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Motormouth From Ipoh

Friday, March 6, 2009

The 2nd Day - The Pilgrimage from Hanoi to Sa Pa

Continuation from Day One in Hanoi .....


The train station in Lao Cai, a town to the northwest of Vietnam ....
A recap of what transpired over the 1st day; We spent most of our day walking around Hanoi's Old Quarters, and Hoan Kiem Lake, not to mention downing some rather delicious grubs along the way. Then in the evening, we took the train from Hanoi to Lao Cai, a VERY dusty small town before transported to Sa Pa district, in the highlands, reminiscence of our very own Cameron Highlands. The distance from Hanoi to Sa Pa is about 350km (!!!), hence it's highly recommended that you choose the SOFT-SLEEPER train to travel in, and overnight on the train. The journey took about 9 hours, and you wouldn't wanna risk a backache or twisted neck once alighting from the train.
You can shop for tour packages to Sa Pa in and around Old Quarters of Hanoi, whereby you'll see lots of tour agents (beware, some may NOT be that trustworthy. Just practise precaution and trust your instincts) lining up the streets. You can google around for some reliable names and read others' feedbacks, or you can just put your trust in the hotel/guesthouse you're staying and let them decide for you.

SAPA Summit Hotel
We booked our Sa Pa tour online, before our trip. Mrs Linh (sorry, not Miss as in my previous post!) quoted us USD88/RM316 per person for the package, inclusive of two-way soft sleeper train ride (4 to a room), a night's stay in either Sa Pa Summit Hotel or homestay in Ta Van Village (we chose the former, but more on that later), all meals provided (total of SIX meals spanning over 2 days), and all activities/tour guide fees paid for. In summary, you pay USD88, and no headache for the next 2 days/3 nights. Get it? :)

For breakfast you're given a fixed menu with various options; Either Bread or Noodles with Tea/Coffee
After much deliberation, we picked to stay in Sa Pa Summit Hotel, instead of choosing homestay. Yup, some may disagree and vouch for a more cultural/tribal experience and picked the latter. But after a night on bus (from Ipoh to LCCT) and plane (early morn flight from M'sia to Hanoi), another on train, we'd like some form of pampering before another night on the train back to Hanoi, and an upcoming stay on junk boat. =)
We did pass by the homestay resort in Ta Van Village on the second day in Sa Pa, and it wasn't exactly shabby, but a bit far from town. To each his own, I guess. But picking homestay would be a valuable experience indeed, with scenic view of the paddy fields and greeneries (more on that in the next few posts), and a closer look at the lifestyle of the Dao (pronounced Zhao)tribe.

They are tour guides with rather admirable command of the English language, while some are in for the kill .....
Breakfast was served after a brief moment of rest. Backtrack slightly to the point when we arrived in Lao Cai, as I've something to get off my chest. Hmmm.
We arrived in Lao Cai (pronounced Lau Khai) town at about 5.30am. As there are quite a number of tourists staying over at Summit Hotel, we took our turns queuing for our vans to the hotel. From Lao Cai to Sa Pa, it'll take about an hour's worth of travelling. The first two vans departed once occupied, while we waited for ONE HOUR at the station for ours to move. At 6.30am, another train arrrived at the station, and some other tourists hopped in our van, and then only we departed to Summit Hotel. Goes to show, early bird indeed gets the worm.
Anyway, breakfast in the hotel was good. You can choose to sit indoors, or have your baguette (in menus everywhere, bread = baguette) with a piping hot cup of coffee al fresco, soaking in the morning breeze and sunlight. (Aside from baguette with a choice of fried egg/omelette/scrambled egg, you can opt for beef/chicken pho noodles)

One of the native (I think from H'Mong tribe, can't be sure) weaving while on the go ....
Itinerary for the day? Trekking to Cat Cat Village, about 3km's worth of dragging our fatigued a$$es along. LOL. But the roads ain't treacherous, as we walked on tarred roads throughout. First we passed by Sa Pa town, and Sa Pa market. The town is a mere 5 minutes' stroll from our hotel.

Sa Pa ... with a population of roughly 36,000, mostly consisting of the minorities scattered in town and throughout the villages in the district (source : Wikipedia)

#Tip : Do not be intimidated by the entourage of tribal people tailing your group from the hotel to your destination. They're there to assist you, but of course with ulterior motives. Hahahah .... They're just trying to make a living. Buy something from them and bring a smile to their faces. #

As you're going downhill most of the time, the trekking part was easy-as-pie ..... for the first day, that is!!


The weather was rather foggy on that morning, as Feb's still within the winter period. But not necessary to bring thick sweaters for the trek

The fresh, cool air of the mountains provided much relief and sanctuary from the chaos that is Hanoi. As we're in a small group of 6, we were assigned our very own guide. A young lady by the name of Duong (pronounced Zoong, or something like that) was our shining light throughout the 2 days we were in Sa Pa. She can converse in English rather well, as she's studying English in college. Very patient, as we stopped every now and then for camwhoring, and she did not rush us, though we were way behind the other groups. Hahahaha ... Malaysians ......

