From our last journey Vietnam Trip : Ha Noi - Sapa ตอน 1 now, let's continue our next episode.
Let's continue to Sapa, where I fall in love with 'mountain' episode 2.
Everyone must have dream places. It might be one or two places that we tell ourselves that we must go see once in our lives. I also have one place, a very ordinary place. Actually, it's just an ordinary rice terrace field with a tall mountain view that everyone says, you can also find it at 'our home', Thailand.
'Rainy' season is the season that many people feel bored, but it's the season of waiting...and harvesting the beauty of mist after rains, tall mountains, and a far distance lush green and watery terrace rice field. This past mid-September, I escaped the rain in Bangkok and enjoyed in Vietnam instead. What's the difference? The rain remains the same but the 'view behind the rain' is what makes it all different.
That's it. A very ordinary dream place of me.
A small city in the middle of high mountains, it is located at Lao Cai Province on the northeast region of Vietnam. It is located at 1,600 kilometers above sea level. The weather is cold all year round with snow in some year.
Sapa, a natural city that is covered by mist and embraced by mountain, an ordinary city that my heart is calling to come for once in a lifetime.
:: Vietnam Trip 10-14 Sep 2015 ::
Day 1 Ha Noi Ha Noi, (GA Ha Noi to Ga Lao Cai)
Day 2 Sapa Lao Cai to Sapa, Sapa
Day 3 Sapa Sapa, (Ga Lao Cai to Ga Ha Noi)
Day 4 Ha Noi Ha Noi
Day 5 Ha Noi Back to Bangkok
:: 10 Sep 2015
That night with 'one sleep' (if you sleep deep and only wake up once), VN Train : Ha Noi - Lao Cai takes us to Lao Cai Station. Yet, it's not our destination of 'invited me to like view'. There's one more test by riding a bus with 'one sleep'. Only then, we will reach Sapa.
That night, the sound of train was continually ringing and the train traveled with consistent speed. I think they also stopped at several stations but since we traveled in Hanoi all day long so we slept since the first sound of the train in the first hour.
Just a few minutes pass 6 a.m., the only window in the room starts to shine with light. Together with the train sounds, they wake us up to appreciate the view 'along the way'.
The train goes pass a village or a community near the train station and we take a close look at the house. The house is constructed back to back to the railway. Then, I'm wondering.....whether they were often woken up by the train like we did during these morning hours.
Now, the view from the window has changed. From houses to a long river in parallel with the train and mountains in far sight.
The same last night train staff knock on our door. We open the door to find that he comes with a small cart and beverages and he speak English. Then, we have our first coffee of the day. It is nothing special, just a ready-made coffee from a package (15,000 VND a glass). But the feeling of having a hot Vietnamese coffee on the train is something special.
And the second knock is the signal tell us.... to get our backpack ready.
:: 11 Sep 2015
In front of Lao Cai Train Station!!!
:: Lao Cai City is located on the northeast of Vietnam. It boarders to China. It is a transportation hub that will take you onto other destinations, including Sapa.
Our Speed Train (8 hours journey) reaches the destination at around 6.30 a.m. Outside is light now and the travelers are moving out of GA Lao Cai.
The first view we see while waiting for the pick up car from the hotel is that Lao Cai is a quite a developed city though it might not be as developed as Hanoi, but certainly not much less. The buildings are tall with a focus of utmost utilizing of space and it is so colorful that I can't resist to bring out my camera.
The outside of the train station is like any other mass transportation place where it is full of shops and cars coming for picking passengers like vans, buses, and mini vans. This level 6 of chaos fully wakes me up. The staff with the hotel sign tells us to stay in a group before taking us to the van. This time, we are traveling with other people (we have contacted the hotel in advance). It is a 12 seats minivans including the driver (3 USD per person).
...We only have a few moment to enjoy Lao Cai before the driver drives us off the station, honking through the crowd. We are going through morning market. Flowers, vegetables, fruits are orderly placed on the road side, some are put in trays and some are on the floor. Although it's early....but shops are opened. The eating places are also opened along the way, looking very lively. It is the Lao Cai style of prosperity, even it's less than Hanoi but I'm sure it's convenient for anyone.
From Lao Cai province to Sapa is 36 kilometers which we will reach by 'one sleep'. However, since we sit next to the driver, we can't sleep. Why? He's such a skillful driver, going here and there swiftly even on the curvy hills. So, we are so 'awake and excited' along the way. As a result, we can see beautiful 'view along the way'. When the driver winks to a direction, it's as if he wants to show us interesting view. So we follow his wink every times. It is....a spacious below view with fresh green rice terrace fields.
Now urbanization is swallowed gradually. Not so long, the reflection from the 360 degree mirror is covered with... mountains after mountains.
