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Getting There - Aneel's Travelogue

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Sapa Sapa, Vietnam, Saturday, 24 March 2007 3:00am

Our train took longer than we'd expected, which was a good thing. That meant we got to spend a couple more hours asleep. I'm not sure whether it was the train being slow or us just having bad information about how long it was supposed to take. When planning trips, I need to keep in mind that a travel day is a travel day, even if it happens overnight. Planning to do something after a night train or bus is a mistake.

In any case, we got to Lao Cai at about 7am. A minibus was waiting for the NAGARETX party (2pax). We were the last two packed into the full minibus, which drove relatively sanely over the rainy, foggy 30km to Sapa. Our hotel was the last stop, and we checked in without problems. In fact, we were allowed into our room immediately, which was a nice surprise. We'd expected to be told to come back after check-out time. A quick shower and a long nap were the first and second orders of business. When we woke up, we found that the misty rain had stopped and that we had nice views.

We walked up the hill to have brunch at the Sapa branch of Baguettes & Chocolate (we visited the Hanoi branch on our first morning there). Their pastries and drinks were great, but the food we ordered turned out to be a little bland. They were playing a jazzy instrumental version of "Careless Whisper" (or at least that's what Jessica says it's called. It's the "I'm never gonna dance again / Guilty feet have got no rhythm" song). I think it's the official cafe song of Vietnam. We've heard at least three different versions, including the original.

Fortified, we wandered through various marketplaces, indoor and outdoor. Many women in the embroidered robes of various ethnic minority groups approached us to sell us textiles, fruit, bracelets, or drugs (I was offered "smokes", marijuana, hash, and opium, all by he same grandmotherly type). We bought a couple things in the indoor market, where the stalls are more permanent. I'm planning on doing more souvenir shopping later.

We made our way to the office of a recommended tour company to make plans for the rest of our stay. But we discovered that they were closed for lunch. Lacking another plan for the day, we decided to walk up to the radio tower, which the guidebook lists as having the best views around.

It seems that since the guidebook was written, the area around the radio tower hill has been turned into a tourist complex, the "Ham Rong Resort". We were sold tickets and given a little map of the various attractions like the "Stone forest", "Flowers in 4 seasons", "Struthious garden", "Three-entrance-gate cave", and "Cloud yard". We walked around for a while, becoming more and more suspicious that we'd been given a map to an entirely different set of sites than the one we were visiting. We found the "Ostrich garden" (with one really big ostrich), "Garden of Medicinal Herbs", "Stilt house", and "Ethnic dance performance area". It was a nice light hike along paths that were steep, but paved, and we saw almost nobody else.

It was only after we'd decided to head back that we found a sign for the "Cloud yard", and things started falling into place. It seems that our very first turn was not on the map, and that the sights we'd seen were in an unmapped annex of the Resort. We ran into a lot more tourists on the way back. Perhaps they had been more careful with their first turn. Or perhaps they'd been busy eating lunch when we set out.

("struthious" apparently means "of, relating to, or resembling an ostrich or a related bird; ratite", so that's one less mystery).

Back in Sapa proper, we made arrangements for a half-day hiking trip tomorrow that will take us through several villages. We discussed options for a full day trip to Bac Ha on Sunday, ending in Lao Cai in time for our return train.

We returned to our hotel's bar, the "Spub", to have some snacks and play some cards. I brought a couple packs of cards with me on the trip, but we hadn't actually gotten around to using them until now (one deck turned out to have been destroyed by the rain in Hue). I'd also brought printouts of the rules of various two-player games.

We started with Tiên Lên, which is the most popular game in Vietnam. At least with two players, it turns out to be pretty biased towards the winner of the previous hand. Once one person starts winning, they're likely to keep winning. Then we played some Gin Rummy. I'd never known the knocking rule or the scoring aspect before, so it was good to get that straight. The most interesting game we played was Cassino, which I dimly remember having played somewhere before. It's a neat game with some interesting strategy, but since you have at most four cards in your hand at any time, you don't spend all of your time pondering what to do next.

Anchor Beer: I thought this was a Cambodian beer. We're pretty far from there, relatively speaking. Though the other beer choices were Singaporean and Dutch, so who knows? It was better from the bottle than the can Jessica had in Siem Riep. Not very flavorful, but not bad. A little sweet.

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