Monday, July 14, 2014

Trekking to Cat Cat Village

19 May 2014 (Monday)

Yesterday, I went on a motorcycle ride into the country. With that done and after having seen the mountains and valley in Sapa, I did not know what to do today.

Last night, during my usual sms with NTHA, I told her about it and she suggested that I should go to Ta Phin or go trekking to Cat Cat Village. I checked online and found a blog with pictures of a waterfall in Cat Cat Village. The decision was made there and then.

I was up early today. After checking with the receptionist for the direction, I was on my way. The route passed by Sapa Market. A Banh Mi stall was close by so I bought a loaf of stuffed baguette for breakfast.

Before doing this trek to Cat Cat Village, I always had the impression that the Hmong live in far away villages that would take them hours on foot to reach Sapa. It took me just about 25 minutes' leisurely walk downhill to reach the entrance of Cat Cat Village. It was that near.

At a shop at the entrance, I bought a pair of local ornament for souvenir for USD5. As I proceeded to enter the village, the entrance ticket inspector approached me. At the same time, I saw the ticket checking office. I asked her where the ticket office was, fearing the worse that it would be one kilometer up the hill. She said 30 meters there, and pointed to me the ticket office.

The back of the ticket had a picture of the waterfall with a performance by the Hmong people beside it. I asked her the time of the performances and she showed me the schedule hanging at the front of the ticket checking office.

I entered the village and continued on the road downhill. The houses were scattered. Then I saw three paths ahead of me. One had a sign "Second Ticket Checking" and I presumed that to warrant a ticket checking booth, it must be the path to the waterfall. I showed my ticket to the inspector and with my finger pointed to the picture of the waterfall, I asked him whether that was the path to the waterfall. He nodded.

Further on, the path forked into more branches but by asking the villagers I came across, I found my way to the waterfall.

I was the first to be there. The air was cool under the shadow of the trees. It was very pleasant with the cool breeze blowing. There was no other tourist to share the place. I decided to wait for the show to begin.

Within minutes, the first group of local tourists arrived, and this continued with foreign visitors. The whole place became noisy from their chattering. The sun had risen and near the waterfall, the sun rays fell and it was getting hot. I walked over to the other side of the bridge and waited in the cool shade.

Close to 9:40 a.m., there was no indication of a performance. 9:40 a.m. came and went and there was still nothing. Almost all the local tourists were now gone and I decided to go too.

Earlier, I saw tourists coming down the hill from a different path. I was surprised. I later checked with a foreign visitor to confirm that the path led to the village entrance. He said yes.

Therefore, I decided to use this path to go back to the village entrance. On the way, I saw a beautiful pair of ornament, which the vendor claimed to be silver (it turned out that it was a scam). The price was VND320,000. After bargaining, the price was reduced to VND250,000.

The path exited right beside the first ticket checking booth which I did not notice early this morning. It was the path to Cat Cat Village.

As I exited to the village entrance, a woman asked me whether I wanted to take a motorcycle taxi back to Sapa. Her male companion was the driver. I said no, but asked how much anyway. It was VND50,000 and I decided to take it, not having fancy walking up the slope to the hotel. He dropped me near the market.

I only had Banh Mi this morning and was already hungry. As I walked through the market, the vendor who sold me the almond nut the previous day asked me to buy again. I thought of buying the packaged almond for friends but after asking her the price, I found it expensive at VND150,000. I decided not to buy it but she pulled my arm and would not let me leave. She lowered the price and finally, a deal was reached for VND200,000 for two packets. Using sign language, I pointed to packets of preserved fruit and indicated whether she was going to give me some freebies. She threw in one, then added another packet. We were both happy.

I then went to have my lunch at the same place that I visited the previous day but at the restaurant beside the one where I had brunch and dinner the day earlier. The cost was VND400,000 for Pho Bo and VND200,000 for lemon drink.

I felt I had too much time between lunch time and 4:30 p.m., the scheduled departure time from the hostel to Lao Cai for the night train back to Hanoi. While sipping tea, I sms NTHA, who suggested that I rent a motorcycle to Ta Phin and nearby villages or ride to Thac Bac and O Quy Ho pass.

After lunch, I went back to the hostel and took my bath in another room. I had already checked out before going to Cat Cat Village this morning because the receptionist said that the room had been taken and I could not have a late check out.

I asked the receptionist how long it would take to go to Ta Phin and he said it would take three hours to and back. It would be risky for me if the motorcycle broke down, so I did not take the suggestion.

I regretted booking a minibus to Lao Cai from the hostel. If I had not done that, I could have gone to Sapa Church ground to look for a minibus to Lao Cai right after lunch. I could be exploring Lao Cai in the afternoon instead of waiting at the hostel and surfing the internet to pass my time.

The minibus arrived late. It was 5:00 p.m. when it arrived and it went to pick up more passengers. I might not have enough time to take a stroll in Lao Cai and have dinner there. Before getting into the minibus, I asked the receptionist whether he had reminded the minibus assistant to bring me to ET-Pumpkin office to exchange the train voucher with the train ticket. He said he had done so.

After an hour, we arrived at Lao Cai. A kid on the front seat had been vomiting throughout the trip. Upon alighting, I showed the voucher to the assistant who then took me to a shop to collect the train ticket. He left without waiting to bring me to the train station.

After getting my ticket, I asked the shopkeeper for the direction to the train station. It was right behind the row of shop houses where the shop stood.

Outside the train station across the road, there were Banh Mi stalls. I ordered from the first stall. I think it was VND250,000 for the kebab Banh Mi. Fabulously delicious!

In the train, when I opened the cabin door, the same group of youngsters on the train trip from Hanoi to Lao Cai was there. They would be my cabin mates again. However, like before, the young man went out to look for an empty cabin and like before, he succeeded. The group left the cabin again, leaving the whole cabin to me. This time, I locked the cabin to prevent the crew and others without tickets from sleeping in the room to protect my privacy.

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