Trip Start Mar 07, 2009
69Trip End Apr 08, 2010
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After watching Angels & Demons at the cinema (got to have some western comforts!) we sat and waited for our bus to Sapa, due at 1600. At about 1800 a couple of dudes on motorbikes and beckoned us to get on for a lift to the bus stop, I assumed it was round the corner so I kept my rucksack on, Ang was smart enough to give hers to the moto driver who then had to clutch it between his legs as he rode. about 35 minutes later as we pulled in at the bus stop my shoulders were about to separate from the rest of my body. The driver was a nutcase, in Saigon it was fun but here, the bloke just didn't look where he was going. Twice we hit (or should I say my arm hit) other bikes on the journey, and curiously I noticed neither of our guys had any form of mirror on the bike, though I think this is not uncommon!
Well this one is ruled out for starters! We were the only non-Vietnamese residents on the bus , which is fine but literally nobody spoke a word of English so every time the bus stopped we had to take it in turns going to the loo or have dinner within clear view of the bus as we never knew how long we were stopping for. The place we stopped at for dinner was a local place that clearly did good food but we were unable to order as it was a complex ordering system with no written menu so I could not even point at anything. The toilets were like something out of the film Saw, really grim with polystyrene cladding on the concrete beams to stop anyone over 5ft 5inch tall (just me) from cracking open their skull and open air urinals for men (and women it seems!)
We were looking forward to Sapa, described as a relaxed mountain retreat away from the hustle and bustle of the city. After a night on the "sleeper" bus (with no actual sleep), it was just what the doctor ordered. As soon as we got off the bus we were surrounded by about a dozen women and young girls dressed in patchwork quilts and other weird stuff from the local Hmong ethnic tribes, "hello where you from?" "What your name?" "Where you stay?" "You trekking?" "Come to my village?" followed by the inevitable ""You but from me?" as they thrust all this hand made guff into our faces, jumpers, blankets, handbags, whistle things, all in bright technicolor
After battling through the throng of locals without losing any of our cash we got to our pre-booked hotel (the first time we had pre-booked any accommodation thus far) and they tried to scam us by pretending we had booked a 15 dollar room, not a 10 dollar room we had agreed. They agreed 10 but said we could not check us in for 2 hrs so we had breakfast and decided we needed sleep so scoped out another place round the corner which was much better so we went back for our bags and said thanks but no thanks. The room had a great view of the surrounding mountains & countryside and we got our heads Down for a well earned rest.
Next day we had a chill day, checking out the town, had an awesome steak for dinner, and booked a trek to Mount Fanzipan for the next 2 days. Fanzipan is the highest peak in Indochina (Vietnam, Cambodia & Laos) at 3146m, so we thought it rude not to have a go!
The trek team consisted of Ang & I, a Vietnamese girl, a Hmong guide & a porter. I wasn't much looking forward to it but I figured it would be easy compared to Everest Base Camp, of course I was wrong
Next morning I was shattered but fired up for a big effort. Last night the guide of the other couple joked it would take them 1.5 hrs to reach the summit and us 2hrs because we were slow. When I say we, I mean principally me and the Vietnam chick. Ang could do it backwards faster than anyone I know could do it normally, which makes it even more frustrating that I am crap at it. Anyway I was fuming so I was determined that we would not get overtaken by those 2. or at least not by the group of Vietnamese pensioners that also left camp just after us. We set off at about 06:45 at a blistering pace, I had my ipod in for further encouragement and steamed up through the muddy trail. It was much tougher than yesterday, as well as the slight altitude it had rained all not so was muddy as you like, the streams were rivers, the rocks we were literally scrambling and climbing up were now mini waterfalls, it was brutal, but I was determined not to stop. 1hr 45m later we got to the top of Fanzipan, I was delighted, we were first and I couldn't care less that we couldn't see anything but the clouds. I sat on a rock recovering for about 15Min's before the other couple turned up, it took them about 1hr 35m. I expected them to be faster as they are tall, skinny and trek all over the place but even they seemed impressed we had settled in at the top for a while, of course they weren't even out of breath but who cares, we won.
About 5 minutes later, as if by magic the wind picked up and the clouds parted like the red sea and we all madly snapped photo's before it was too late, it was an awesome view, really spectacular, almost worth it! I felt good on the way down and although we all left together, I set the pace at first, blitzing a trail down the mountain. I was even performing Bear Grylls style rock slides which went down a storm, at least the deliberate one. I slipped on one rock and nearly fell off the mountain! And then we reached the first major uphill climb! Although the way up was mostly up, we also had to descend into some valleys to get from one mountain to the next, this meant more uphill on the way back. From here it was downhill all the way for me, in more ways than one. I could feel the energy drain from my body as I pulled myself up the first section of the climb, my earlier exertions now taking a severe toll. I let the other couple pass as I knew my chances of ultimate victory were over, not helped when Ang started literally running up the hill just "to get the hear rate going a bit", I was demoralized and ready for a chopper evac at this point but I persisted and literally dragged myself back to the camp site where I lie on my back trying not to puke while Ang force fed me a banana and a cup of tea, only 5 hrs to go. We continued on, I was still feeling severely nauseous but knew I had to keep that banana inside if I had any chance of making it to lunch. It was so tough, each uphill almost killed me but each downhill bit gave me hope. Even the downhills were exhausting though as it was so steep and slippery, almost abseiling without ropes in places as I struggled to stay on my feet. Even the guide was laughing as me and the Vietnamese girl were doubled up and blowing hard every time we got to the top of a steep bit, no tip for him!
I made it to the lunch camp place and could not eat at first, but got a red bull down me and finally managed to ram some fruit and a luncheon meat sandwich down my neck for some well needed energy for the final push. After resting and watching Ang get bitten by a dog (not badly, just a nip, no injections required), we set off for the final descent. I won't lie to you it was the hardest thing I have probably ever done, I was so out of it I can hardly remember, running on empty but I do remember getting to the end car park, literally soaked in sweat, then being asked by this old Aussie fella, "so did you go all the way to the top then?" "Are you serious?" I replied "Look at the state of me", Ah we all laughed so, then I collapsed in a coma! Just kidding I got on the bus and went back to the hotel.
Luckily the hotel had a room for us because our plan was to get the bus back to Hanoi the same night but we (mostly I) were so ruined we decided against rushing about to get the night bus, and to get a good nights rest instead. Sapa was rammed because it was now Saturday and we could only get a room on the 5th floor which was a real physical challenge now but we were just relieved to get a bed for the night.