Arrived: Sunday 30th July 2017 [Day19]
Departed: Wednesday 2nd August 2017 [Day22]
Hostel: My Tra Homestay, Sapa
The journey from Hanoi to SaPa was around 5 hours long, and we were lucky enough to be on a sleeper style bus again. I’ve been laughing to myself while I’ve been re-reading my journal because I really do write down every last little stupid detail. Let me give you an example, here’s a direct quote from my journal about the bus journey from Hanoi to Sapa:
I slept a lot, read a lot, lost my banana, and just enjoyed the insane views of the greenery, valleys and mountains.
Yep, I lost my banana. The hostel had given us a banana to takeaway for breakfast, and I dropped mine on the bus within the first hour or so. I took it as a lost cause, and clearly thought it was important enough to write down… I also thought I’d lost my shoes or pillow or something, but it turns out both had fallen down onto the guy below/opposite me. As we were getting off and I climbed down from my bed/seat, he sheepishly handed me a banana and my other lost items… Only slightly embarrassing! Poor fella spending 5 hours getting attacked by my falling belongings… fair play to him though for not munching on the banana!
So, yes, the journey was beyond beautiful, as you’d expect heading further north in Vietnam. We even skimmed past the Chinese boarder and both Alice and I joked about putting our multi-entry Vietnamese and Chinese Visa’s to good use and just nipping over the boarder! When we arrived into Sapa, it wasn’t exactly what we expected, but before we headed to our accommodation, we grabbed some food from somewhere that looked like a family’s living room (including the children watching cartoons on the TV), but there was a huge pond/fish tank in the floor. It was all very strange.
We had to take a taxi to our hostel/homestay as it was around 12Km out of the actual town of Sapa. It felt like it cost us a lot, but it was realistically only around £6 between us. The roads were bumpy as hell, and at some points, the word road was a stretch. BUT, again, I cannot explain how gorgeous and insane the views were. We were being driven into this huge, green, immense valley, and we couldn’t take our eyes off it.
We eventually got dropped off “at” our homestay, but we were mighty confused as we’d actually been dropped off on the side of the road. We soon found the place and tentatively walked into the door after taking our shoes off and leaving them by the door (as we guessed was required by the many shoes on the rack outside). There was no sign or name anywhere to be seen so we were a bit nervous we were walking into someone else’s place, but we were then welcomed into My Tra Homestay by the owner, Andrew, who was, much to our surprise, a very Australian, typical Aussie bloke who had a Vietnamese wife and a little girl walled Mi (pronounced Me). Again, this was not what we had expected, but he was very welcoming and made us feel at home right away. The building itself was a beautiful wooden thing with views for daaayyyyyssssss. Downstairs was the living-room and eating area (with a few private rooms and bathrooms), upstairs was the one giant room with all the beds on the floor, and there was a balcony chill-out area all the way around the building where hammocks hung looking out over the valley and rice paddies. Andrew showed us around and gave us lots of information (including a map of the area for walks/hikes) with a couple of other guests (Liam and Yo – Aussie lads themselves). He warned us about the women who walk around dressed in traditional outfits trying to sell things and offering walking tours. “Don’t give them anything girls, not even a fucking look. They’ll never leave you alone. They’ll be here outside waiting for you in the morning, and not leave you alone till it gets dark. They’re fucking scammers girls, give them fuck all you see what I’m saying?” Typical Aussie style, lots’ of swearing in a very very thick accent, but he was lovely!
Me and Alice were given our beds (the most amazingly comfy mattresses on the floor you’ll ever experience), and we just chilled and chatted to Steff and Estelle (other guests in the dorm room) for a bit about what they’ve been up to on their travels.
(Steff really really reminded me a character from the Goonies, who, coincidentally was also called Stef! See the picture for a reminder of what Stef from the Goonies looks like…)
After a while the 4 of us took a walk and went down to the river where we were greeted by some water buffalos and lots of naked Vietnamese kids jumping into the water. They were not cute little kids, they were proper little shits, jumping in on us, and swimming between/under us all the time. But, I guess we were gate-crashing their backyard, so maybe we deserved it? Despite the annoying kids, it was so nice to be in the water, even if I did almost get swept away with my inept abilities at life! (I swear, the amount of times Alice gave me a look of bewilderment, despair, astonishment, yet still love – I hope – was uncountable. How was I so useless at life?! We don’t know, but I get by…)
After we’d all sat on the rocks, soaking up the sun like lizards and getting to know each other a bit more, we made our way back to My Tra to chill, relax and sit down for a nice family style meal with everyone at 6:30pm. There was: Mags, Matt, Liam, Yu, Steff, Georgina, Estelle and us. The food was great, really nice Vietnamese food cooked by Andrew’s wife and a couple of other women.
