Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Motorcycling in Sapa

18 May 2014 (Sunday)

Though I felt I slept well last night, and woke up at 5:30 a.m. when daylight crept into the train cabin, my head felt heavy.

At Lao Cai, a lady was waiting for me there with my name on a placard. After introducing myself, I was led to the parking area for the minibuses and taxis. It did not depart immediately but after the minibus had almost been filled up.

The road to Sapa was very winding, and the driver was always overtaking other vehicles at bends and driving into the lane for oncoming vehicles. Coupled with my heavy head, I felt sick. I was the last to be dropped off at Pumpkin Hotel.

The reception asked for my passport. After handing him my passport, I was led to my room, Room 401. There was no air-conditioner, just a standing fan.

After a quick bath I took a nap. At about 9:10 a.m., I got up and clear the clothes I left lying around earlier. I went out at 10:06 a.m. for brunch.

From the direction given by the reception, I walked to the market. A stall holder cracked an almond nut for me to taste. It was crispy and good. She gave me another variety to try and it was equally good. She asked me to buy one kilogram for VND250,000. That was expensive. She started filling up the bag even though I had not agreed. Anyway, I went ahead and gave her VND300,000. She did not give me the change but gave me a packet of dried fruit. I did not want it and only then did she give me the VND50,000 change.

I was hoping to find street food, but could not find any. In the end, I ate at a restaurant. The Pho Ga was VND40,000 and lemon drink was VND20,000.

After brunch, I went back to my room to check my batteries which were being charged for my Garmin. I did not want to get lost without my Garmin gps unit. Finally, I gave up waiting for the batteries to complete charging. I took the batteries, loaded them into my gps and went down at 12:00 noon to ask the receptionist where I could rent a motorcycle. He said he could arrange it for me. The cost was VND150,000 for a full day. I said it was already noon and wanted half-day rental. He said the price was VND100,000 but I have to buy my own fuel. I told him I wanted to go to Tavan Village and asked him how much fuel to buy. He replied that VND50,000 would be sufficient (so the total was VND150,000 too. How cunning!) I asked him the direction to the petrol station and he said it was on the way to Tavan Village. Tavan would be along the road to the left of the hotel and I was to go straight, no turn. I asked him some more questions about the direction to the petrol station and he then decided to pump the fuel for me, with me riding pillion.

After coming back from the fuel station, I took over the motorcycle and rode off in the same direction to the petrol station. On the way, I stopped to buy water and asked the shop assistant to confirm the direction of Tavan using sign language (pointing to the direction and asking, "Tavan?"). The direction I followed was wrong. She pointed to the direction I came from, and that was the direction to Tavan. At every junction, I asked strangers the direction to Tavan using sign language. It led me back to the direction of the hotel, short of the last street to the hotel itself. The last advice given was to continue straight in the direction to the left of the hotel I was staying. Then, I recalled what the receptionist was saying in the beginning, "... go straight on the road to the left of the hotel ...". There is only one road to Tavan Village.

I was stopped by a pretty girl at the ticket checking stop. I was politely asked to purchase the entry ticket a kilometer back. I had no choice but to return to buy the entrance ticket. It cost me VND40,000.

There were quite a number of westerners on motorcycles and I did not see them stopped or turned back.

The view of the valley along the route was spectacular. Some of the terraces had been planted while others had been ploughed. From the speedometer and gps, I probably rode between 9 to 12 kilometers out of Sapa. The scenery was particularly mesmerizing at the first two view points.

As I had only VND50,000 worth of fuel, which was less than two liters, I decided to return after the fuel level reached half of the amount pumped.

I reached the hostel before 2:30 p.m. and returned the motorcycles keys to the receptionist. Then, I went out to explore Sapa town.

Sapa is a small place. It could be covered in two hours on foot. It has a market, numerous empty restaurants, no supermarket and a few grocery shops selling drinks, junks and some other stuff. There is no night market but Hmong women would be selling their hand woven bags, skullcap, pillow case and other woven stuff on the sidewalks. Even small children were involved in selling the stuff, when they should be playing or sleeping at home.

At the market, there were a few food stalls but their hygiene was questionable with stacks of unsold food left on the table openly after 5 p.m. Was this food sold again the next day?

For dinner, I decided to go back to the same place since most restaurants have not started business when I went hunting for my meal at 6:15 p.m.


  1. This places looks so beautiful! Must have felt pretty liberating travelling around by motorcycle. It's amazing that you can travel around Sapa in two hours by foot!

    1. Oh ... I meant the part of Sapa town centred around the market, Cathedral and all the way to the lake.