Zipping through the trees

After a long discussion the night before Dudley and I had finally settled on a plan for today. We left our Hotel Inthira and Champasak at 7am on a tuk-tuk in the rain. We were both miserable since it was so wet and cold. I at least got a spare rain coat from the tuk-tuk driver.

Once we arrived in Pakse we got the driver to go to the office of Green Discovery Laos because we wanted to check if we could go on a 2 day tour with them today. They hadn’t answered our online inquiry nor the email I sent the evening before and we both really wanted to do the Treetop Explorer Tour.

And really, we made it there in time and signed up for the 2 day tour. So good that we tried it because they were booked for the next two days and we wouldn’t have waited that out.

Within 10 minutes I had my smaller backpack ready and we were on the go. We were a group of 10 people, one couple from England, another from Australia, mother and son from the Netherlands, two girls from Vientiane and us.

I was not really sure about the itinerary, I read it yes, but after reading about the zip lining I was already hooked. I had tried that the first time at the Adventure Cave in Phong Nah and was a bit nervous about it. But in a good way.

Anyway it took us a good hour on the road and another hour on an ‘adventure road’ (Sinsay’s more than generous description for the worst dirt road ever. There were holes on this road in which you could have easily buried an elephant).

Eventually we arrived though and we’re all outfitted with a harness. By that time it was still raining and cold. At least 10 degrees cooler than in the city and I was very happy about my long sleeved shirt that I found in the backpack.


I put the rain coat which I had bought in Sapa on top of it and then we started into the wild. It was not really adventurous the first hour. Just walking along a dirt road in the wet and cold.


But eventually the scenery changed and we entered the national park.


If I said before that it was just boring trekking, all that changed in an instant when we had to cross our first ‘bridge’.

The boring part was definitely over! When we got to the other side I was sweating so much that the rain coat was not necessary anymore and Dudley had already some leeches attached to his calves. This was going to be one interesting trip.

More walking through a wet and misty forest brought us to our lunch destination. The guides, Sinsay and three locals prepared the ‘table’ and then we ate in this beautiful meadow.

  

Further trekking was necessary after lunch, it was very slippery going downhill in these woods. Until we came to the next bridge which was a walk in the park compared to the first one. I actually took a selfie in the middle of it. Which was going to be my only selfie while doing stuff (with the petrified look on my face already on that bridge maybe understandable, I seem to be holding on to my safety line for dear life).


After that it was zip line after zip line with a bit of abseiling in between.

  

Over time the zip lines became longer, passing in front of the waterfall and it was the best feeling ever to step off the platform knowing the zip line will catch me. Just the one step into nothing until you get caught from the line was such an exhilarating experience! Best thing ever!

     

The zip line above was done together. So I was attached to Dudley and he to me and together we zipped across. If you want to see a regular zip line click here and for abseiling here.

We were almost at the end of our first day, just a couple more zip lines and then we arrived at our tree house location for the night.

        
I went for a swim in a natural pool and later we had a great dinner in front of the waterfall. To get to our treehouse we had to zip line in the dark and just a while later it was lights out for all of us. Lying alone in the dark and hearing the sound and noise of the forest was pretty intense, more so when another downpour started and I had to move my bed a bit to not get wet. Yours, Pollybert

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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

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

 

What I learned in Nepal

As done on many previous occasions here is a list of all the things I learned in Nepal:

1. Dogs here sleep during the day but bark all night (but then if they don’t bark at night the silence gets an eerie quality).

2. Toilet paper in a European managed hotel has by far superior quality.

3. Everything is better with a friendly smile and the Nepali are always smiling.

4. Sometimes all it takes is a bit of luck or 90 minutes.

5. Trekking is overrated. While I do appreciate the scenery, I prefer to race ahead and just arrive.

6. Nepali parents are co-parenting. I have seen as many fathers as mothers with their offspring.

7. Wifi that’s working is nothing more than amazing.

8. The media is always manipulating. We traveled through Nepal while my friends at home thougt the whole country was destroyed.