From the ground to the slope, the sky without the emission of carbon monoxide now turns to crystal clear and open. It is accompanied with mountains surrounded by light mist floating at the top. Together with deep valleys on both side, though it's a bit horrifying, it's awfully beautiful!
The first thought that comes to my mind even I've yet reached the destination is that, I will come back.
May be this is what they call...."falling in love" even before seeing it.
The weather gets colder on the mountain. The driver turns off the air-conditioner and opens the window to welcome natural air.
Half an hour later, the weather is chill but very nice. Mountains after curvy roads are still seen even we are entering the neighborhood. Soon after, honking is back. Once we enter the city, more cars are seen and people start to walk along the street.
...I was secretly thinking that how this place will be similar or different to Hanoi or Lao Cai? Will it be chaotic or so developed that I can't see what I intended to see?
Well, Sapa is about 300 kilometers away from Hanoi and a bit more than 30 kilometers from Lao Cao. Soon, I got the answer that.....although it's not so far in distance, it's so far in the 'feeling'.
Nearly an hour before we reach downtown Sapa, the car drives through the natural abundance into the densely packed residential area, and it keeps moving. The honking is getting serious when the local scooter drives cut us and we have to overtaking scooter driven by tourist who looked a bit confused in driving as they have to ride on the right (different side to Thailand).
:: Sa Pa Town
The cold land with a warm embrace from mountains and mist, the city that offers every season in a day. They said.....it will be cold in the morning, hot in the afternoon, rainy anytime, and gets cold again at night.
For accommodation, we booked online and communicated the pick up car between Ga Lao Cai and Sapa via mail before hand and the payment will be made upon arrival.
P.S. We exchange Dong (VND) for food, rental scooter and others, as well as keep some USD.
P.S. If you need to exchange more of Dong at Sapa, you can exchange it at the bank near the lake. You will get a better rate than the hotel. And if you exchange it from Noi Ban Airport, the rate is better than Hanoi and Sapa. Whether to use Dong or USD, you can make a calculation (I download a green currency application for this matter) as the rate of each shop may not be the same.
P.S. The free WiFi is still available during our time in Sapa, so convenient!
:: Sapa Eden Hotel
Just before 8 a.m., the car drops us at the hotel as the first group. Our hotel is located in the alley behind Sapa Market which is close to Food Street. It is approximately 2-3 kilometers down into the alley. It is a small four-story egg color hotel.
We book Family Suit room type hotel which accommodates 3 people (we are 4 people so we pay the fee for additional person). The room provides 2 king-size beds. It is an air-conditioning room on a second floor to the front of the hotel side. The facilities are well equipped with TV, a fridge, hot water machine and WiFi as well as a clean and compact sitting corner. They also offer drinking water, tea, and coffee. The room is spacious and certainly a perfect place for a family trip.
P.S. Only few hotels in Sapa offer air-conditioning room since the weather is cold all year round. Some hotel offers it in case the weather gets too hot.
P.S. Staff at the hotel is very friendly and smiley with a good command of English and provides us excellent advise and services.
P.S. Sapa Eden is located in a neighborhood near small walking street that leads to a Square at Sapa downtown. The route is a hill but not too steep. The hotel is surrounded with mountain view of Muong Hoa Valley.
I just learn that most of hotel here will let you check out at 11.00 a.m. Since we arrive early, so we have to wait. In between, we try the breakfast at the hotel ( it is 3 USD each person). It is a breakfast set serving with a main course, a choice of Fer (noodle) or eggs menu with toasted bread, and a beverage of either tea, coffee or fruit juice and seasonal fruits.
:: First Meal
It is a simple breakfast at Sapa but I must say it is a tasty one (especially scramble eggs).
P.S. Fer has a mild taste, it would have been better if you squeeze some lime and put in some chili.
P.S. For American breakfast, it serves eggs with bread. However, if we order bread, we will get a baguette (French bread), we have to order toast and we will get a regular bread. It might be the same bread, but the 'eating time' is far different.
The special thing about this first meal is the location. It is a few dining tables in the small room at the top floor of the hotel. It is a glass room that you can see mountains as well as open sky that are high and wide. Even before the food arrive, we are already out at the terrace to capture the view of 'mountain'.
The spacious mountain view of Muong Hoa Valley is endless, together with the light mist covering the top of mountain as well as the green rice terrace. By this, it already makes us【full】for half of our stomach.
Here, the 'sky' is dark blue and the 'cloud' is extremely white. They contrast each other in the way that we cannot find the horizontal line. I'm secretly envy the local here. They live close to the nature and can look at the sky that is truly blue everyday. In another look, they will see 'mountain' and houses that situated in the different level accordingly to the hill that was unintentionally built but became the charm of the city. As a result, more hotels and hostels were built to accommodate more tourists..
