From Hoi An, we flew to the capital Hanoi. There is not much to do in the city and everything closed down for Tet (Chinese New Year). We had a day walking around an eerily deserted city doing nothing before catching the night train 10 hours north to Sapa.
Sapa is about 2000m above sea level and is home to stunning mountains in the clouds. We completed an amazing, very surreal three days climbing the highest peak in IndoChina - Mt Fansipan!
From the night train we were transported to a travel agent where we met our guide for the 2 night / 3 day adventure to climb Mt Fansipan (fancy-pants). We thought the guy was having a laugh when he introduced us to our guide who looked about 12 years old and spoke about 2 words of English! However it seems that he was actually our guide and together with a porter who spoke no English at all we set out nervously into the mountains.
The hiking, trekking and climbing took 3 days and was great fun, apart from at night. The terrain was varied throughout as sometimes we went through woodlands, sometimes bamboo forests and other times we climbed cliff faces. We trekked up to 2800m on the first day. It was a mix of steep uphill and downhill trekking as well as some parts you could only describe as hardcore climbing.
When we reached our camp it was a bit of shock to the system. We'd been expecting tents but instead we were shown towards a massive corrugated iron shed where they had laid out 2 sleeping bags on top of dirty wood. The shed was full of rubbish and had hundreds of gaps for the wind and other critters to get in. Meanwhile, the guide and porter slept in a different part of camp with a log fire! That night we slept about 1 hour in total. Seeing as it got dark at 7pm, we had to lie there for 12 hours listening to the ridiculously strong wind battering the shed. It was a very scary experience as the gaps meant the wind got in and made everything move. Hannah was in charge of the solitary head torch we owned. Every other minute we would hear something, react and scream to the other person to turn the torch on. At one stage we saw a rat scurrying across the floorboards whilst there were countless other noises and movements that we had to just lie there and cope with until it got light again. We crossed our fingers that it wouldn't be as bad the next night.
On the second day we set off early after turning down the bizarre offer of noodles for breakfast. Our guide wasn’t feeling well so the porter who spoke no English led the way. It was a hard slog from 2800m to 3140m to reach the summit.
It was a white-out when we reached the top but as we went lower the cloud cleared and the views of the surrounding mountains were spectacular. In fact, the entire time we were doing the trek the scenery was as good as what we'd seen on the Inca Trail or in New Zealand. For some reason though the guide and porter were always in a mad rush and so in the end they left us on our own to go at our pace and take photos. Even though we were going very slowly we still finished the second day's trekking at 3:30pm which left us nothing to do in camp all evening. Our second night's sleep was even worse than the first. This time the sleeping arrangements were the same with the guide and porter cosying up in front of a log fire. They extended their kindness enough to give us a solitary candle for the night! It lasted about 20 minutes and so, like the previous night, we lay on the hard, wooden floor fearing for our lives as the wind nearly took the roof off over our heads. We reckon we managed about 2 hours, very patchy sleep each.
On the third day we trekked down to 1700m passing amazing rice paddies and also visiting a minority village. Again, as you can see from the pictures, the scenery was stunning and despite of our sleeping issues, the trek was well worth it.
We returned that evening to Hanoi on the night train and were absolutely exhausted when we reached Hanoi at 4am. We then waited 4 hours until getting picked up to begin our trip to Halong Bay...