08.06.2010 - 10.06.2010 25 °C
After surviving the bus journey back to Hanoi we then had to directly take the overnight train to Sapa which is in Vietnam's North West. Sapa is one of Vietnam’s few mountain ranges and this is where the majority of the country's rice is produced. This was our first occurrence of a train ride in South East Asia and this was an experience in itself. Our berth had 6 beds in it so it was very tight and we later discovered we had bed bugs as we all felt the nips in the night.
In the morning we woke bitten but alive and we finally arrived at The Summit Hotel and managed to get settled in to some form of luxury. I was really impressed with our hotel, it was clean and the best part was that all the food was inclusive in our tour. After a wonderful breakfast, we then started our tour where we were introduced to our guide “Shom”. She was 16 year old girl who could speak 4 languages and she was just amazing. She was from one of the Hmong tribal villages which is an Asian ethnic group from the mountainous regions of Vietnam, Laos and Thailand. Her job was to take us on an trek around Sapa's mountain range, showing us the ways of the various tribal villages, explaining the difference in cultural beliefs while providing a guided tour of the rice paddy fields. Funnily enough at the start of our tour, we were introduced to most of her tribe who followed us around asking questions and being really friendly. I thought these young girls were cute and harmless until they turned on us at the end of the walk producing tons of hand made items for sale out of thin air. It was quite incredible how they managed to hide this stuff and the way they would hassle you and make you feel guilty if you refused to buy. The only thing is once you buy from one they expect you to buy from everyone and these handmade items are not cheap. At the end of the tour you are then free to explore Sapa town but we decided to spend the rest our day relaxing in our hotel trying to recover from the midnight express, the bedbugs and Halong Bay.
As we woke on the second day bright and early, it was time to start the long trek around the tribal villages and rice paddies. The weather in Northern Vietnam can be quite cool and rainy but we were lucky to have sunny warm weather, which was great as the walk is very muddy and slippery. I could not imagine doing this tour in the rain as it would be slightly dangerous and unpleasant. As we trekked though mountainous region it was really interesting to meet the people from the villages and hearing about their ways of life and cultures. In the afternoon, we stopped off for a meal before the end of the trek then took a mini bus back to the hotel. We said our goodbyes to our amazing tour guide Shom and thanked her by rewarding her with a rather generous tip of £9. This would have been a massive tip for her and she literally ran out the hotel then skipped down the road, so I think we made her weekend. On the way back to Hanoi we then decided to upgrade on the night train and wow what a difference a 4 bed deluxe berth makes. It was cleaner, more modern and happy to report no strange men (apart from Karl) was in our berth! Overall, I must say this was one of the best things I have ever done since travelling and it was the perfect way to end our Northern Vietnam trip.