They live on with [sufficiency] principle that they don't let development overtaken the nature. I think....the charm of Sapa will not fade away easily.
:: Check In
We get into our room at 9.30 a.m. as we are lucky that the previous guest checked out early. Then we have somewhere to sit, lay down and relax. Soon, the inviting feeling comes to call me out for exploring the alleys that the car went through this morning.
Late morning, the weather is a bit warmer than the morning. It might be about late 20 degree Celsius. Today the weather is clear, not too hot. The first thing I notice is the small shop decorated with flowers in front of our hotel. It is located at the foot of the hill, such a good location. We can enjoy with.... a view of 'mountain', just by thinking, what a happy time!
Walk to the nearby area, it is a small road situated many shops and hotels, including the restaurant that we've seen from some reviews like Nature View.
The brand name shopping place of Made in Vietnam that offers shoes, bags, jackets. If you ask me are they cheap?....um, they are cheap. If you are interested, the seller will tell you the price with a calculator and we can offer the price we are satisfied with, then both parties can enjoy a win-win situation.
For me 'travel by foot' is to harvest the story in a close up fashion with their 'way of lives'. It may be ordinary but certainly full of ..... charm.
It's noon now, our plan for today is a downtown sightseeing. We contact to rent 2 scooters from the hotel. The automatic scooter per day is 120,000 VND (the manual is 100,000 VND), we fill the patrol ourselves and return back before 20.00 p.m.
Sapa has only one gas station and it is located along the way back to Lao Cai province. Early evening, scooters are delivered to us with little patrol that is only enough for us to ride to the gas station. So we must fill the patrol first. We fill up 40,000 VND to each scooter. In fact, you can fill less than this, depending on where you will be travelling to.
On how to ride a scooter in Sapa, we must ride on the right lane with a helmet on at all time.
Oh! try to honk from time to time too. The honk is for people and the cars that we ride by. More importantly....try to get used to with it, so you won't get frightened when you are being honked.
If you are traveling and didn't get lost, that would be a strange experience. That we ride according to this very 'comprehensive' map in our hand, it's almost impossible not to get lost. From the gas station, we drive to Lao Cai direction, almost deep into the mountain, quite far, haha. So then we got this photo back due to this directional lost.
Scooter here has an old to a very old condition. Even if it's the automatic one, we cannot speed it up the hill. The petrol indicator stays still that I thought the patrol was used up due to we rode out of the way earlier.
Wow, so now we got nervous. We are in the middle of the mountain and there's only one gas station, several kilometers away too. Finally, we go back to the gas station only to find that the indicator is broken, a big sigh...
:: Silver Water Fall | Thac Bac
Silver Waterfall is located on the mountain, approximately 15 kilometers away from the city. From Lao Cai route, we come back to the city and get lost for a couple times from riding here and there into the alley from the map. Eventually, we have to use Google Map. Some place has no clear sign that we have to explore ourselves.
We try this and that. Sometimes it's right, sometimes it's wrong. We ride to small alley at the junction of Victoria Hotel and Food Area. We continue riding until we see the tri-junction and see the sign telling us to turn left onto T-Bac. The route is quite curvy. The nature on both sides is abundant. It is the mountain after the rice terrace field and we can see Silver Waterfall in a far....far distance.
Then, we ride until we reach our destination. Just look from the right up, the Silver Waterfall is right at the mountain. On the opposite site is the shops and the parking lot. If you are interested to see this 100 meter tall waterfall, there's admission fee. But for us, we are just going to enjoy from the outside.
...From here, the water is in strong tide, it flows down to a city.
Nearby the Silver Waterfall, there's restaurants hiding on the way (about 1 kilometer before reaching the waterfall). The entrance is a bit downward like we are going down the hill. Inside, there're 2 restaurants. From here, we can see the waterfall in a distance as a backdrop. This restaurant names after the waterfall and a bit bigger than the restaurant I choose.
This restaurant....has a salmon farm. Hundreds of them are swimming in the pond with fierce guard dogs. We can take this fresh salmon to cook like sashimi or hotpot. The restaurant will let us choose the fish and we can also get to see fish preparation before they are cooked
At this hour, I will pass this opportunity and just eat.
Our lunch is at almost 4 p.m., so the whole team is starving. 2 salmon weighs 1.5 kilograms and we have it cooked into 2 big plates of sashimi serving with a big set of fresh vegetable and salted grilled. For the head and tail, we have them boiled with vegetable and instant noodle with a salty seasoning pack that is not spicy. The fried vegetable looks like morning glory, not greasy, comes in a big plate and it is delicious.