We all had a couple of beers from the fridge (just tally them up on the note-pad), and then 6 of us headed off down the road to Bamboo Bar which was run by a European dude and felt like a weird mix of out-in-the-sticks lodge, and Asian or South American fusion. The drinks list was just as varied as the feel of the place.
They offered local and European beers. They offered mulled wine, local fruit mojitos, sangria, hot-chocolate with liquor and everything else you could imagine… It was all very very good (despite them being sold out of tequila – no sunrise for me, and having to wait a really long time for our drinks to arrive), so we just hung out there for a few drinks each and chatted till it closed at around 10pm. We (sort of) paid the bill and 2 of the lads carried on their night at Local Bar to play some pool while the rest of us came back to the homestay and climbed under our mosquito net tents and went to bed!
The next day we woke up fully rested (apart from when the dude next to me turned our joint fan off at around 4am), and we went down for breakfast. A new dude had arrived and he was sat there looking beyond tired bless him. A few of the others were also down for breakfast, or arrived while we were eating. Being our polite British-selves, we felt a bit awkward asking for our breakfast, but the pancakes we had were amazing! There were way too many of them (around 5) with 2 bananas each and syrup. It was a welcome change from eggs and bread that we’d been eating for 2/3 weeks!
At around 8am me, Alice and Estelle decided to head out for a walk of the “loop” that Andrew had suggested and drawn up on the map for us. We hoped to beat the midday sun by leaving so early!
We weren’t 100% sure where we were going… I mean, we had the rough map and directions from Andrew, but it was still very rough and obviously there weren’t any signs or anything (which was nice). So, we just kept walking and wandering along a semi-formed path and the views were stunning. They just went on forever, as far as you could see: hills, mountains, rice paddies, terraces, trees, fields etc. etc… It was so green that it was almost difficult to take it in as a whole; the valley was one of the greenest, lushest places I’ve ever seen, not to mention the most beautiful.
We went through a bamboo forest and came to a huge rock waterfall area which was insane.By this point, the head was starting to get to my head, as were the slight inclines we’d walked (I’m happy to say that this “easy” hike, which was a loop of the valley, was the perfect level of difficult for me; I still felt like I was doing something, but not to the point of almost dying). So, I stood under a little wooden shelter in the shade, taking in the breath-taking views, while Alice went for a scramble up onto the rock. The three of us stayed there for a while, all of us standing/siting separately, just absorbing as much of this to memory as we could, before we decided to continue on and start the decent into the base of the valley.
We continued down the trodden path and came to a suspension bridge over a river/pool. We’d been told about this part of the loop and had come prepared with our swim stuff under our clothes (at least, me and Alice had). We decided to go for a dip to cool ourselves off and it was one of the most surreal, beautiful moments of my travels so far.
There were local children playing in the water, local women hanging clothes, water buffalo crossing the pool/cooling off in the water, all with a beautiful view down the valley. I honestly can’t explain it. I stayed in the water for a long while just staring out and taking it all in, it was one of those “How did I get so damn lucky?” moments, one I’ll never forget.
We chilled there for a good while, Alice and Estelle on the rocks soaking up the sun, me mainly in the water, and just as a tour group arrived (led by one of the women Andrew had warned us about) we decided it was time to continue on. (Also, while we were sitting by the pool, some of the children were throwing rocks at the buffalo and, honestly, I was fuming.)
The walk back up the other side of the valley, then back across the river wasn’t as interesting as the previous part of our hike, but, obviously it was still beautiful, it was just more on the road than in amongst the nature. We passed some school buildings, police/government buildings, and a few little hut stalls before making it back home (My Tra) for around midday! After a cold drink and a shower, we had a really chilled afternoon at the homestay (Alice and Adam keeping Andrew’s little girl entertained). Me and Al went out for a quick lunch before coming back and continuing our super lazy afternoon of hammocks, beds, sofas, books, music and finally, playing some cards (Alice had lost her stupid Spanish pack on the Halong Bay trip, YAAHHS!).
The “Family Dinner” was a full house and the whole table was full. It was a really nice relaxed, happy family vibe going and it was nice to have everyone down together just chatting and seeing how everyone was. After the (great) food, we had a mammoth game of Shit Head (card game, there was about 7 of us – 2 packs of cards), we eventually headed back to Bamboo Bar for some drinks. It was super busy so they had to put us upstairs (by climbing a ladder), to a private little loft room thing where we all sat on the floor around low tables. There was: Alice, Liam, Yu, Lucy, Me, Mags, Matt, Adam and Angus. It was a really nice group and we all got on really well, just relaxing, chatting and (eventually) drinking. As we knew from the previous night, the drinks take a good while to make it to you, so we all ordered 2 each and had a lovely evening! We were there for a couple of hours (till around 10pm) and then we headed back to our big communal room to chat for a bit longer. Adam helped me get my double fan situation on the go (lucky me!), I made a stupid comment which got everyone going. After making it 10 times worse and everyone finally calming down, we all climbed into our mosquito net tents and started to doze off.
