Sapa 2016

Well trust me, I know, I know, I was supposed to be sitting and writing 2 motivation letters which would need to be urgently sent to Finland by tomorrow for my MBA applications. But since I not yet have any motivation to write that sort of thing (Well I don’t even think that I actually want that MBA but let’s see…) so I am writing a quick post about of of my recent trips to Sapa.

So finally I could sneak out of the office after months and months of not heading to anywhere new. The trip was pretty quick and simple, just like how I wanted it to be.

The only advice that I can tell you all write now is that you don’t have to do what I do because the way I travel pretty much defines who I am so you do what works well for you.

I knew Sapa was not a huge town – even though it is part of Lao Cao province, which is in fact, one of the largest provinces in Vietnam and famous for having hundreds and hundreds of mountains including the Fansipan – the tallest mountain in Southeast Asia – also known as the Roof of Indochina. I know thousands and thousands of young and old people want to get to the top of the mountain for at least once but for me it might not be the case… I have climbed a few high mountains so not that I am weak, lazy nor having Batophobia (A new word that I have just picked up for those who are afraid of height), I just don’t want to do it here…

For those who travel from Hanoi (like me), you could either travel by coach or by train to Sapa. I wanted to do the train but my nephew and many other friends said it is better if we travel by bus because it is faster and will go direct to Sapa. The train would take longer and only get you to Lao Cai City and you will need to take a one-hour bus to Sapa. I heard there have been a few ‘luxury’ tours by train now which have been operated by Victoria Sapa so that the luxury travellers will have the best of everything… which would be pretty nice to try… I have only travelled by train twice in Vietnam but I must say that I was very happy with the train facilities on my last trip, which was almost a year ago compared to how it was back in 2008.

We had purchased the tickets in advance and got onto the coach at 10PM. Think the name of the transport provider was Camel. This reminds me a lot of the time I travelled by Greyhound or Murray from Sydney to Canberra and vice versa. I consider myself as a super easy-to-be-pleased traveller because I slept almost all the way from Hanoi to Sapa. When I woke up, I heard some people talked about how they got panicked that night when the coach was driving up to the mountain. We got their at around 4:30AM and the bus driver was nice enough (I’m sure this is how they operate the tour) to let us sleep for another 1.5 hours after we reached Sapa. We all know this is good because we can rest a little more (there is absolutely nothing to do at 4:30 in a 5 degrees foggy whether) and so that the driver can rest too after a long hours of driving.

So we made it there – my cousin for the second time but me for the first time. I asked if my cousin was so sure that she wanted to go for the second time and she said it was always different when she travels with me – I am not entirely sure about that…

I like to do it my way, I know. Many friends told me that I do not have to worry about accommodation because I can easily find it anywhere. I will never listen to that advice because firstly, I am a hotelier, I need to experience the service so I would choose carefully where I would like to stay and secondly, I am a female travel, I want to make sure I am safe – so that I can sleep well at night. (I had this experience once when I was so new to Sydney and I was ‘brave’ enough to book a budget hotel at King Cross – Oh tell me about it… For me it was absolutely a terrifying experience right in the first moment I got there. Everything in that place reminds me of the video “We found love” by Rihanna… so with no hesitation I immediately book an #AccorHotels right on the next day… Maybe I am just not the right person for that travel style – I would never be ready for be coming a pack pack-backer…

I know I made the right choice to ensure I have everything on the book. I knew that I would stay at the Hill Station when I am in Sapa so I immediately checked with Soeren, the owner of the Hill Station if the rooms were available on my travel date. He told me the only date he had room available was on January 31. I was like… perfect, so I will take my annual leave on January 31 – I would travel on January 30, as soon as I finish work and I can catch the night coach and get there in the morning of January 31, 2015 and celebrate NYE there and leave Sapa on January 01, 2016 in the afternoon. That should be more than enough for a small town like Sapa anyway.

It was more or less, a little different from what I imagined of The Hill Station and its collections but it is overall a very pleasant experience. I got one of the nicest rooms (All rooms are nice and there are only 3 rooms available) so I consider myself lucky.

Although the whether wasn’t that nice but it was definitely not a big deal for me. I know I can always have fun in all whether conditions. Here are a few things that I would like to list for my trips in Sapa:

