More trekking around Sa Pa

I was excited for my second day of trekking; planned was a much longer tour than yesterday and we would start again at 9:30. When I arrived for breakfast at 9am all the Pho had already been eaten. What a disappointment, the soup had become my staple breakfast here in Vietnam. So I had some eggs and fruits instead.

For the trek Mù told me to wear different shoes. I had left my trekking boots in Hanoi since I was told that sneakers would be enough. But Mù said it would be slippery, therefore I had to get a pair of rain boots on her recommendation. They wouldn’t have been my first choice at all, but I bowed to her greater wisdom.

Our group got bigger today with two Australian sisters and the boyfriend of one, plus a girl from Croatia who taught English in Hanoi. Then again the two ladies from Singapore decided to stay in Sa Pa and have a relaxed day. Before we started Mù asked if we wanted to do the long (12km) or the short (8km) trek. The Australians were all for the long version and Randi didn’t look very happy about it. But it was agreed and finally we started.

In my boots I felt hot and sweaty already when we passed the local market. Check out what can go onto a scooter!

  

Then Randi fixed my boots and once they were half-boots I felt better. We began the trek with a very steep incline and after about 5 minutes in, Randi decided to turn around. As it turned out she made a very wise decision.

The view on the first two kilometers was limited due to a lot of mist.

Then we passed a tea plantation in the woods.

  

And just so that you get an idea about the trail we were on, this was definitely not the same as yesterday.

We had our first real break after about an hour into the trek. The view was a lot better and very beautiful.

      

And up we went again after only a short nursing stop for Mù and her boy. Today we were not only accompanied by the mother but five more women, all in bathroom sandals.

We saw a couple of children on the way up and I noticed how dirty they all looked. Happy but very dirty. The region is one of the poorest or maybe here I got closer at the locals than anywhere else. But nowhere else had I seen toddlers run around with no pants because the parents had no money (that’s what Mù told us).

Just a bit more up and then we had another break watching the mist weave in and out.

              

And everywhere we went were animals, Kul would have called all of them mountain animals.

      

From here on we descended downhill into the mist and since it was already noon Mù wanted to know if we preferred to take the long way along a road or a shortcut to our lunch destination. Everyone was for the shortcut. And already on the first couple of meters we had the first fall. It was really interesting to see. All others except for me were falling left and right and needed the hands-on support from our local companions, the women who were walking these slopes with bathroom slippers. I don’t know if it were the rain boots or my Austrian mountain goat genes that kept me from falling, but I was the only one with a pristine butt in the end.

              

How we had made it down there without broken bones I really don’t know. But our arrival on the paved path didn’t mean we had done it, no we had to walk another 45 minutes to reach our lunch destination.

      And then finally we were in the village of Lao Chai where we had our lunch. All the women who had trudged with us and helped us on the trail packed out their wares and wanted to make business or better ‘make happy’. That was really annoying but with the poverty we saw on the way, I felt obliged to buy something. One has to see it as local development aid. And here is my favorite vendor, same age as me and so tiny I felt like a giant elephant next to her.

Lunch was “same, same but different” as the day before. It was plentiful and we were all starving. By now it was about 2pm and we had had a very challenging trek with a couple of “near-death experiences” for the others.

After lunch and after all business was concluded we thought that that was the end of it. But far from it, we had another long walk through this valley to get to the Ta Van village.

            

Here we had our last stop and then it was back on the bus to the hotel. All of our group went back to Hanoi on the night train except for the Croatian girl Marsha (I probably spell her totally wrong but this is how it sounded) and me.

  

Back at the hotel I needed a shower first and another power nap. I had already decided that I wouldn’t have dinner again in the hotel. Last night was just not great and since I was eating alone I wanted to try something new. So around 6pm I left the hotel refreshed and ready to explore another part of the city. It was Saturday and there was a plant market right in front of the hotel. Do you see that the plants are not in a plastic container? Very resourceful!

  After exploring the shopping street and deciding against any impulse buy, I settled on BBQ for dinner.