The restaurant recommends us to take fillet fish wrapping in a crispy dough that has somewhat salty taste. We place all kind of fresh vegetable first before putting the fillet salmon, then we top it with cucumber, carrot, and raw banana in a thin long slide. We wrap it for one bit each roll, it is very delicious, thumb up :)
P.S. Salmon is 600,000 VND/kilogram, the meat is mouthful with a frequent line. When eating this sashimi, the taste is a bit different than what we normally have. But when it is cooked, the taste is not much different.
P.S. There's also ice on the mountain although it might have strange look and not clear. Coke is 15,000 VND and water is 10,000 VND.
P.S. This is the most expensive meal of Vietnam trip, it is 1,290,000 VND. Overall, the food is delicious and it is so worth the price, especially with the fact that we actually ride all the way up here. Super worthy!!!
We leave the restaurant nearly 5 p.m. On the way, the temperature seems to drop quickly, the weather is so cool that we can call it 'old'. The thin jacket that I wear cannot hold it. We think that the street light will not be available much on the mountain, so we decided to go down quickly. Anyhow, we still have some time to 'enjoy' the view along the way. When the sky is yet dark, the sun is about to set with a warm light shinning on the mountain and rice terrace field....so invited breathtaking view.
I keep the view in my 'heart' and record it with 'camera' before the last light of the day is saying a farewell to the world.
We plan to rent a scooter one day only, tomorrow we plan to roam by foot. After Thac Bac, we go directly into the city.
:: Sapa Lake
In Sapa, lake is still one of the first things you would think of. Although the water is not much, at some point, it's even dry, still, it's beautiful when we look at that still water with the unique buildings and complex mountains streak.
Lake is another destination that will remind us of Sapa, and I do hope that I can visit again in winter so that I might get a chance to see snow reflecting in the lake again.
There's also a recreational park around the lake that you can walk. Benches and fresh flower beds are all there. And it's also has a landmark with the flowers put into the word of SAPA 2015 as if to tell others that... we are here, at Sapa.
In the evening....more people are walking around, the restaurants are getting busier. They are taking dogs, the expensive food to sit outside the restaurant (it looks like roasted pigs) to call for people to come in. Well, I would have to pass for this menu. Let's turn our attention to Hmong girls who are sitting on the walkway, they are waiting for tourists and often stick to be a private tour guide if we would like to trek to the villages.
:: Sapa Square
From the lake, we are continued to the Square in the center of Sapa (it's not so far from here). It seems to be a center of the city where a big crowd of people and hill tribes are sitting to sell local souvenirs. They are smiling to the tourists to invite them to shop in a familiar manner. Some of them carried baby with them, some put baby in the cloth around their waist while some just let baby crawl like the Square is their 'home'.
The Hmong's costumes are very fresh in color, looking very colorful. With their full costume, they smile to us when we take their photos.
The later the evening, the more people are coming. This might be also because it is close to Food Street and shopping center, so tourists can walk here and come checking out. Altogether, it makes this place very lively.
The sky is getting dark now. Let's stop by at Vihara, the famous temple of Sapa. It has yet turn on the light like the photos taken by others but it still looks beautiful in its own style....antique and valuable.
It is late evening and the sky is almost completely dark, the light mist starts to cover the mountain and the temperature drops to early 20 degree Celsius. The atmosphere is great, it gets more comfortably chill and not yet too cold. And the darker it gets, the more people are at the Square.
It's night now....May be it's time to say good bye to Sapa Square and Hmong's Baby and Mom and return to our hotel after the fullness of seeing, hearing, listening, and touching. It might not be deep yet but I definitely feel the simple happiness at Sapa.
A Day in Sapa
It's such a long trip before we are arriving at Sapa, we had to take flight, train, and minivan. As soon as we arrive, the atmosphere changed. That's why it's a place for relax. It is as beautiful as the photo that 'invited me to like' and today I 'believe' it when I see with my own eyes.
One thing that I got from this visit is that....No matter where you want to go, you have to start that journey. Start today, so that you don't have to say 'if I knew this, I would have visited 5 years ago'.
Sapa in brief
:: Why not in Love with SAPA, ❤️ ::
- A place that ... you can feel the difference the minute you step out at Ga Lao Cai. People, building, and road are less crowded than Ha Noi.
- A place that ...you have to get on minivan and one sleep on the way to Sapa.
- A place that ... is hidden in the mountains and covered with mist almost all day long.
- A place that ... most of hotels have no air-conditioning.
- A place that ... has beautiful flowers, even the rice plant is beautiful.
- A place that ... I secretly fall in 'love' since my first 'sight'.
- A place that ... my gut tells me that I will come back again.
Stay tuned to...
Vietnam Trip : Ha Noi - Sapa Episode 3 soon.
For my previous Episode, please click Vietnam Trip : Ha Noi - Sapa ตอน 1
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GOOD NIGHT, SAPA