That's our reliable and friendly tour guide with the violet umbrella ..... She's afraid of the sun, it seemed ... Ironic?


A breath-taking view of the mountains and the villages from Cat Cat Village

"When I grow up ... I wanna be a Motormouth!!!!" =P


Some wood ... or herbs .. or spices.



Cat Cat Village (Meow Meow?!)
We arrived at Cat Cat Village after about an hour's worth of trekking. Oklah ... including the countless stops for snapping photographs.
Belonging to the H'Mong ethnic group, this was our rest stop for about half an hour, before trudging on to the waterfalls a short distance from here.

Buffalo Satay, anyone?! (10000 Dong/RM2/USD0.60)

Sticky Rice (5000 Dong/RM1/USD0.30 each)
Obviously, when there's food, I can't resist. The man was doing brisk business grilling the skewers of marinated buffalo meat, and sparrows. Yup, heard that right. And the sticky rice in bamboo reminded me of ketupat, but was rather bland;tastewise. Surprisingly, the buffalo meat satay was tender, marinated well, and rather yummy. Aside from a tad salty. No peanut gravy though .... you can ask for chilli sauce if you want.

The H'Mong people must be a really emotional bunch ..... "COME BACK ?!!"

Not meant for swimming though ...... the water's freezing cold I supposed

The trek back to our hotel ..... steep and torturing ... to the mind, body and soul ....
We were drained and famished. Not to mention the trek back will take us another hour!!!! Then Duong came to the rescue, and suggested that we take the motorbike taxis back to our hotel. At only 20,000 Dong/RM4/USD1 per person. We were split, wondering is it worth the money paid? Given the fact that once on the bike, we will be transported straight back to our hotel, and ends our day's itinerary.
But of course, given the fact that we were already wobbly and fatigued from the trek, we made the right decision and rode back to our hotel. But not for the faint-hearted, as each bike carries 2 passengers, and going up the slope with that much weight requires much skills and tenacity. But we survived. Though the man decided to milk the cow dry and requested for tips. We gave another 5000 Dong/RM1/USD0.30 each, for the extra acceleration required when fetching the gigantic Motormouth. =P

The dinner spread was not lavish, yet delicious and satisfying .... very much like homecooked Chinese cuisine
We did not regret our decision, as within 10 minutes we were back in our rooms, bathed and managed to take a nap. Imagine going on vacation and still left with enough time for an afternoon nap?!!! Hahahaha ..... Relaxing eh?
Dinner was served rather early, at about 5pm (6pm M'sian time). And when we were waiting for our food, we observed that some of the tourists that were in front of us earlier, were only on their way back to the hotel!!!! LOL.
The dishes were delicious, either it's the weather, or we were really craving for food. Very home-cooked style, with heavy Chinese influence. Noteworthy dishes? The deep-fried aubergine (brinjal) with sesame seeds. More like a snack than a dish, the juicy aubergine was coated with a crispy layer of flour and sprinkled with sesame seeds then deep-fried. Pity we only had one each. And for desserts? Mandarin oranges. It's still Chinese New Year, after all .....
This .... is LIFE.
To be continued .......

29 comments:

soo sean said...

You had a big group. Must be fun travelling with big gang.

sc said...

i skipped sapa when i was in vietnam. was about 6 degrees (or lower) in sapa and i didnt have thick clothings :(. good to travel larger group, i was there with just another gal and we were taken advantage of there :(

thenomadGourmand said...

very beautiful scenery; it jz screams country!

Mboy said...

U forgot to mention that those kids were playing just right beside a 8-10 meter cliff lor...

Mboy said...

U forgot to mention that those kids were playing just right beside a 8-10 meter cliff lor...

Selba said...

So great to read and see the pictures in this post especially I didn't get the chance to visit cat cat village during my visit to Vietnam.

I like the cute cat pic a lot :)

iamthewitch said...

Wow BUFFALO satay! First time i heard of this. LOL Was the weather cooling like that all year long? Or only during winter? (They have 4 seasons?)

Lingzie said...

very nice write up!! makes me wanna really visit vietnam now.
but seems like you guys did A LOT of walking! lol

SimpleGirl said...

SO FOOD was good huh? I heard it's quite weird to Msian tastebud?

CUMI & CIKI said...

2 ringgit for buf satay?! I hope it's king size man! lol..

so.. i am guessing the next chapter has some windy bumpy road ride to ye ole junk .. no? lol

KCA said...

Cat Cat Village no cat was found but can see a lot of abandoned dogs n wild boars everywhere instead... 1st time stayed so near wf those wild boars... good experience rite?? =P

those kids are cute to see but not cute to play with.... they r 100x smarter than us... dun play play ya... sai lou ng kan dan ar.. hehe!!

the dishes... hmmm.. i like the claypot BBQ pork wf lemongrass and deep-fried aubergine... YumYum..

ei.. faster blog the remaining SAPA trip... a lot more to comment... =P

'blog' for me... 'blog' for me... muahahahha.... (tension le...) haha!!

worldwindows said...

