Sapa

Getting from Jinhong (in China) to Sapa (in Vietnam) was a small nightmare. Jinhong is near the Burmese and Laotian borders and people often use it as a first stop in China, or a last stop out of China. Nobody goes from Jinhong to Vietnam. Why? Because it’s a fundamentally ridiculous idea, apparently. Fortunately a woman at the cafe, armed with bus schedules, helped me figure out what to do. I caught a sleeper bus the next day to a small city in the middle of nowhere. I hadn’t know it was a sleeper bus or that it would take 16 hours – I was expecting about 6 for the distance traveled, but hadn’t reckoned on the roads being quite so bad. The next morning we arrived in the middle of nowhere and I got my bag from the storage compartment under the coach. It was covered in a foul sickly-smelling substance that I’ve never smelled before in my life and (unfortunately) will never be able to forget. The smell accompanied me on the 5 hour bus journey to the border town, through an easy border crossing and appalled a legion of Vietnamese men on motorbike taxis on the other side. They drove slowly down the road shouting at me as I found that the only bank in town was shut and the bus station was existent only in my imagination. Then they changed some money and sold me a ticket to Sapa for three times the price, which was still only 3 quid.

Enough complaining, though – it was all worth it to get to Sapa. Sapa is a small town almost at the top of a mountain inhabited by a mixture of hill tribes who survive almost entirely on the money made from tourists who come to see the views. And oh what views. The rice-terraced mountains slope away under the town, rising up to form gigantic mountains on the near horizon and falling down into lush valleys a mile below.

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My daytimes were spent touring the area on the back of my hotel proprietor’s husband’s motorbike. The first day was overcast. This would be a problem elsewhere, but in Sapa it means that you can watch the clouds moving around on the mountains underneath. When you descend a little you can watch while sheets of fog move over and past you. Often you can see the wisps of air vapour move past your face.

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I could wax poetic for a while, but the pictures are much better.

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I’d like to also mention the great food, the astoundingly good guesthouse where I had a room of my own for $6 and only saw one cockroach, my favourite tribes the zao (whose women have shaved heads) and the h’mong (who are called the ‘miao’ in China) and this rope-bridge to nowhere.

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