      

The stuffed green thing was bitter melon. It was the only skewer I didn’t finish. It was even for me too bitter. Then after this delicious meal I went for a foot massage and was surprised when he started with my head. It was so good I almost fell asleep.

45 minutes later the relaxation was over and I walked back to the main square where I stopped to watch the evening entertainment. But the local singer who howled more like a dog than anything else made me leave the premises and prefer my bed. Yours, Pollybert

Advertisements

Cat Cat and Sin Chai

I was booked on the overnight sleeper from Hanoi to Sa Pa in a 4 berth soft sleeper compartment. When I arrived in my compartment three people were already there but only in two beds. I was ok with that since the two little girls were really quiet and shared their bed. The fourth one was a Spanish girl who partied next door.

Since it was already late and estimated arrival time was 6:30 with a full day of trekking ahead, I just relaxed in my bed and fell asleep in no time. At our arrival in Lào Cai we met our driver who took us up to Sa Pa which was a 45 minutes drive away.IMG_3810 IMG_3812

The train station looked really modern, but I don’t know what it was used for. Because neither at my arrival nor at my leaving was I anywhere near this new building. I got on and off at the old part.

On the way up it was raining lightly and when looking out of the window the scenery was very different from Hanoi.IMG_3814IMG_3815

At the Panorama Hotel we were greeted by a woman who told us where we could take a shower and have breakfast. Our guide would pick us up at around 9:30. Enough time to get ready. While walking up to the hotel the difference to Hanoi was even more pronounced. I was now in tribal area.

While eating breakfast the rain kept on going steady, not a really good sign for todays trekking. But I also noticed that the houses had a European appearance. IMG_3818

By the time our guide came I was fully awake and ready to go. I took off with 2 women from Singapore and a couple from Norway. Our guide, called Mù (or so) was 21 and accompanied by her mother who carried her nine months old son. The mother by the way was 49. More important than that, please check out the shoes. This will be very important for tomorrows trek!

IMG_3824 IMG_3826

Todays program consisted of two village visits, first Cat Cat and then Sin Chai. Even looking back now on the pictures I am not sure where exactly the second village was, but we must have been there because I asked the next day and was told it was around the rice fields.

Anyway we started directly in Sapa going down to the tourist village of Cat Cat where there was one shop after another. Shop is maybe too hard, but since the area is living mostly from tourists everyone wants to sell you something.IMG_3822 IMG_3823 IMG_3827 IMG_3830 IMG_3832 IMG_3834 IMG_3842 IMG_3843IMG_3844IMG_3845IMG_3846IMG_3848

Slowly we made our way to a waterfall within the village which had a small theater.IMG_3849 IMG_3850 IMG_3851 IMG_3852 IMG_3861 IMG_3864At the theater we saw some typical trial dancing that didn’t really impress me much after the long hair village. On we went in the direction of our lunch when we found some indigo plant along the way. Nils was brave enough to explore the qualities of this color giving plant.IMG_3876 IMG_3877 IMG_3878

And here the result which of course showed only a while later. Mù said that after two hand washes it would be gone. Cannot confirm it, he still had it the next day during our trek (and his wife confirmed the washing).

IMG_3890Through the rice terraces we went up, nearer and nearer to our lunch stop. The going was very steep from time to time. Living here seemed to be very exhausting.

      

The highest peak in the region was the Fanisipan with 3.143m, not that we went up there. And anyway, after Tibet the altitude wouldn’t have been a problem.

When we finally reached our lunch destination some of the group were completely spent while I felt we had done a long walk. But it felt good to sit down at this very simple place where the food had been brought in from the hotel. Never on this trip before when doing a tour had food been delivered to a lunch destination (I really wonder why this was done here in Sa Pa). Anyway, what we got was good and enough for me. Helena from Singapore asked for seconds which were not available.

After lunch Mù asked if we wanted back to the hotel or trek some more. I was all for trekking and Nils and Fenella came along while Nils wife Randi and Helena stayed behind.