  1. Hotels – yes plenty – so don’t worry but don’t be so reckless anyway because if you travel in high season and you don’t want to sleep in the mountain then better get yourself a room before you head to Sapa. It is COLD there 🙂
  2. Food – Yes – I never knew Sapa is famous for FISH (especially Salmon) and wild animals (of course – there are trees and forests everywhere) but please don’t eat them. The funny part that I found was that I did not have food on the streets. There is something about me that I did not noticed so much until I have my dinner booked at U-Sapa. I was having dinner with my cousin and suddenly noticed that we were the only 02 Vietnamese in the dining room. The rest are foreign tourists and yes there is a Vietnamese lady too but she was with her foreign boyfriend. Anyway,  whether they are foreign or not has never been my issue… Could it be the reason that I entered a dining room with full of foreigners? Have I become one of them? Hmmm Still I am just not into street foods especially on rainy days…
  3. Foot massage: It is quite obvious that you can get a local “Dao Do” foot or body massage for no more than $US 3 per half an hour. I wanted to try but we spent too much time for eating and shopping so we completely run out of time for the massage…
  4. Shopping: This is one of the most fascinating experience. I never worried so much of being ripped of here. Who would and who could RIP ME OFF by the way?  Perhaps they can do that on foreigner but please I am Vietnamese. Those Mong kids who try to sell you a 0.5 cent key ring or those ladies (young & old) who try to sell a beautiful necklace for $US 2? And one of the sales lady was just so funny and at the highest level of honesty. She thought that we were students and had no money so just try to lower the prices as much as possible… For that only reason we have come back to her 2 times in a row whenever we need to buy some things and did not bother going to other stores… I must say that I really had good laugh while making a deal with them. I had bought so so many products before I left Sapa but let me guess, it did not cost me more than $US 60 for all the souvenirs, which include 02 of my favourite scarfs; 4 beautiful necklaces; 01 bracelets and over 50 hand embroidery products of all kinds. I don’t know if I should be happy because I’ve got so many products for a good price or I should get upset because what we pay for such beautiful things are so cheap and the human workforce and women are extremely under appreciated and the kids are sent to the market to sell stuff instead of going to school…. IMG_1935.JPGOverall, the experience of Sapa was good. I had a great stay thanks to the hospitality of The Hill Station staff and many other people. Hope to go back there again on a sunny day…

Namaste

I know this is just the beginning of 2015 but I’ve just had one of my best moments of the year catching up with some amazing friends and people, this includes the Sajus…

I met Saju in back in 2010 when we were at the Hyatt Hotel Canberra. He was ‘the Chef’ and I worked in Food and Beverage as well as Sales and Marketing department. Except for the fact that he is Indian and he cannot swim – he admitted in front of everybody when we were playing the ‘Who’s Who game’ at the hotel – we knew nothing about each other until we both came back to Vietnam…

In 2012, he got a job promotion at a five star hotel in Saigon and by that time I also left Australia for home in Hanoi. I took the occasion to meet my old colleguage again in one of my trips to Saigon and got to know his family, his beautiful Croatian wife Mirjana and his gorgeous daughter plus personal assistant Kylie.

We met again in Hanoi yesterday and the day before as they went for a trip in Hanoi and Ha Long Bay. Oh my god, Kylie surprised me as she is a lot taller than she was before… Kylie loves winter so she seemed to enjoy it very much. However, the Hanoi weather has not been very pleasant as we’ve been experiencing to the extreme of the unpleasant days with cold wind air and too much of winter rain.

I enjoyed my time spending with them as well to get to know the ‘insights’ of how it’s like to get married with a Chef and got to know a bit of here and there… Europe, India, Australia and Vietnam… We literally include almost everything in our conversions and sometimes they even went up into becoming some ‘big’ husband & wife arguments but I guess this is just how life’s supposed to be. Mirjana was like: “Camellia, don’t get married and don’t have kids”. I just can’t help smiling looking at how happy they are and I could not see anything which is more lively and more beautiful than that…

I had one of the best Indian meals in my life at Namaste Restaurant in Hanoi… I just tried everything that I was advised by ‘the Chef’ and they were all so good.

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It must have been not so difficult for Indians to become vegetarians they have such a wide variety of choices when it comes to vegetarian or vegan food. I told the family that I wanted to become a vegetarian. Just got this feeling recently… And perhaps 80% vegetarian is a better target as it is not easy to be a vegetarian when you are part of the food and service industry and especially when you live in the society where people show absolutely no respect for animals as many of them still think dog meat is a type of food to eat…

Despite of the cold and rain, the Hanoi trip was good for us, I still feel like I am a ‘tourist’ sometimes – it happens when you travel with people coming from different cultures who look at your culture in a different perspective…

Life is full of coincidences. And I think I must have made Mirjana super happy as well. She might probably thought that she was the only Croatian in Vietnam. We were walking along Nha Tho street where the St Joeseph’s is and I suddenly realised that I knew someone also from Croatia who lives in Hanoi. Coincidentally, they were all at the same place at a perfect timing and just good enough for me to get everyone from the small little Croatian ‘community’ to get introduced to each other in a short period of time. Mirjana was so happy that she couldn’t speak a word after the encounter with not only one Croatian guy but also another one and another guy who is Croatian’ son-in-law. She asked me as if I knew everyone in this city which just made me smile… I took a step back to think of another coincidence, it was about an Austrian man who I’ve got to know for quite some time and once we went for dinner together at Da Paolo Westlake, he was so surprised that he could hear the ‘Austrian’ sound from another man who was dining in the table right next to us…

I said to the Chef: “Hey Saju, I think just maybe, if someone thinks he/she is the only person who has ‘unique’ nationality in this city, they should come and see me as I will be able to help them find a friend who comes from their own state of origin…”