Northern Vietnam – Part 2 – Son La to Sa Pa

It seems I was a bit hasty yesterday when I criticized our slow progress. Today we only managed 270km in 9-1/2 hours! OK, OK we went through the highlands and the mountain roads were partly in conditions that would make most of our Bulgarian roads stand out as being first-class. For a change I had taken the back seat (which saved me much from listening to my guys’ conversation). The bad side was that my view was limited and was bolted around with all the wholes and bumps and endless turns. Not good for my stomach condition! But I survived.

Before leaving the hotel I took a few snapshots of some interesting room features.

Like the boiler wiring next to the shower head:

I hope the black spot on the bottom of the boiler was not related to the previous inhabitant of the room.

The bathroom door had sliding-locks on both sides. That sent my imagination spinning :)

And the view from my room to the restaurant was very practical in judging when to go for breakfast:

After setting off we quickly went to see the old French prison in Son La that also used by the Vietnamese later to re-educate untoward citizens. Despite all the propaganda visible it was not a pleasant place to write about.

Driving soon became cumbersome as we went from mountain pass to mountain pass with uncountable bends. The scenery, on the other hand, was very beautiful with enticing  views and lovely little highland plains and valley sprinkled in.

Here we passed an area where they grow coffee and my curiosity made me get out of the car to check how ripe red coffee “cherries” taste. I prefer the black brew in my cup!

A few farms on the way:

And here a new artificial reservoir – with huge dimensions and very picturesque.

Such projects are easy to realise in Vietnam. The government simply builds new basic houses/shacks in some unoccupied territory and orders all the farmers living (who knows for how many generations) in the area that is supposed to be used for the project to move to the new place. Police and military assist the farmers in moving :) As it looks farmers (which represent the largest part of the population) are the most underprivileged group in Vietnamese society. They are pawns in the hands of the powerful – who (according to the locals) often start new (and sometimes gigantic) projects for personal enrichment.

Here is a very shy local lady distilling rakia for her husband :) Of course, she never drinks of it :)

As a generous employer I decided to invite my team to an extravagant lunch in the most posh restaurant of a bigger village that we passed on our way.

The fare was steamed rice with my favourite vegetable, some wonderful, juicy pork-ribs and some sliced pork with rice-spaghetti and greens. Simple but absolutely fabulous. My guide, being concerned about my stomach had even ordered the owners to wash my bowl with hot water and obtained a new pair of chopsticks for me. Something very uncommon here as everyone washes dishes, glasses and “cutlery” with cold water, or rather, rinses them…

Another hydro-power project on the way. This one “temporarily” abandoned. Maybe the initiators had filled their pockets already sufficiently and left the country to enjoy a peaceful life – as seems often the case.

The road is the goal…

Now we are nearing our destination for the day (well, another short hour away). This is the highest mountain in Vietnam (3143m): Fansipan. Unfortunately it had just stopped raining and the peaks were in clouds.

Here is, what I find, a rather dramatic view a little later…

…and the continuation of our pass.

When we finally arrived at our destination Sa Pa it was about 10 minutes before nightfall. It might as well have been later as everything was covered in fog – and visibility not more than 10 meters. Absolutely nothing to be seen. I hope tomorrow morning will be better as my hotel room is supposed to have a gorgeous view to close-by Fan Si Pan, the highest mountain.

“Sa Pa” has become one of the “pearls” of Northern Vietnam and together with the Halong Bay one of the two biggest tourist magnets in the North. At 1600m altitude it has become THE mountain resort, the Bansko of Vietnam. Due to its climatic conditions it had its first blossoming period during the French colonial times. After the French left, the little town crumbled. Now it is packed with hordes of foreign tourists and in summer in addition with Vietnamese that try to escape the heat of the plains and seaside. The area is dominated by various colourful ethnic hill tribes and the foreigners come mainly for that exotic experience.

Sa Pa’s main street is lined with restaurants, shops and massage places. Reminds me much of our Bansko Pirin Street in winter – at peak time.

After checking into my  hotel and setting up shop I had to wait for the rain that had set in momentarily to stop to venture out and take a walk on main. Still no chance for any pictures. I had dinner in a Vietnamese restaurant recommended to me by my guide Hung, who told me that the owner was a good friend of his, food was good and prices reasonable.

As it turned out nearly all restaurants offered foreign food – from T-bone steak to pizza – and they were quite busy. My choice seemed to be the only completely empty one. Hmmm.

As I am still suffering I decided on something small, so I had fried flour-coated duck with garlic and some steamed rice. The duck was as tender and juicy as it could have been. An excellent choice for 6.70 Leva/DM. As no Vietnamese ever seems to order only one dish I had some “Sa Pa Spring Rolls” in addition. Not overwhelming but also quite tasty. The local Lao Cai beer was better than the Ha Noi that they sell at most other places.

When I came back to my room I was greeted by a huge black bug sitting on the keyboard of my computer. He disappeared as quickly as normally only cock roaches can do. So, I wonder who will be sharing my room with me. Maybe I won’t keep the window open tonight then. Who knows what other creatures might crawl in.

I am stuffed and tired and will now go to bed, rather early for a change. Tomorrow at 8 am is sightseeing time…




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