. The rooms were actually really nice and had lovely furnishings, in fact the whole hotel was very grand and it made a change to the featureless rooms we had become accustomed to. It wasn't located in the main town centre, it was more so on a mountain side road which was only a short walk away from the town.

Our room at Hoang Ha Hotel

As we hardly slept on the train we were all very tired and went to bed to get some much needed sleep. We got up at 11am and soon realised just how cold the room was, especially as there was no heating or electric blankets and the floor had ice cold tiles. I quickly ran into the shower, got halfway through washing my hair when suddenly the water turned cold. Ian went to reception to inform the staff but he was told that we would have to wait 15 minutes for the water to heat up again. I had only been in the shower for a few minutes and wasn't exactly happy about it as the room itself was freezing. We decided to go in search of another room later that evening.

After walking around the markets in the town and getting some food, the five of us hired mopeds, Josh was unable to come as he was poorly. We rove around the forever twisting mountain roads, taking in the views and cruising through local villages. Along the way Ian and I were flagged down by the Police, as were Jason and Luke, somehow Aaron had sneaked past without being noticed! 

The Police asked to see Ian and Jasons' licences as they were both driving. Ian produced his paper licence and his CBT document. Although this would still not technically be legal, we didn't get fined and were allowed to leave. Jason however had forgotten his licence and the Police wanted to fine him 200,000d. He explained that he did have a licence he just didn't have it on him and offered the Police 100,000d, which they thankfully accepted and let him on his way.

Tip:
Always carry your licence, don't carry around large sums of money in your wallet and another tip we heard from the locals was to drive past the Police even if they flag you down! (Hmm not sure that would work?)

The waterfall

A friendly local that we bought sticky rice from

We stopped off at a waterfall called 'Silver Waterfall' and ate some sticky rice at a stall nearby. We decided to carry on along the road to another waterfall but there was an entry fee and by this point a thick fog had set in around the mountain making the views less desirable. Instead, we climbed to a view point which was free of charge and only a short walk away, where we were met with icy winds that made our eyes water.

We headed back to the town and arrived home at 5:30pm. All of us were quite cold by this point as none of us had packed warm coats and we were surviving on one jumper each and t-shirt layers.

Tip:
Even the restaurants and pubs are cold, all the staff take your orders whilst wearing thick coats, so wrap up warm.

That night i went in search of some accommodation in the town and bumped into a couple we had met in Hanoi called Amy and Mike. They joined us for dinner and kindly pointed me in the direction of the cheap accommodation.  I couldn't find anything cheaper than $10 a night and most of the places were fully booked due to it almost being NYE. I gave up looking in the end and decided to ask the reception staff at our hotel for either an electric blanket or a heater.

It turned out the hotel didn't have any electric blankets and wanted to charge us an extra $3 a night for the use of a heater. I argued that it wasn't exactly fair as the hot water didn't work sufficiently and many other hotels offered an electric blanket free of charge. The reception staff didn't sympathise and i decided i could not cope with being freezing cold any more, so the following morning i once again went in search of a room but this time further up the mountain from our hotel.

I finally found a place to stay called 'Delight Hotel', it was only a 2 minute walk up from where we were already staying. I bartered the room down from $14 to $12 a night, this included a bath, constant hot running water and a heater. The room was cosier and had wooden flooring, making it much warmer even without the heater on.

Our room at Delight Hotel

We had hired our bikes for 2 days and had got up early on our second day to go exploring. The scene that greeted us was thick fog and you could barely see a metre in front of you, making driving conditions treacherous. Ian ended up buying a fake North Face coat for £12 and i ended up borrowing his spare waterproof jacket that turned out to be a lifesaver.

Me on the hire bike that i could barely hold it up let alone try and ride it

My driver

After some breakfast we held out hope that the bad weather would pass and ventured towards the lake to have a look around. We found what we thought was the lake (yep, the fog was THAT bad!) and then stumbled across a shack with a small fire inside that was selling tea and coffee. We had only driven around for half an hour and already needed some hot drinks to warm up!

The weather failed to improve and we all headed back to our hotel rooms in the afternoon. It was a real shame as we had paid to hire the bikes but were unable to use them and we all really wanted to see the impressive views that we had been expecting.

The thick fog and the point at which we got 'lost'

video

I made this video of us on the bike whilst trying to find our way back to the hotel in the thick fog (by the way i don't speak like that in real life, I'm joking around!)

We again woke up to another foggy/drizzly day and after a lazy morning we ventured into the town for some food and NYE drinks. We started off quite early at our favourite pub called, 'Color Bar', and after playing cards for a few hours and having some food we met up with Amy and Mike. 

Inside and outside of the Color Bar

We then went to a bar called 'Hmong Sisters' located on D Muong Hoa in the town. The bar was quite busy and everyone was in high spirits. The only downside to this bar was the extremely slow bar service. It was beyond ridiculous, although having three bar staff on NYE was probably not the best idea.

We saw in the New Year here and by this point had met up with some local girls who were all in the mood for celebrating, even though the Vietnamese don't officially celebrate NYE.

A change of scenery was in order and we headed to the only club in Sapa, called 'Hi-End'. The local girls joined us and we had a quick dance in the club before the music abruptly ended and everyone had to leave by 1am. Once again we all returned to the Hmong Sisters Bar which by this point the night gets kind of hazy for me. Except for this memory of Ian and I returning to our hotel, only to find that we had been locked out! After scaling the large metal gates and banging on the door for someone to let us in, we were thankfully greeted by a sleepy and probably bemused owner.

Ian and I in the Hi-End club

The following day (our final day in Sapa) was a write off, partly because of the previous night but mostly due to appalling weather. I had hoped that i would wake up to a fog/drizzle free day and was prepared to force myself to go trekking had the weather improved. Sadly this was not meant to be and unfortunately i didn't get to see the Sapa i had hoped for.

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