What we did was not really trekking again but for about 45 minutes Mù led us through the rice fields. Walking on the narrow ledge was a tough balancing act. So when we turned back to our missing group members even I was happy.

        

To get to the van we had to walk some more and after another 20 minutes going up we finally could rest and wait for the car.

Back in the hotel I had a shower and a power nap. Eventually I felt restored enough to visit the town. From my window I could see a church so I headed there first.

The church was right in front of the main square and from there I walked to the lake (also called in the local tourist map the lake).

        

As you can see clouds moved in again and later a fog came over the town. While I was having dinner at the hotel I saw the church vanishing before my eyes. One moment there and in the next gone. Since that also happened the next night it seemed like a regular occurrence.

Dinner at the hotel was bland and not worth mentioning, but I met Nils and Randi in the restaurant and we had a nice evening. Yours, Pollybert

 

The Moon Hill in Yangshuo

Another morning dawned (and with dawned I mean the literal sense because I seem to wake up on this trip always around 6am) and I started to update the blog. Some of you might have noticed that I am 2 weeks behind on the blog. Since China I am just struggling to update. Anyway the wi-fi was working well with the VPN in the Westland Hostel and I updated a bit again.

But around noon and two cups of coffee I felt ready to get moving again and for today I had planned to see the Moon Hill. So again I went to the hostel next door, paid my 10 Yuan (a little more than a one Euro) and cycled out of the city in the same direction as yesterday. This time though I went over the Yulong River bridge and went further. I noticed that the heat really got to me and I need to take more breaks in-between. Also I felt the day of cycling from yesterday. Apparently I was not in such a good shape after all.

When I found the Moon Hill I got stopped by a woman next to the entrance who wanted to show me the farmer’s way to it by paying her a small fee and no entrance fee. I decided to trust her and declare it as local development aid. So I parked my bike and hiked up with her a small trail about 150 meters from the actual entrance. The heat and the humidity in the jungle just about did me in. Eventually we arrived a stone way and she told me to just walk about there, I will get to the hill and use the regular exit upon leaving. What she didn’t tell and might not have done the Moon Hill after all that the hike would be cruel.

So I trudged up some stairs (always stairs and more stairs) and arrived after maybe 20 minutes at this point of view.IMG_3283IMG_3284IMG_3286

It looked spectacular and I felt like the king of the world, but since it was only a view point and you could get up to the real “Moon”, I wanted to go there too. It took maybe another 40 minutes to get up there but the stairs in this heat and with a lot mosquitoes and the humidity it felt like hours. While walking up there were always people coming down and they motivated me to get on going. There was an end in sight and since they had made it, I could too. Plus they told me that there would be cold water on top. And I bought an overpriced cold water bottle because I felt I deserved it and so did the really old woman who had brought it up. she even fanned me while I drank it an gave me something for the mosquito bites. So it was money well invested.IMG_3289IMG_3290IMG_3291IMG_3292IMG_3295IMG_3297IMG_3298

On that the I never stopped sweating by the way. I think the hike increased my core temperature so much, that I couldn’t stop until I was back at the hostel. I have never experienced anything like it that water just ran down my body while I sitting in front of a fan and was not moving at all. A very weird experience. So after I had a little break on top, I walked down again which I enjoyed a lot more than going up although now I noticed the mosquitoes. Before I had just noticed the bites.IMG_3299IMG_3300IMG_3301

I had parked my bicycle next to a shed which was actually a little restaurant. Si I went to this place and ordered mixed vegetables with rice and it was just perfect. Maybe because I was starved for some vegetables after the dinner yesterday or maybe I was exhausted from the hike. Anyway, it was the perfect lunch with a cold beer to get some energy.IMG_3304

But every break needs to end and after an hour or so I was back on the road to roam the countryside some more. I passed what I thought was a cemetery, but I cannot be sure about. It looked definitely cared for and quite lovely.IMG_3305IMG_3306IMG_3308
While some others looked overgrown and abandoned.

