Sara in Vietnam – Part IV

Cha Pa Garden Hotel

Last weekend we went off on yet another excursion – this time to Sa Pa in Northern Vietnam, just a few km from the China border. I’d been wanting to visit since a long time, especially because of the draw of shopping fabrics & garments that are typical to Sa Pa. Reva was game to go, and Souvik was also enthusiastic (he usually isn’t, for train travel). I got into a little bit of crisis, trying to get the best deal for our one-night stay in Sa Pa. The H’mong Mountain Retreat was the most exciting option, but they ran full at the last minute, and we just about managed to get into Cha Pa Garden Hotel, which was a great place in itself.

The train prospect was quite fun too, with Sara’s chants of ‘jhugjhuggaadi’. Very comfortable journey all the way to Lao Cai, where we switched to a car for taking us to the valley.

Our fancy coupé in the train

The road was lovely, the views gorgeous, although the harvesting season was over last month and the rice fields were barren. Getting into Sa Pa was nice, with the temperature dropping many degrees, and the fog enveloping us every now and then. We were most impressed by the outfits of the Sa Pa people – very practical, yet smart; we couldn’t wait to set out on foot to explore.

Now the thing about places which have only started gaining popularity is the vast construction work that goes on, most of it being tasteless, spoiling the natural beauty of the place, and I think Sa Pa suffers from it, just as Da Nang does, on the beach. Also, being persistently mobbed by the locals to buy their wares is not so much fun. Though I suppose, that is fair compensation for the obtrusive way I go about taking pictures! The people in Sa Pa look so different from their countrymen – I couldn’t get enough of their style, expression and hardiness.

We had shortlisted a couple of treks that we could do with Sara around – nothing really strenuous. Actually, Sara was a good excuse; we are not the kind of people to do anything strenuous! Going by the guidebooks, and some local advice, we did a downhill walk to the Cat Cat Village, past all the handicraft shops, to see a pretty waterfall and a lovely stream. Somehow we lost track of ourselves on the map and veered off in some direction which seemed to go to the next town. Tried GPS, compass, talking to some locals, but nothing made sense. So the only thing to do was to backtrack on some mildly treacherous stony steps, at which point Sara decided to take a nap, we realized we’d missed lunch . . . luckily we got back to the right spot before any panic set in. All this in broad daylight! The motorbike ride back to town was such a relief! Athletic, we are not.

By the time we checked into our rooms and showered, we were exhausted, cold, and hungry for the perfectly good tomato soup at the hotel restaurant. They lit a fire that warmed us up, and life was cosy again.

Early to bed meant early to rise – for Reva and me, and Sara, naturally. We scrambled out of the hotel, leaving Souvik to catch his weekend rest, and had a nice walk in the market, watching it come to life. Great time for shopping, with much fewer customers and hecklers at that hour, and I managed to get myself a nice top, windcheater, haversack; Reva bought some souvenirs – all this before breakfast.

The sightseeing plan for the day was Silver Waterfall and Tram Ton pass. The climb halfway up the waterfall was loaded with photo ops, and we used them all. We’re not sure if we went to the Tram Ton pass after that because there didn’t seem to be any signs, but we stopped at something like a national park, and trekked down to the Golden Stream, looking for a ‘Love Waterfall’ that never appeared. Weird?

Sara completed most of the trek cheerfully, had a nasty fall at the end, and now has a couple of scars to show for her time in ‘Nam.

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