Feeling that we needed to get out of Hanoi and get a bit of peace and quiet we booked ourselves on a trip to Sapa in the northern hills of Nam for three nights and two days. Which actually means two of the three nights being spent all aboard.....the night train! There are several different tickets you can get for the train and we booked the most expensive one which was soft sleeper which is four beds in one cabin.
The Orient Express it is not, in fact it doesn't even look like the pictures we were shown. It looks like a prison cell really with four beds in it (two bunks). But then again we were only sleeping in it so it couldn't really be that bad? And I don't think the journey up would have been that bad had it not been for one of our room buddies who was a Vietnamese guy who began snoring and snorting as soon as we left which was pretty gross but after midnight he would get up every hour or so and open the door to the room (which we had locked), he'd also keep looking at our bags mysteriously and at 5am he obviously decided it was far top late to be sleeping in so he opened the doors, windows, curtains etc. I got a couple of hours sleep but Rhiannon got none.
Not a great start to the trip and on arrival at the station the drizzle was coming down in the morning gloom and amid the chaos of trying to find our driver it did not look promising for a good weekend. But it got better. Thankfully.
So the first day was gloomy and wet, the hotel we stayed in was alright though and even had HBO in the room and premiership football which you won't hear any complaints about.
However the second day was the main day for everything and we were up early to enjoy it. The rains of the past week had apparently made the ground slippy and they advised that we rent some boots (wellies from them) which is all well and good if you have tiny baby feet like every local guy and the closest size to my 11s was about 8s so it was slipping and sliding in my trainers for me.
Our walking group was small, just me, Rhiannon, our 17 yr old female guide for the day and two Swedish girls. I'll leave that thought with you for a second so you can do the maths.
In fact the local guide looked more like 12 than 17, when we get around to putting photos up (when we get a fast connection) you'll see that she was about 5ft tall and was dwarfed by me and Rhiannon. Nevertheless she spoke very good English, she lived in one of the local Hill tribe villages which were probably at one point untroubled by the Western world but given that she spent some time jabbering into her mobile and had her own Facebook page you can assume that for most in the area this ship sailed when the tourists arrived.
The scenary is however magnificent. Rice paddy fields as far as the eye can see, layered onto the hills in luscious green steps. Walking through the hills, the fields were still being worked by the locals from the villages who dressed in the colourful clothes of thheir tribe. Each tribe wears different colours and from what we could gather they all spoke different dialects such that children from the tribe of our guide couldn't go to the school in the nearby village because they couldn't speak the language.
I said we just had our guide but in fact for the first half a day we were also followed by women from the village. We wondered if they were there to sell us stuff or just because they were bored but it transpired that we had one of them each to help us through the slippery parts. Very useful for Rhiannon in particular who once went flat on her backside in comical fashion, but not again as she was helped along by a tiny old lady who must have weighed only about six stones but did a job many have faield at in the past and kept Rhiannon upright!
We stopped at a local village for lunch with a few other groups and Rhiannon fell in love with some little puppies they had as pets, combine this with her also loving the cute children being carried around and it was smiles all around as every other word from Rhiannon was "aaawwwww". The children of Nam have been a real hi-light always smiling, always waving and always yelling "hello" at us (it's the only word they know in English. It's all I can do to stop Rhiannon grabbing one of them and stuffing him in her rucksack.
Our personal guides then tried to sell us stuff, although what they thought I actually needed with a colourful new purse is anybody's guess but we left with bracelets and a cushion cover with dye that runs when even shown some water. The day went very quickly and we both had a really good one, the Swedish girls naturally spoke perfect English and we talked travel and the places we were going that they had recently been. All very pleasant. Perhaps we should have booked an extra day there in hindsight, but we we both glad we went.
The train journey back was better as we shared with a middle aged French couple, they were a bit odd but harmless. Not sure we'll get the train again in Nam, eventhough the train down to Saigon is supposedly better, it was an experience but we'll try the coach next. Even as we arrived back in Hanoi there still seemed to be problems as we arrived two hours late and at the wrong station. Miraculously the guy from the hotel still tracked us down and picked us up and they gave us a room free for a few hours to rest eventhough we weren't staying there that night proving yet again what thoroughly good eggs they were.
Mopre ramblings soon from Hoi An.