I was waiting for more of the Sapa pristine landscape and is a bit disappointed with the land clearing like Gua Musang. I like the buffalo sate. Its glistening with sauces.

J2Kfm said...

soo sean : there are pros n cons. the most prominent con being hard to squeeze 6 of us into a sedan taxi. which we DID!!! =)

sc : taken advantage of?! geez, that's too bad. a group of 4-6 would be perfect, IMO.

thenomadGourmand : yeah ... but we were expecting so much more actually. rather hazy/foggy when we were there, hence the lack of lush green background.

Mboy : they WERE?!! seriously, after snapping them, the gal opened her purse and proceeded to do her 'thang'!!! BUY FOR ME !!! BUY FOR ME!!! hahahaha ....

Selba : there are more dogs than cats. unfortunately, dogs are eaten as well. hmm.

iamthewitch : dec-feb coolest i think. forgot lah ...weather wasn't my dept, but FOOD was.

Lingzie : wait til you see the next post .... hahahah ...

SimpleGirl : it isnt weird. in fact most of the food were palatable, emphasized on fresh ingredients, herbs, and more to Chinee style of cooking. not spicy mostly.

Cumi & Ciki : it's double the size of the usual one, that's for sure. but still, a novelty. not in the next chapter, as Sa Pa needs another 2 posts. i'm long-winded.

KCA : yeah... i was thinking should i post the pic on the boars ... since they're as UN-halal as animals can get. esp the pic when two were being beaten mercilessly, rmbr?!

worldwindows : erm, the weather wasnt too clear. nothing too pristine, except the water at the waterfalls and the river. but the next posts should have more lush scenery.

Allie said...

My next destination is vietnam! Thanks for all the tips. :)

ahlock said...

All those hiking should be good for anybody. I was in Cameron hiking up a friend's family farm. Only 30 mins of hiking ma...already there were 'ngam ngam chum chum' (grumblings) from the siao cheh of the group.

Of the many pictures posted here, please, may I ask you the question of the century, why not a picture of you in it?

J2Kfm said...

Allie : most welcomed, Allie! :)

ahlock : picture of ME? hahahah ... cannotlah. this is a food blog after all. dunwan ppl to lose appetite.

Min said...

Luckily we chose to stay at Summit Hotel instead of homestay, the journey was too hectic la, bus fr IPOH-LCCT, then early flight, then 9-hour train journey, really killing me...really enjoyed the afternoon nap at Summit Hotel, hehe...

Nic (KHKL) said...

this is life indeed! u know, i've never thought of the vietnamese highlands before. very interesting la. and the package is quite a deal, i must say. the hotel rooms look good too!

J2Kfm said...

Min : yeahloh! thankful that we stayed at Summit. and the nap was refreshing, followed by early dinner and then desserts+coffee .... blissful!

Nic : yeah, initially we thought it was rather pricey, as USD88 = RM300+. but after the trip, i'd say it's worth the price paid.

Life for Beginners said...

Ah... the sticky rice looks like lemang leh. And I must say you whetted my appetite to return to Hanoi since I didn't get to go to the highlands the first round. :)

550ml jar of faith said...

Good choice going for Summit to recuperate from the travelling! What an absolute bargain! I need a trip back to Vietnam, pronto!

J2Kfm said...

Life for Beginners : yeah, but rather tasteless. we ended up donating some to the children. :)

550ml jar of faith : yeah ... napping during a trip sounds out of place, but it was perfect, amidst the cool weather.

teckiee said...

me is so jeles ;p! I didnt get to go to Sapa.. it was winter and Hanoi itself almost killed me. Sapa would have been freezing cold. But damn nice la your pics!

Btw, will you be in KL on Apr 4th?

J2Kfm said...

teckiee : aiya, more or less like Cameron only. what's on Apr 4th?!! whose BIG day? i wont be in KL as most probably will be in Kedah by then.

Steven Goh said...

wao... looks like Sa Pa will be my next destination to be. Moreover the hotel room looks cozy leh. The sticky rice quite similar as the Cambodian skicky bamboo rice too. I am now starting to plan for there on my next trip dee.

CRIZ LAI said...

Cat Cat Village but no cat shots? Haha.. sorry.. I'm a cat lover :P Well, it looked like a great experience for you guys... I wished I had the time for such an adventurous trip out of Malaysia.

http://crizfood.com/

J2Kfm said...

StevenGoh : serial traveller you! hahaha .... never been to Cambodia lah ... maybe should plan a trip there. covering ASEAN countries sound not so intimidating.

Criz Lai : i know you love cats. but sorry lah.. cat cat village got lots of dogs n puppies though.

teckiee said...

hmm tot of asking u out for dinner with jason and wmw

J2Kfm said...

teckiee : oooh ... but why must Apr 4th leh? i'll be in KL next wkend though.