We arrived in Sapa 2.5 hours later and boy what a contrast! We were bombarded with ladies trying to sell us their handicrafts or take us trekking. Men wanting us to take a taxi. It was full on! We walked towards our hotel gawking in horror at the massive new hotels (Pete almost vomited at the hideousness of the architecture) we were quite disappointed in the place. After a short walk headed down some stairs and came across a completely different area… grungy, dirtier, hip and cool at the same time. We were in “old Sapa” and thankfully that was where we were staying.
We were very keen on doing a 3 day trek and while we had read that it was easy to do yourself we had also heard of a company called Sapa Sisters that is owned and operated by the female Hmong guides themselves. The company was set up about 14 years ago by 2 sisters and the cousin with the help of a Swedish lady with the objective of cutting out middle men and privately owned operators to create better opportunities and empowering hill tribe women, it now has 27 guides plus employ extras during peak periods.
The plan was to trek down the valley staying the first night in the house of local family then trekking further down the valley to a home stay, day three would be a short walk before being bussed back up the hill to Sapa.
The night before the trek, there were massive thunderstorm and the rain continued the next day, a great way to start a 3 day trek in the mountains. Our guide, ‘Pen’, all of about 4 foot nothing, greeted us at the shop and after the obligatory paperwork we headed off. She offered us the opportunity to spend night one at her own home with her family and have dinner with them. She said it was just up the hill so we eagerly accepted.
I was sliding everywhere and as most of my friends know my wonderful sense of balance, I had a hard time keeping my feet!!! My butt was soon covered in as much mud as my boots! Our guide had to hold my hand on numerous occasions to help me down the steeper sections (after talking to others who we came across over the few days I was not alone!!). There was one point when pete was taking a photo, I had my arm extended in the air, holding up an umbrella to cover the camera, standing in this muddy rice paddy, and the thunder was sounding… I did have a brief moment questioning what the hell was I doing here.
After what seemed hours we eventually left the muddy fields and joined a pathway. It was quite a relief. We came across a few others with their guides, they were wet but clean!!! They opted for the ‘easy option’…. Boring farts!
The smooth concrete path finished at a rocky goat track cum water course, which we continued up. There were intermittent mud holes and water crossings amongst the rocks, and then it got seriously steep, with even bigger rocks. My muscles had taken a beating slipping and sliding about all day and now to be greeted by this, huge rocks I had to drag my self up and over, my body was soooo over it! I kept seeing these houses appear and wishfully thinking was this it? Are we there yet? Pen would say, shall we take 5 mins rest?...OK not even close, bugger.
(Note from Pete- As Bea dragged herself up this hell, up ahead Pen was walking up the path knitting and chatting on the phone!!!) Thankfully it had stopped raining that afternoon, so we could stop to admire the sensational views. Admittedly they got better as we were getting higher!
When we eventually arrived the buffalo was already in his house for the night, pigs were in their pen, the free range chickens & ducks had been fed, the obligatory dog and cats were chilling on the verandah and I needed a beer more than I ever needed one before!!!
Argh bollocks.. nearest shop was back down the hill where we had lunch, Pen suggested Pete could pop down and buy a couple, Pete suggested Pen could… well.. you can figure that out!
Note to self buy beer before climbing mountains!
Pen boiled the kettle on the open fire in their kitchen and poured a lovely bowl of warm water for us to wash our muddied face and legs, much better.
Pen and her husband lit the fire and started cooking dinner and while pete helped pen with preparing the herbs from the garden, I sat on a little stool enjoying the fire. We and the family sat down to dinner in room and what a feast was simple home cooking at its best, tofu with a tomato ragout, chicken stir fried with cabbage, morning glory, spring rolls along with the fresh herbs and salad leaves pete helped prepare earlier, and heaps of rice.
Our bed was in the same room as the rest of the family, a large room with several double beds separated with a light curtain. I'm sure the bed was a slab of wood with a yoga mat to sleep on!!! It was a tough sleep, didn't help that the roosters felt that 3am was sunrise!!! We heard the kids leave for their 1.5hr trek for school at 6:30am Before rising to another feast for breakfast. Steamed rice, omelette, cooked greens and fried preserved pork (fat)
A short walk the next morning, then a mini van back to Sapa ended our trek. I was grateful of a short day. We had a great trip, some great testing walks, incredible scenery but a hot shower and soft bed I was ready for!
Other than the descent from pens house, the level of difficulty of day to was pretty low, That was until Pete elected to take the short cut to he homestay, a short testing section at the end just to make you feel you had really trekked! While the homestay had hostel style dorm rooms it did have hot showers and BEER. There were a few groups staying the night here including a lovely group from Halifax, Nova Scotia . Hopefully one day we will get there to say hi again.
During the trek you meet other trekkers, walk and chat a little then go off in your own direction. On one occasion nice couple from Australia.. he was from from falls creek. We said “oh we know the CEO of falls creek!” The guy said “oh I'll tell Stuart you said hi!” …. Small world when you are travelling
After a month on the road, staying in cheap hotels or hostels and a 3 day muddy trek, we waved the “luxury” card for the second time and booked into a the Aira boutique hotel for the night.
The hot shower never felt so good! We went out and bought some gin, some tonics and some snacks and came back to sit on our balcony and look at the wonderful views of the white out where the majestic fansipan mountain should have been. Fortunately the internet was working, so we could watch the footy, unfortunately for the Demons there structures weren't and they went down to Essendon.
The restaurant hotel had been received several good reviews so we thought we might try another attempt at my ‘birthday dinner’ The reviews were right, what a lovely restaurant. Great food.
After a good night sleep in a soft bed, and finally in bright sunshine we walked up to the Catholic Church and caught the 9.00 am bus back to Lau Cai. As we crossed the bridge and turned into Lau Cai the bus stopped and the conductor pointed animatedly up the road behind us yelling China China…. So we hopped off grabbed our packs and headed in that direction.