9. A walk through the jungle is not a piece of cake.

10. The scooters are driving on electricity. So beware of the stealth mode, they kill you silently from behind.

11. There is a lot of spitting going on. Try to get out of the spit line.

12. Sometimes the price you are willing to pay for something is a lot higher than the asking price (and as a general rule: after an earthquake there is no bargaining).

12. Main dishes in Nepal are Momos and Dal Bhat.

Annapurna Trekking Experience

Another early wake-up, today for our trekking experience. We had our breakfast and one more look around    IMG_1347

and then left on time at 8am to drive to our starting point.

The starting point looked easy enough, just a couple of steps leading up into the mountains. This couldn’t be so difficult.IMG_1349IMG_1348IMG_1351IMG_1352IMG_1353If you look at Sylvia at our first stop you will notice that it might have been more exhausting than expected. All in all we managed around 4000 steps.

But there were always some distractions along the way, big and small animals and little shops to buy more water. And every animal we saw was a mountain animal, so not just a goat but a mountain goat etc.IMG_1355IMG_1360 IMG_1363 Eventually we made to the halfway point or the tourist check point. Kul had to show our trekking permit and we took more pictures. IMG_1367 IMG_1370

After that more steps waited for us which we also took in stride and in the end made it to the top. Our top, which was the Australian Camp, where we were not rewarded with a great view. To our bad luck clouds were coming in and the mountains were somewhere behind them. At least we made up to the camp without rain, just 30 minutes later we watched hikers coming up in pouring rain. IMG_1371 IMG_1373 IMG_1375 IMG_1376

We moved into the restaurant and enjoyed a hearty Nepali meal, well deserved after the long trek up there. IMG_1377 IMG_1378 IMG_1379I spent the afternoon in our hut taking a nap while Sylvia played with the dog (as I had done before too). All the while it was sunny but rather cool. For dinner we refueled again with more food and more importantly carbohydrates. We needed a lot of energy for the trek down the next day. IMG_1387 IMG_1380 IMG_1381

Guess who had the pizza? We settled in our beds for the night with the sleeping bag/inner bag respectively. Since the light was not great and wifi was not working in the hut, we called it a night around 8:30 pm. IMG_1385

The next morning we woke super early to rain and fog. IMG_1386We wanted to start at 8am but had to wait for 90 minutes until the rain abated. With a light drizzle still under way we started our descent. Kul decided that we would take a shorter tour since the steps were too slick to go down all the way. So the trek down took us only an hour and we met our driver halfway. Quite unfair that they only told us after the ascent about the short-cut.IMG_1393 IMG_1394 IMG_1396 IMG_1397 IMG_1398On the way back to castle resort we made a short stop so that I could buy myself a new backpack. The one I had I was really good for traveling but definitely the wrong choice when you go hiking. Since I am planning on doing a bit more in this direction an investment was in order.

And then finally back to the hotel where we first took a shower. Hot water and fresh clothes, heaven couldn’t feel better. We also hand washed some clothes since we didn’t know what to expect in the next couple of days.
And then since we were already used to descending steps we also walked to the city. After a 15 minutes descent we arrived in Pokhara and looked for an ATM first of all. We still had to pay at the hotel, plus needed money for taxis, food and our hotel in Kathmandu if we even got there.

Everything was still up in the air, we had no passports since they were with the agency to arrange for the Tibet/China visa. When we eventually got the ok that the visa and the flight were alright we were ecstatic.
Dinner in the city was the plan, not hotel food. We settled on Mint’s Hut which had a spectacular lake view and looked reasonable clean. The food was delicious (at least for me). Sylvia had vegetable soup and fried momos which didn’t convince her, while I had Sadeko, a very spicy salad made from peanuts or in my case dried corn and thukpa, a curried vegetable soup with omelette on top.IMG_1406 IMG_1408 IMG_1409 IMG_1412 IMG_1413 IMG_1414 IMG_1417The salad was really so spicy that I had tears in my eyes and the waiter asked after if it was my first time. I must have had really puffy eyes.

For our return we spoiled ourselves and took a taxi. We were both not up to the challenge of the steps in the dark. After a discussion with the driver about his fee that ended with the driver following us into the hotel, getting a cup of tea and an open ear from a fellow Nepali, we went to bed. Yours, Pollybert