Since sweat was dripping constantly my grip on the bike was not the best and anyway I had enough of bicycling already, I decided to make another stop. I found this quaint roadside place and had a coffee and some lychee juice here. And even in this no-name place they had wi-fi. The world is really shrinking.IMG_3310

Two hours and 10 postcards later I thought I had exhausted the hospitality of the little café and rode back to the city. I stopped for another hour at the bridge, watching the water pass by.IMG_3312IMG_3313IMG_3314

dinner that evening was Chinese fast food and I loved the way how it was presented. It was only a noodle soup with some meat, a salad and a tea egg but so good! Yours, PollybertIMG_3316

Bicycling around the Yulong River

The next morning I was ready again to conquer the world. Until I left my room and felt the heat suffocating me. I was exhausted the moment I closed the door behind me. Nonetheless I had a coffee in my hostelIMG_3227 and then walked to the hostel next door to rent a bike for the day.

With the clever plan from the city (and it is a city with 2 million people) and the information I had gathered last night I set out to find the Yulong River. Along of it I wanted to ride up to the Dragon Bridge. Once I passed the big street next to my hostel I was out of the city bustle and on the road to the scenic sights. Since I usually don’t really bike I felt totally adventurous.

I did my fist stop after 2km at an “ancient” tribal village. Yeah, definitely not ancient and not worth it. The only ancient stuff were some pottery shards and the rest was newly built huts, made to look old with lots of Chinese people dressed like the Flintstones.IMG_3228IMG_3229

From here on I decided to stick to the natural scenic sights, I would probably enjoy these more. Just a couple of kilometers more I cam across the bridge over the Yulong River and watched the bamboo rafters getting their boats ready for customers.IMG_3238

The scenery was really stunning no matter in what direction you looked. I stayed on the right side of the river going up, the road looked a bit better. I knew it would be about 10-12 km to ride up to the bridge.IMG_3232 IMG_3241 IMG_3243 IMG_3245 IMG_3248 IMG_3249As it turned out it was going to be a lot longer for me. I rode up al the way to until I came a motorway. I didn’t really want to bicycle between trucks so I turned around and tried to find a different route to the Dragon Bridge. On the map it looked as if a small dirt road would go all the way up to the bridge. But then the dirt road turned into a track and then the track turned into a mud trail and eventually it vanished. So not for me, after about one km I turned around again and looked for lunch.IMG_3250 IMG_3253 IMG_3254

I stopped at a very nice looking hotel and was the only guest there. The owners had just opened 2 months before and had a friend from the US staying with them. Which was good because this guy entertained me during my lunch of wild greens and rice (was still trying to avoid dog meat and it was so hot that it was almost impossible to eat anything at all). Then later he took a picture of me and my bicycle and they showed me which way to go to the bridge. Also, when I was about to leave it just started to rain, so the waiter gave me his rain coat. You must love the Chinese, they were really nice people.IMG_3259

With their directions it was easy to find my way. I had to cross a foot bridge again to the left side of the river and from there on it was easy-peasy to find my way. Also after about 10 minutes it stopped raining and I could remove the rain coat again. Shortly before the Dragon Bridge I met a German couple that was with me on the bus yesterday. We stopped for chat next to the river and they told me about their trials with China. They got scammed twice already, once on the Beijing Wall and once with the “Tea Ceremony”. I was really lucky because nothing like this had happened to me. While we talked it started to rain in earnest again and we sought shelter under a large tree where we talked for at least another hour. Eventually I said my goodbyes because still wanted to see the Dragon Bridge.IMG_3280IMG_3261 IMG_3263 IMG_3266 IMG_3270 IMG_3271 IMG_3274 IMG_3279

Was the bridge worth riding for kilometers on end? Probably not but the scenery all around was just stunning, so this waste amazing ride. Plus when I turned around I met Lisa and Paul again and we made our way into the city together where we went for an early dinner after this long day in about 35 degrees with 80% humidity or so. It actually felt more like a 100% but have learned better since then.

