I awake soon after midnight – the train is stopped. Half an hour and a train passes us going the other way. The air conditioner is working and all are snoring their heads off. I play iPhone Sudoku for an hour and a half before I fall off to sleep again. I awake at 5:10am thinking that the iPhone has fallen out of my hand and onto the floor.
A ‘tap, tap’ comes along the carriage as the conductor wakes us as we near Lai Chai, just 3km from the China/Vietnamese border. There is no-one on the platform to help us with our baggage so we walk 9 carriages to the station exit to find our guide, Hai, waiting for us. We board a Hyundai van for our one-hour trip to Sa Pa.
It is raining and quite foggy. Sa Pa is a mountain town. It is very busy with lots of tourists finding breakfast and walking gear before setting off on a trek through the expansive valley we see ahead. We have breakfast in a little restaurant from a set menu we can choose from, but only the one item. Hai comes back and announces that Lyn and Val don’t have the right legs for walking the trek planned for today. “How dare you Hai!” The shorter trek is planned.
Lyn and Val believe it is time for new ponchos. We find a shop with good quality ponchos at $8.50 each. They are very bright but we buy these iridescent monstrosities and make our way back to a meeting point we have pre-arranged with Hai. He suggests that gumboots are the best to journey in, and the girls think so too; so off again to buy Chinese gumboots. Lyn, Val and Michael come back 30 minutes later in a pair of gumboots each, as well as two pair of new socks each; fit to be trekkers in the Sa Pa region. I decline the idea and stick with my Keen sandals.
We finally set off, with an equal number of hill-tribes ladies in tow. We try to fend them off but they stay by us. We find they are looking for work. “What work?” you say. They turn out to be the best ‘walking sticks’ you can own. Strong hands are available the minute the track gets slippery and hard to stay upright on. Now, these ladies are worth knowing. They have steady feet and strong bodies to take even our weight when it starts to slither along.
We take the track to the bottom of a deep valley. It is a misty rain when we start but we end up shedding our glorious ponchos. I slip over twice and Val and Michael the once. The others are very clean. We see the people tending their crops and gardens despite the conditions. The scenery is not real bright but you can tell that on a clear day, beauty would surround you. Rice fields on the mountainside are everywhere. The track is muddy and slippery.
At our lunch spot, we farewell the ladies by purchasing some of their handcrafts. Lunch is ‘sub-way’. White rolls, tomato, cucumber, omelet, and ham. Some of the drinks are new to us. Lemon tea in a can, guava juice in a can, watermelon juice in a can. Coke had a rest for me for the day.
After lunch, we trek further down the valley to a village of minority tribes. There we see lots of other trekkers, some whom we saw back in Sa Pa. We find our homestay and sit down to a cup of green tea. Some of us take a shower. I find the bed and go to sleep, with out a problem, for 90 minutes.
Dinner is served at 6:00pm after an entre of “Vietnamese” Fries. We eat with the family of husband and wife, a couple of cousins, grand parents, and a daughter who is so cute; all she needs is to know English and she would be western. The meal is made up of rice, chocos, tofu, vegetable stir-fry, egg omelet, buffalo meat, pickled bamboo shoots, spring rolls and watermelon. Following the meal there is nothing much to do so we are in bed soon after 8:00pm. The bedroom is upstairs and the bed is a thin mattress under mosquito nets.