The next day was “the laziest, most chilled out nothing morning we’ve had the whole trip.” (Direct quote from my journal there.) It was bliss. People were supposed to be heading off for a big hike first thing, but as Adam said fuck that, as it was super cloudy and heavy in the valley, which looked awesome from the homestay, but would not be the best for views from the top of the hill opposite us. They decided to wait until it moved on a bit, plus, it was much cooler than the previous days, so they weren’t too worried about setting off later in the day.
We had breakfast and then I sat/lay in the hammock alllllllll day looking out on the valley while Alice and a few of the others went off on the hike to the mast on the hill opposite us. It was a really good opportunity to show that despite being friends since birth, travelling together for weeks, and doing everything so far together, that me and Alice are okay splitting off to do our own thing because we don’t want the other to either miss out on something, or suffer. The guys Alice hiked with mentioned this after asking “Will Charlie be okay on her own and you leaving her?” to which Alice reassured them that I was probably having one of my best days so far! Ha… I think this was a really important moment for us on the trip, and made me appreciate Alice as a friend and travel buddy even more. I’m just glad we lucked out and happened to be there at the same time as the awesome people we met and got on so well with, so she had the chance to do some more hiking!
So, while Alice and the others were off hiking, I was chilling, reading my book, writing my journal, eating amazing noodles, drinking too much tea and continuing my day of blissful nothing. I changed my tea for a beer around 4pm and they arrived not long after absolutely covered in mud, tired as hell, and a little grouchy! They’d got pretty lost and had to backtrack quite a way, they got lost in some rice fields too and poor Lucy traipsed through buffalo poo. The girls were in much better spirits than the boys, who were moaning a lot. Although, they did say the views were nice! I think it’s safe to say I was more than happy to have skipped the whole ordeal and spend my day as I did.
They all showered and napped before our final family style meal which was amazing! Because the others were so tired and drained from their day, no one really felt like going out to the bar, so we all just curled up on the sofa, in the swing chairs, on the floor, and anywhere else we could fit to watch a movie together. It was super cute and a perfect way to end our time at My Tra with the people we’d got close to. We originally wanted to watch a comedy, but none of them were working, so instead we watched Snowden which was much better than I expected! It was a really interesting film, especially as it’s based on a true story. Our evening ended with the movie and everyone slowly peeling off and going to bed on the amazingly comfy mattresses upstairs.
The next day was the day we were all leaving and heading our separate ways, all of us that is apart from poor Angus, who was not happy to be left alone without his newly formed crew! Breakfast was amazing, as was all the food we’d had at My Tra, and after packing up our things, we spent the morning just chilling and reading because it was pretty drizzly and cloudy. We decided to walk to the two small craft shops down the road before leaving and see what they had going on. Alice still needed presents for Prim-ella (her nieces), and I bought a small batik/sewn hanging. Alice didn’t find anything so we headed back to My Tra for some noodles (fried and in soup to share) before the taxi picked us up at around 2:30pm.
Picking up our bags we said a sad goodbye to Andrew, his wife and their daughter (we got a hug and kiss off all of them), and it felt like a genuine cared for goodbye. Andrew and his wife really couldn’t do enough to ensure we were okay and looked after! Lucy got a lift with us down to down as she was also getting a bus (earlier and from a different place than us), and the views back down to Sapa were, I feel it goes without saying, stunning.
After we were dropped off the same place that we got off the bus a few days before, it started to really rain. So we went back to the weird restaurant/someone’s Livingroom place, Adam1, to have a drink and wait until the bus arrived at around 4pm. We were given seats/beds this time by the driver and Alice was put at the very back on the bottom left, and I was put at the very front, top right, as far away from each other as possible!
I’m actually quite sad to come to the end of writing about out time in Sapa and My Tra. It was definitely one of the main highlights of our whole summer trip for me. It was the place we did the least, our days weren’t packed, it wasn’t busy, it wasn’t even the best weather we had. But the homestay, the people, the place, the views and the whole atmosphere made it really special.
(I’m aware of how corny that sounds, but I don’t know how else to put it.)
We loved it so much that we jumped at the chance to suggest it to a few of my work friends who were going to be in Northern Vietnam for a week or so in August. They also went to stay there, and had a great time too.
Looking back at the pictures from this part of our trip really blows my mind. The views were incredible.
Seriously, how did I get so lucky?