17 May, Lao Cai Sapa Road SAPA
Arrive Lao Cai railway station at 6am.
Transfer to Sapa (~37km). Have breakfast at local restaurant and free for visiting Sapa market.
12:00: Have lunch.
PM: Nice walk to visit Cat Cat village and Cat Cat stream of the Black H'mong people (~5km).
It is time to leave Hanoi for a time and travel northwest to visit the areas of the Montagnards (mountain people). Our base will be Sapa, "Queen of the Mountains" and it will take an entire night's train ride toget there.
"Who is it that does not love a train?" to misparaphrase Frost.
The gentle rocking, creaking, lullaby, the ever-changing view, cosiness and comfort, safety.
We climbed on the train last night and what a pleasant surprise to behold the clean, modern sleeper cars glowing with golden-reddish wood. It is the King Express. Out sleepr c\has four couchette, a talbe with candies and crackers...the toilets are even clean, with an outside sink for washing up. A drinks cart brings tea and juice for free, beer and other alcoholic drinks for a small fee. The students play Pit with the deck I brought with me, but must switch to "silent" mode when things get a bit too noisy. (We have most of this car, but not all of it.)
I take a top bunk and after the customary ablutions settle down for the night with a good book. Soon all the other inhabitants of my cart are asleep and I spend some time watching the scenery roll past. I hated to go to sleep to miss any of it, but eventually sleep I did, and comfortably, too.
I awoke at about 5 to find it already beginning to be light outside. I dressed and stood in the corridor watching a new vista unfold. The wide brown river flows sluggishly. In the distance misty mountains cast their tranquil protective arms around the land.
We pass a brick-making"factory"--little more than a pile of clayish dirt next to a pond. A boy trudges back with a five-gallon container of drinking water (obtained from how far away?). Fields of corn right up to the tracks, scattered villages, cool, green, damp, fertile.
Soon our train pulls into Lao Cai Station (a stone's though away fromthe Chinese border) and we all pile out. After breakfast (pho again, but I never tire of it) we climb aboard the bus tthatwill take us from Lao Cai to Sapa. It is a small bus and we are crowded in together.
Woven bamboo walls, infact bamboo used for all sorts of structures, corrugated tin roofs, chickens, dogs, water buffalo, a group of puppies gnaw on a stick... and incongrously, a satellite dish perched on the roof of one house. Many houses have electricity.
Winding, winding, winding up the steep mountain road. Second gear, first gear. We gaze down from the road onto terraces cut into the sides of the hills. When we finally arrive at Sapa it looks very much of an Austrian or Swiss mountain town--only with dozens of Hmong in traditional garb!
It's main market day in Sapa, and the streets are crowded. We check into our hotel and take advantage of the shower to clean up after the long trip. The damp and the steepness of the streets reminds me of Sintra in Portugal. We eat lunch at Gerbera, a restaraunt reached by a set of stairs up from the main drag. As we feast on local Vietnamese favorites, a cat growls (no, really!) under our tables.
The "Nice walk to visit Cat Cat village" consists of a walk straight down the mountain side. (Not so nice knowing that we will be climbing back up). To describe properly the experience withthe Hmong will require another post later on--it's time for bed.