Day 2 of my trek consisted of trekking from Ta Van to Giang Tachai. We left and started to make our way up the valley along some very muddy paddy fields where my feet slipped all over the place even though I had on brand new boots which I had bought in Sapa. The Black Hmong girls gave us a hand which we needed as at one point we had to cross the top of a terrace with a 4ft drop on one side and the paddy field in water on the other side.
This is not a danger but it is a warning. I booked my ticket for a sleeper to Sapa, and when shown my cabin and bunk, to my horror, it was the top bunk. This would not have been a problem if there was a ladder like we have on our trains, but there was only one small "foot ledge" to haul yourself up to the top bunk. If you are older or a bit incapacitated in any way, then I don't know how you would get up to the top bunk. I don't know if you can, but when booking in the future, I would try and see if I could book a bottom bunk.
Also, be aware that you may be a female in a 4 berth cabin with 3 other men for your overnight trip.
Thankfully for me, a lovely young Dutchman offered to take the top bunk, thumbs up to him for his kind consideration.
I have observed at night a sad ordeal of an elderly woman offering hasjis and mariuana to tourist on the streets of Sapa. My advice is obviously to NOT buy from her and others as this creates a demand for such substances. There are other ways of creating entrepreneurical opportunities for the local people, that will not harm both the ethnic minorities and yourself. But if the prospect of spending time in a Vietnamese prison appeals to you, who am I to judge..
I don't know if this happens with all the Buses that come from Lao Cai or not, but it did with mine. It was still dark when we arrived at Sapa. We were dumped at some Hotel and left to find our own way to our Hotels. The Driver briefly waved his hands in the direction, he couldn't or wouldn't help. It was quite nerve wracking being there alone, in the dark, not knowing where to go and without a map of the Town.
Try and get a map of Sapa, or take a Lonely Planet guide or something, in case this happens to you.
When you arrive at Lao Cai Train Station, there will be a lot of touts wanting your business to get on their ???bus to Sapa. As usual you bargain, I paid $3, I heard others paid $2, one paid $5, (2008) Try to have change as I offered a $10 note for the $3 fare, was given the change back in dong even though I asked and asked for US Dollars. When I could check it in daylight, it was wrong, I had been robbed!!!
This happens all over Vietnam, so be aware!
I missed my train from Sapa to Hanoi because they cross a one, and it looked like a number four. An american woman checked my ticket, and took it to be the same time as I thought, 8.45, not 8.15 (the correct time) There wasn't an agent to help me at this end, people at the station couldn't speak english. Two aggresive Vietnamese men yelled at me for missing the train. It was a very unpleasant experience.
Being located in the Golden Triangle where opium is being cultivated, raw drug is easy to be obtain here. In the evening, if you just walk around the town area, the H'mong men would offer to sell you Marawana.
Don't even try, you may ended up addicted and do something stupid which you going to regret later!
We travelled with our teenage daughters and took some advice from our travel doctor before leaving. We had taken the recommended medications to protect against several things before we left.
When we travelled we all had our own personal small bottle of anti-bacterial hand gel which we used after the bathroom, before eating and any other time we thought we needed it.
We also travelled with antibiotics for diarrhea and a 'gut-stopper' medicine for the same - but we never needed this.
We were careful to always use bottled water when we cleaned our teeth and for drinking. We did buy food from street cookers (not the walk-about vendors) where we could see it being cooked - no problems with this. We also ate at little cafe places full of local people. This was a bit strange as it was more tricky to order and we didn't really understand "how things were done" - but we amused the locals no end and they did their best to show us.
We had no tummy problems with any of this.
We did meet one tourist who had been on a tour to Ha Long with a small tour group and had seafood and he became very ill with food poisoning. A good reason to go with a reputable company although I guess anyone can have bad luck.
Commonly tourists take a 4-berth soft sleeper train cabin to Sa Pa. So you share with four other people. There isn't a lot of room but it is air conditioned. There is a squat toilet at one end of the carriage and a pedestal toilet at the other end.
The train provides passengers with a small bottle of water, a pillow and a quilt. No sheets so if you have your own silk sleep-sack, have it handy - you will be glad. A lot of the personal lights above the bunks, don't work, so a torch is also useful. There isn't really food available on the train (although it may not be necessary as you get on at 9pm and off at 5-6am). Some really evil coffee was available for sale in the mornings when they come to rouse you to be ready to alight.
You need to be very aware of security. There is space under the bunks and a void above the door for luggage storage. The train stops along the route and it has been known for some locals to hop on and help themselves into cabins, apparently, so the train staff kept emphasizing to us to use all locks and latches on the inside of the cabin door and to keep luggage under the beds at the window end.
Yes... loads of them... the young girls and the old ladies...
They hound literally follow you everywhere you go... and chant "Buy from me.. buy from me.."
I guess its the overcommercialization of Sapa now... but seriously.. some of their handiwork or trinkets are worth buying.. albeit... somewhat overpriced... but think of it this way... you're paying for a kid's meal or education... hopefully its for something useful...
Tribal people's extreme cuisine, if you've already been to Bac Ha Market then there's nothing else to say!! Dog meat is very famous here, after I saw it with my own eyes (...and I did eat it!!) Make sure what you ordered is chicken or pork...meat means dog around here. By the way, don't forget to remark "Kom Un Jor" I don't eat dog!! THANK YOU