BootsnAll Travel Network

Journey to the pinnacle- Sapa

After Halong Bay I decided to take an alternative route north bypassing Hanoi and heading in the less popular counter-clockwise route to Sapa. Most motorcyclists go clockwise starting in the central highlands and gradually hitting more rural mountain villages as you go north. My route was more direct but still hit some pretty nice places along the way. My only issue was that I caught a cold and that made things a bit less comfortable as every day it seemed to get colder and wetter.

For those who might want to be doing this route it basically went Halong Bay-Vinh Yen-Yen Binh (Highway 70)- and then I detoured to Bac Ha followed by the farthest north I would be traveling Lao Cai (border town with China)- Sapa.

What made things much more manageable was spending some non-tv time reading my guidebook and learning that there are alternative names for Hotel and Guesthouse that are used especially in non-tourist towns. Ngha Nghi or Khach San were all over the place during my lost times in the central highlands along the Ho Chi Minh trail, but not figuring that out it caused quite a bit of unnecessary hassle.

With my new camera in hand, I took a few more photos so have a look.

The biggest draw to the north is the Ethnic Minorities who live old school. Basically they are farmers but Ethnic Minorities sounds more touristic so EM we shall call them. It seems the higher you go the more rural the look. In Bac Ha their were a dozen or so different EM with the Flower Hmong being the most colorful.

I missed the market day but their is a daily market that still draws them in (tourists and EMs).

Local moonshine mama’s. Bac Ha is known for it’s corn distilled fire water.

People everywhere were getting ready for Tet which is Vietnams New Year, Christmas, and Fourth of July (America), and everyones birthday. Shiny.

Flowery by flowers.

More shopping.

Doing some Vietnamese style coffee. Half sweetened condensed milk and raw filtered coffee. Sweet and bitter. Gets your ass buzzing.

They even have drive up moonshine service. The coffee shop owner yelled down a passing moonshiner and had him fill up his bottle. He ended up pouring it back when the clarity wasn’t good.

Moonshine off the rack.

Young girl in traditional wear.

The end. At least the farthest north that I could go with Sasha. This is Lao Cai the border town with China. That is China in the background. There is a big bridge you have to cross so no possibility of sneaking across there.

Sapa. My ultimate destination. Turned out to be a major letdown as it was semi-clear the afternoon I got there and then was packed in with a really wet fog the rest of the time. Freezing on top of that. It wasn’t possible to walk around for more than an hour and not be drenched from the mist.

It is actually a very pretty town but built in a very precarious spot. It is right on the wrong side of the mountains where the weather is the worst in South East Asia. Just on the other side of the hill it turns almost tropical. This side of the lake was sunny while on the other side where the hotels are because of the view of the mountains it was shrouded in clouds.

Food was rather shit as the town was one big tourist trap. The closest thing I could find that was reasonable was a row of bbq stalls which even then were geared towards tourists (local mainly). The only new thing were the tubes of sticky rice. They billed a bamboo section with sticky rice and then bbq it. Not bad but I prefer regular rice.

Here’s the view.

A different EM which I am not sure of. Possibly white or black Hmong.

Instead of Christmas trees we use, the locals would go out and cut down other varieties of trees and then decorate them with balloons and shiny stuff. They didn’t have to be blooming like this one as many were buying just plain tree branches.

More EM’s to be named later.

Tangerines were my staple fruit for a while. These were unique in that the fruit was almost loose inside the skin.

The day I left was horrible. They woke me up by ringing my room and dropping rug mats right outside my room. Who the hell has 9am check out with no tourists in town. It is pissing down cold rain. I get lost trying to find a gas station because you can’t see more than three meters in the fog. When I get there I don’t have any money so I have to try and find a atm. The first atm I go is on a side of a hill and I park at an awkward angle which causes me to fall. While picking up the bike I break off the mirror. That atm wasn’t working. After finding another atm I go back to the gas station and the coke bottle which I store my oil, the lid is now stuck and I can’t get it off. I finally ended up using a big rock to crush the cap. There is a huge line as everybody is stocking up as the next day is Tet. Since someone has stolen my 1.5L bottle that I use to pre-mix my oil and some petrol, I have to just dump the oil directly into the tank which causes the spark plug to foul out. Since my tool kit is under the seat and my bags are strapped down, I just say screw it and keep going even though the motor is fouling out and I have about half power. It is a grueling climb up over the 1900M pass (highest in SE Asia) as with the motor missing and now my clutch seems to be slipping, one of the last steep hills I have to actually push along with my feet to make it over the top. The whole time it is ripping windy and raining. This was worse than climbing over the passes in N. India. Finally I make it over to the other side where the road returns to being tarred and the wind subsides even though it is still foggy. I cruise down the mountains just rejoicing at how shitty of a day it had been and how fewer things could have gotten wrong. Then I start thinking about those things that could have made it worse, then I remember. They didn’t give me my passport when I checked out of the hotel. I feel the paunch of my money belt and am horrified at the lack of bulk. I had to go back.

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