Hike to Lao Chai
Trip Start Nov 08, 2006
209Trip End Ongoing
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We looked at a map and decided to head out to Lao Chai (not to be confused with Lao Cai, the larger town where the train for Sapa stops). Lao Chai is a busy trading village, somewhere around 15 km from Sapa. A paved road was recently laid, but the footpath route is said to be much prettier. So we opted for it. We meandered our way through some trails, not sure exactly which was the best to follow but just trying to stay in the right general direction.
The first excitement of the day was stopping to play with some adorable little kids. We were passing near a hut, and a girl in the distance spotted us and came running towards us, calling out "hello!" We tried to chat with her but we didn't get far past "hello." We pulled some crackers out of the backpack and offered them to her. She smiled, took them, and then ran off. We turn to go, but then realized that she had only gone to share the crackers with a hiding friend near the hut. All of the sudden there were five other kids, joining her on her way back over to us. Two of them were only toddler age, and were being carried on their sisters' backs. They were all a little disheveled, with snotty noses and dirty play clothes, but healthy and happy looking all the same. They shyly surrounded us and then quietly stood there just observing us. Through gesturing, we exchanged names. (They all had cute one syllable names like Blah, Bai, Shol, La, and Tao.) We'd go around saying our names over and over, and then when they got bored of that I started pointing at animals around us and asking them what they were called.
Eventually we got a hold of ourselves, realizing we were never going to make it to Lao Chai by dark at the rate we were moving so we forced ourselves to pick up the pace. The mountain path was sloping down and soon we found ourselves near the bottom of the valley with no clear trail to follow. I saw a lady sitting outside her hut so I asked her which direction. She pointed out to basically follow the river. As we continued our descent, she watched from above, yelling at us when we turned the wrong way.
The ravine eventually met up with the river, which we followed a few more kilometers to arrive in Lao Chai just before sunset. There wasn't much to see. I assume we had missed all the major activities of the day. But I can't imagine that any of it was more impressive than the hike there. We took a quick look around and then arranged a ride back to Sapa on a motorbike along the paved road. Our six hour hike was reduced to 30 minutes on the return trip. But as Dane frequently says, the experience that we remember is often more about the journey than the destination.