Today was a rest day to explore Sa Pa. It had rained quite a lot the night before and was a bit cloudy up high on the mountains. It was delightfully cool here - around 15-20°C. Perfect for walking around and exploring.
I left the hotel at 7am and walked slowly up through town in search of the lake and famous Sa Pa markets. These are not tourist markets - they are 100% local markets. The first section I saw was the meat market. There was stall after stall of all things carnivorous; pork, beef, fish, chickens, displayed almost like a flower arrangement and, sadly, dog – which is apparently something that is eaten on special occasions.
There were all sorts of fresh produce – many vegetables I could not identify, and trade in hemp for making clothes that are then died in indigo and embroidered.
I walked around the lake nearby and then went back to the hotel for breakfast and to get organised for an afternoon trip up to Fansipan Mountain.
Sun World, which I think is a Chinese theme park operator, has put a cable car up to the top of Fanspian mountain. It used to be that it would take an overnight hike to get up here and then come back down the next day. It was a bit of a bizarre experience. Firstly, the train that usually takes you to the cable car was not working, so we had to catch a taxi. This taxi dropped us at an electric car (even though we found out he could have dropped us at the entrance to the cable car). Two coaches of Chinese tourists arrived as we did. There is no queuing system so it was every man for themselves and only half of us got on the first car and we could see that pushing and shoving was going to be involved to get on when the next car came. So, I showed the Chinese a few of my kung fu kicks which were greeted with very good humour and we managed to hold some of them off and get the last of our group on the car. Some ended up with a small Chinese person pretty much sitting on their lap but off down the hill we went to the entrance to the cable car. This was very theme park style and over the top and the most touristy thing we had seen in Vietnam to date. We had to walk through lots of souvenir shops, horses standing around waiting for people to get their photo taken on them and then down around 3 flights of grand stairs and escalators to finally get on the cable car – another pushing match required here.
The view on the cable car was spectacular – you can see why Sa Pa is famous for its trekking. We passed cascading waterfall after waterfall as we passed over dense jungle to the top. From here there was at least 100 steep stairs you had to climb to get to a decision point where you can walk the remaining 600 stairs to the top or catch a small train. There are some temples at the train level, and it was here that we arrived in the clouds. It was about 7 degrees cooler than it had been in Sa Pa. Rob was keen on the stairs idea, even though we were at around 3,000m – this is altitude sickness height. I thought that was a great idea, so off we went, slowly, slowly. The stairs not being the problem, but the altitude makes the lungs not want to work so well. We could not see any of the amazing view, but it was very atmospheric walking through the clouds along a series of amazing walkways that looked a little like walking the great wall of China.
At the top Jenny, Marg and Bob were waiting so we treated them to a show of us crawling up the last flight of stairs and collapsing at the top surrounded by what seemed like hundreds of people getting selfies with the signs with the altitude of 3,140 m on it.
We caught the train down and reboarded the cable car. There was a group of what we think were Vietnamese tourists, but we aren’t 100% sure, that seemed fascinated by Sue and Eric and proceeded to all want their photos taken with them and then with many others of the group. Strange, but entertaining! We felt like rock stars for a while.
We only arrived back around 5pm and Cuong and Huyne helped us out with some tonics and ice for our happy hour on the terrace in front of Russ and Sue’s VIP room. Russ broke out the rice wine, but I think the Gin and Tonics were more popular! We then tried out Sa Pa wood fired pizza for dinner across the road at Pi’s.