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!

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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

 

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Chongqing

After a good night on the train I arrived at my destination at 7:40 in the morning.IMG_2114 IMG_2116

It took me a while to find the baggage hold (called “left luggage”) and even longer to find the tourist information. Thank god they had one. Because the train station in Chongqing is huge compared to the one in Xi’an South.

I found the information after following the signs forever (and getting lost in the process) and asked there how to get to the zoo. I hadn’t read much before but I did look up what to do for the day in Chongqing. The zoo was number 6 on the top 10 list and also within the city limits. Perfect for a day trip.

As it turned out the zoo was only a 30 minutes metro ride away. But before going there it was time for breakfast. With no dinner the night before I was starving, so a noodle soup in a diner next to the train station was quite alright.IMG_2118 IMG_2117
Changing the metro line once, I was at the zoo in a flash.IMG_2119 IMG_2120 IMG_2121

The zoo appeared to me as the green lung of Chongqing. A large and lush areal within the city and full of doting grandparents. I fully enjoyed my day there just walking around, eating ice cream, watching animals and bonding with the locals.IMG_2124 IMG_2128 IMG_2131 IMG_2136 IMG_2137 IMG_2141 IMG_2142

 

The way back felt so much easier, like I have never done anything else.IMG_2143

I picked up my bag, got a taxi and with the help of another guy my driver also knew where to go.

Due to lack of water was the harbor in Chongqing closed and we had to get ferried upstream to Fengdu.IMG_2146

 

So the meeting point for the cruise guests was the national theater. 

After another half an hour and at a good rate (love the taxis here, taxometer is on and you have no problem. In China, no problem!), I was back in the organized world of tourist traveling.

I might have gotten a bit of a heart attack when for the first 20 minutes or so I only saw Chinese faces. But that changed when some western looking people arrived as well.

I took my seat and finally at 10pm I made it onto the ship, the Victoria Jenna.IMG_2148

 

I had booked a shared cabin which was empty on my entry (and stayed so for the trip). After a long shower I headed on the top deck for something to drink and some relaxation time. Yours, Pollybert

Xi’an to Chongqing

After walking around the food market for ages We finally had dinner at the hot pot place next to the hostel. But after my experience with Sylvia in Lhasa I settled on the noodles and a beer. This day had been wonderful and exhausting and it was good for me to see how easy I can find company.

The next morning I stayed at the hostel until check-out time and then tried to find the Bell Tower again. I had seen it the night before and wanted another impression at daylight. Maybe even try for the mosque again.IMG_2045
But walking around with a map proved too difficult for me (I should have trusted my instincts) and I ended up somewhere completely foreign to me. Which should not have been a problem but it started to rain and I had left the umbrella at the hostel. So I turned around and ended up in a restaurant that had a picture menu. Something I loath in Vienna but in China I glad for it.
I tried some green soup and fried aubergine. Both were delicious as I find the food overall very good.IMG_2111 IMG_2112

If the soup bowl looks big to you, it was. More the size of a large salad bowl.

After I had finished my meal it had started to rain in earnest and I was not in the mood to get back in the rain. I had ample of time and just stayed at the restaurant, drank the included tea (there is free refill) and used my dictionary to find the bathroom. Two hours reading and preparing the blog posts were  a well spent afternoon for me.

When the rain finally let off I walked back to the hostel, got my stuff and waited for the ordered driver. I was told that I should be a minimum of an hour before the departure at the train station and since I assumed it was a huge one I wanted to leave myself ample time to find everything. So three hours before the train was due I left the hostel. It took one hour to get to the train station (thank God I knew that before otherwise I would have thought the driver wanted to abduct me). But once there it turned out that it was a super small provincial train station. And that should say something in China.

I got my ticket without a problem since it had been booked by the cruise agency and they charged an extra 17 U$ for it. So I got my ticket with minimal trouble since the girl at the register spoke English (and well to the boot at that) and I went through security.

The train station consisted of a waiting hall and a bathroom. The people were only let on the platforms once the train came in. I looked in vain for a seat and eventually asked a young man to move his bags for which he only had a blank look and eyes that said “I don’t give a damn”.

But it turned out I had been noticed by the only other westerner in this hall. I don’t know his name but he was from Denmark and seemed like a very seasoned traveler. One of his train mates (they met when comparing tickets) made room for me and I could put my backpack down. The Danish guy laughed when he heard I was in for a two hour wait but gave me an assortment of English tea to keep me company on the train. 10 minutes later he was on his train to the border of Kazakhstan.
More waiting resulted in eventually visiting the bathroom. The Chinese girls next to me signed me that they would look out for my bags (but in any case I don’t think anything could happen in there. The police is stationed right inside, only travelers are allowed into the waiting hall, so basically everyone is in the same boat).

And then another kindness in the bathroom. Of the two stalls one was unusable (I spare you again the details) and for the other was a line up. And the girl in front of me let me go ahead. No word was exchanged but I felt really taken care of.

Then finally the train had arrived and since I couldn’t read my ticket, I followed the masses. I knew at least that I had a bed waiting for me. I just didn’t know if I would have to fight for it. And then another angel, this time in the form of a young man helped me to find my wagon.

It took still a bit of looking to get to the right compartment which I shared with three guys. But now I know that on the ticket it only says the wagon and the bed number. I had an upper bunk, the guy from below helped me to heave the backpack up and I stored it over the door. Two of the three guys could even speak English and I was interviewed where I came from and where I was heading to.

When the conductor came to take my ticket, which was exchanged for a card with the wagon and bunk number I had a puzzled look on my face. But as I was told “No problem. In China, no problem” and they were right. Everything works just fine here. Yours, Pollybert