The place for dinner that we chose was small but had a couple of pictures on the wall and from there I chose one recommended by Paul some meat dish which was one of the worst things I had in China.IMG_3282
The dish consisted only of bone and from which animal they came I didn’t know and actually don’t want to. For the Chinese this would have been super delicious because they like to suck all the marrow out of the bones, but I rather I would have liked to have more vegetables with it. Nevermind though, it was an experience and the right ending for the day. I headed back to my room at the Westland Hostel, cooled down and later headed out to get some fruits and something cold to drink. But I went to bed early after all, I was sure I had done at least 20 km with all the turning around and I felt it. Yours, Pollybert

Climbing the Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China is a monument that can be seen from space and I think every first-time visitor to China wants to go there.

Same here, so I booked a day trip with the Beijing hikers. They came highly recommended by a couple I met on the cruise and I also had heard from Babsi’s friends that they were the best.

So I had to wake up at 6:15 on my birthday and get ready to be at the pickup place at 7:30. With the description on the website it was easy to find though and right on time we started our trip. The weather was not promising a great view though.

IMG_2513

It was a two-hour bus ride to get to the hiking start and with a short coffee break at the second pickup we were there in no time.

The plan looked easy enough and the first couple of hundred meters were ok but then it all changed.IMG_2515 IMG_2516

Very steep steps again and when there were no steps then it was just steep. The first couple of minutes the group stayed together but then each one walked at his own pace. We had three guides with us and Tina the girl in front marked the path with little flags when there was a question about which way to turn.IMG_2517 IMG_2520

IMG_2521

I think some of these flags were just meant as booster for the moral that we were in the right way. Right at halftime there was a cave next to the path with nothing to see but it made for a reason to stop a while.IMG_2522

Shortly after I could finally see from afar the wall. I cannot tell how glad I was to see that the end was near, at least for ascent.

IMG_2523 IMG_2524

As you can see I was a little more than exhausted when I reached the wall but very glad that I had made it. Also my newly bought backpack from Nepal proved to be a worthy investment. I was still soaked through but not as bad in the back as when we did the Annapurna trekking.IMG_2528 IMG_2529 IMG_2533

IMG_2532 IMG_2535After a long enough rest for all to arrive at the wall and catch their breath we walked along the unrestored wall. Too bad that the weather was not in our favor and the view was limited. Still, it was very impressive but something to be done again. A German guy I talked to during this part told that he comes to China every year on business and always stays a bit longer after and that every year he books a tour for the wall. Quite the recommendation!IMG_2537 IMG_2540IMG_2542

We also heard at our next rest stop that we were lucky. Because 10 days ago it had snowed and just five days ago it had rained. So we had to be grateful for warm and hazy weather.IMG_2544 IMG_2551

IMG_2554 IMG_2557IMG_2558 IMG_2560IMG_2562

The descent was the easy part for me but quite a lot found it more harrowing than going up. Maybe my Austrian ancestry made me go down nimble as a mountain goat (I wish I had been as nimble on the way up).

When we finally arrived in the village where the bus waited everyone looked ready to sit down and never get up again. But this would change quickly with a delicious 10 course meal (very traditional as the girl from Beijing confirmed). We sat down to eat on huge round tables and the different plates were put in the middle. I just had to choose what I wanted to try.

In time before the thunderstorm we were back on the bus. The ride home took an hour longer due to the weekend traffic. When I arrived at Babsi’s place she was already starving. She had waited with dinner for me to celebrate my birthday.

The rain that evening didn’t ruin my good mood, it was my birthday, I had been to the wall and I had a really nice umbrella with me.IMG_2564 IMG_2566

We went to a vegan restaurant just around from Babsi’s place. Since I was not really hungry I didn’t care so much about the food. It was actually some kind of Middle Eastern fusion cuisine. I stuck to what I knew and ate the Babaganoush. Babsi ordered chocolate cake for dessert and since I am already of advanced age we had 4 pieces so that all the candles fit!IMG_2570 IMG_2576 IMG_2578

Please note that I brought the candles from Vienna (thanks Tici!).

They even closed the light in our corner so that the candles look brighter and played ‘Happy Birthday’ on the stereo. It was a very lovely evening. Yours, Pollybert