SAPA: mountains, magic, music, and mud.

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e have looked forward to our visit to Sapa since we started planning our trip to Vietnam. So many people we’ve spoken to, and blogs we’ve read, have had such good things to say about it. Although we had a slight glitch in the middle of our stay, which threatened to derail the experience somewhat, overall it was a fantastic few days, with lots of great memories.

It was a magic spot, surrounded by mountains and rice paddies, ladies in Black Hmong garb selling their wares, animals roaming wild in the streets.

It all started with an overnight train from Hanoi to Lao Cai, a city on the Chinese border, about an hour by car from Sapa. The train ride was not a highlight, the beds were rock hard, and Kate and I hardly slept. Fortunately the kids both slept reasonably well, so the trip was actually better than expected. 

Sleeper train.

It was a bumpy ride to Lao Cai, with not much sleep to be had.

Lazycray Homestay
Located up a mountainside in Ta Van, Lazycrazy Homestay is a fantastic place to get away from it all.

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e arrived in Lao Cai at about 630am, and jumped in a minibus, which took us to Sapa, then on to our homestay, Lazycrazy Homestay, in Ta Van, a Black Hmong village about half an hour down the valley. We were met at the bottom of the path to the homestay by Louie, Dylan, and a Korean guy who introduced himself as GPS. They grabbed our bags, and took off up the hill. It was about 150m, a steep mountain path, and we were already tired, so by the time we got to the top we collapsed on the front deck. The main host, John, was away, and had left two of the long term guests, Louie and Thanh Thanh in charge. Thanh Thanh and Hoa, a local girl who helped out around the place, cooked up a delicious breakfast of pancakes for the weary travellers. 

After breakfast it was jam time. Louie is a fantastic Mandolin player, and Dylan a great singer and guitarist, so I was right at home immediately. After a few hours of relaxing and jamming, we headed off for a walk, along the river and back up through the village. It was a magic spot, surrounded by mountains and rice paddies, ladies in Black Hmong garb selling their wares, animals roaming wild in the streets. The kids both fell in love with Thanh Thanh, who was a very willing entertainer, and Arch decided that he was going to marry her. Although it was absolutely lovely, and we were all having a great time, there was a constant coming and going of people, neighbours, local ladies trying to sell us things, other travellers, so Kate and I decided that we would just stay one night, and booked a place in Sapa for the next few nights. 

“The kids both fell in love with Thanh Thanh, who was a very willing entertainer, and Arch decided that he was going to marry her.”

New friends.

The kids both fell in love with Thanh Thanh while we were at Lazycrazy

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he next day Louie had arranged a gig at local day spa, so there was a bunch of practicing going on, basically just more jamming. We decided to stick around until after the gig, so after lunch we headed to the river to cool off. I had been invited to join in the gig, and we played for about 3 hours. It was a lot of fun, but eventually we had to say goodbye, and jumped in a taxi to Sapa. 

Checking in to our hotel in Sapa threatened to derail the whole experience. The hotel, Sapa View 360, was a long way from town, up a big hill, and when we got there the little yapping dog in the foyer frightened the daylights out of the kids. Going up the stairs we had to avoid dogshit on the floor, and the beds in the room were like sleeping on a table, rock hard. No-one slept much that night, and the next morning, when we eventually found a place to get breakfast, we frantically researched other options. It was bucketing down by this time, so we ran through the rain to a hotel in town which looked nice, but turned out to be full, unless we wanted to share two single beds. 

Eventually we found a place, the Sapa Diamond Hotel, which seemed nice, so we walked down the muddy road to have a look. It was perfect, although a bit expensive, but we decided to ignore the cost, and booked it in. I jumped in a cab to get our bags and check out of the other place. I got there, and realised that Kate had the keys, so down the hill I went, then back up, then back down….

Ta Van Jams.

Playing a gig with Louie and Dylan, at Dao Spa, in Ta Van

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t our new hotel we had a two room suite, with a view across the valley to the mountains, so we decided to have a quiet day at home. The kids watched a movie, Kate read a book, and I had a massage that Kate had bought for me. We watched the weather across the valley constantly change, one minute it was clear,  

then clouds rolled in and we couldn’t see 5 metres, the rain, then clear again.Room service for dinner, and an early night. Next day was raining again, and we were feeling lazy, so once again we spent most of the day at home, watching the changing weather, and relaxing, venturing out only for food. 

Sapa hills.

The view from our hotel room was magnificent

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e woke on our last day to a stunning blue sky, so we hurriedly dressed and headed upstairs for breakfast, poured a few buckets of coffee down our throats, and headed off to the Fansipan Legend, a cable car that holds the world records of the longest non-stop three-rope cable car, at 6292m long, and the greatest elevation difference by a non-stop three-roped cable car, at 1410m. It is an incredible feat of engineering, one of the more impressive I’ve ever seen. The car travels high across the valley, affording us a magnificent view, and up a mind bendingly steep mountain side, to the station at the top of Fansipan. At the top is a fancy, modern building, with shops and restaurants, but further up is a pagoda, and a huge statue. The last part of the climb can either be done on foot, 600 steps, or via the Funicular, a train that goes up a ridiculously steep track to arrive a few flights of stairs short of the peak. Even with the clouds blowing over us, the view from the peak, at 3143m, was still amazing, and the trip up was well worth the entry fee of about $80 for us all (our most expensive adventure in Vietnam to date). 

Sapa is a lovely little city, with vibrant colours, amazing views, and friendly people. We really enjoyed wandering the streets, and just soaking it all in, at least when it wasn’t raining too much. A good pair of shoes, some warming clothing (I only had shorts and t-shirts), and a good raincoat is definitely recommended for a visit here. 

We’re now back aboard the overnight train to Hanoi, waiting to depart. Currently it’s running about 2 hours late, and we’ve just been informed that we’ll need to change to a bus at 1am, to get past a landslide. Fun night ahead. Tomorrow we’re back in Hanoi for a few days, then off to Hoi An, for the last part of our journey before we head back home. I suspect tonight may be worthy of a blog post of its own by the time we’re through it. Stay tuned, more RutherMore adventures to come…..