Sunday, 12 October 2014

A whole new definition to serenity at Sapa City, Northern Vietnam

Yet another overland train ride to behold. We were drawing near the last leg of our backpacking trip and decided to end our self-imposed torture, but weren't exactly that ready to fork out the remaining fortune to do it the flashpackers' way. We chose the 2nd class seats. As if the cushions seats were humans and life has taken a toll on them, they were worn and torn; still comfortable enough to last me through a 12 hours until the lady seated opposite me decided to be my number one hater and placed her feet on my seat. The blasting of traditional music did nothing but elevate my already-peaking annoyance.

Few hours of heading further up north, I was awakened by the numbing chill sent from my toes to my upper thighs, the entire train cabin was like an enlarged compartment in the fridge. The temperature outside was approximately 5 deg cel and the sun that has already took its reign did not make any difference. The quote 'the only way out is the way through' finally made sense to me. 

Just when we were bracing ourselves against the winter breeze that slapped our faces countlessly, mini van touts were tugging at our backpacks and hoodies. Tip: After you alight at Lao Cai / Sapa Train Station, you'll have to take a 2 hours mini van ride to Sapa City Centre. We were ripped off USD 10 for 2 when we could have gotten it at USD 4. Though they are pretty oligopolistic and prices might not differ, no harm trying to haggle. 

Sapa City that nestles on China's border is like a dream place out of my fantasy. Christmas trees scattered along the winding lanes of niche shops selling handicrafts, souvenirs, or snacks to warm your gloomy winter. Walking along these repeated lanes, you can smell the sweet scent of yeast fermenting into pastries and witness the smoke fogging the shop windows with the love and effort from the chefs. If your legs could take you to the further end of the city, rice terraces would be greet with a tinge of familiarity mixed with adventure. I thought to myself, "I must make it there tomorrow." Tip: Sapa City is built at the top of the mountain, so if you wanna escape the spine-chilling cold, head down to the villages where the rice terraces will act like blankets. 

I spent the entire night filling my 1.5 litered bottles with boiling water to warm the bedding and nursing my torn skin from erratic dry weather, while smog finds its way out of my nostrils like a medieval dragon.

Was so thankful that I woke up alive and kicking (the half frozen bottles away, literally) the next morning, and contemplated between gazing at the rice terraces with a few cups of hot vietnamese milk coffee from afar until it was time to head back to Hanoi, and heading to the hill tribes. Although being on the road has taught me that beauty and happiness may come in the form of free commodity, one can't have something for nothing. After a brief online research, we decided to to head to the nearest village, Cat Cat. Tips: Reviews showed that you will need a guide or transportation on your way back up. Lose all those, just be ready in a pair of comfortable walking shoes and around USD3 for entrance fee. 

Don't be surprised if you have little girls of different ethnic minority groups hating on you should you buy something from their friends. Well, we learned it the hard way. But as if Mother Nature was my biological mom, she made the flustered tourists feel at ease instantly with the distraction of waterfalls and rustling leaves.

Tips: On our way back to the mountain top (Sapa City), we were approached by many motorbikes, telling us it's a long walk. Trust your quads, 30 minutes to 1 hour uphill hike and you'll be where you started off! 

Tips: Don't forget to stop for a cuppa at one of the cafes on your way up. 

Sapa, I'll definitely be back. You're too much a mecca for cultural and natural beauty to be left ignored and a cross on my travel destination list.

Read the next post to find out how I spent my 20th birthday.

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