Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Vietnam III,

Vietnam countryside building

The last part of my Vietnam backpacking travelogue (see Part I and Part II) saw us trekking further into the countryside of Sa Pa before heading back to Hanoi for the last leg of the trip. Located in the commune of San Kingfisher lake, 4km southwest from the town center, making our way to Thác Tình Yêu (or known as love waterfall) was one of our highlights of our trip. It was a long track, and the visibility was getting worse because of the abundance of water vapour in the air. This in turn made the paths extremely slippery, even though we were geared in our sport shoes. Some paths were clearly strewn with stones which were supposed to allow our soles to have a better grip, but the rain effectively had us walking with zero friction. Needless to say, tripping and falling down the slopes were so common - sometimes even falling down in the midst of helping another person up! Good hiking shoes are so important, lesson learnt.

Unfortunately for me, I learnt it the hard way. While crossing the Thác Tình Yêu stream (translated as: stream of love), I missed my footing whilst hopping from rock to rock and fell in. If you look at the next picture closely, there were yellow and black sea snakes in there, thank goodness I was completely oblivious if not I would have struggled more. Because it was winter in Vietnam (the trip was done in December), the stream was freezing cold and made me drenched from head to toe - even my coat was soaking wet so I was pretty much wet and cold for the rest of the journey. My sister, being my sister, just stood at the other end and laughed. And of course, I became the bane of my mum's jokes from then on too.

Vietnam Sa Pa love stream waterfall

Vietnam countryside Sapa reflections during hiking

Vietnam countryside Sa Pa hiking steps

One thing about hiking is that you're completely surrendered to nature and the unpredictability your path entails, something you don't often get in our concrete urban jungles (although many might argue that the office is somewhat similar). And not to mention being able to marvel in God's beautiful creations such as the intricate details on a spider-spun web or the unique patterns of deadfall trampled over by hikers. In the city, your senses are dulled, for there's always automation to ease you into your daily routine but in nature, you're never in control and your senses jolt awake. That was by far, the best takeaway I had from the trip.

Vietnam countryside spider web hiking

Vietnam countryside Sa Pa waterfall

Vietnam countryside Sa Pa waterfall rapids hiking

Vietnam countryside Sa Pa rapids waterfall hiking

Vietnam countryside Sa Pa waterfall hiking rapids

The Thác Tình Yêu (cascade of love) waterfall is a long tedious trek away, but it was definitely worth the deal for it was really breathtaking! My iPhone doesn't do it justice to capture it in its entirety, but it does bring out the essence of its natural rustic charm. I imagine that in summer time, the locals would like to enjoy a refreshing dip in the waters and frolic by the broken up rock matter. Regrettably, it was winter time so the waters were freezing and we didn't get to go in....although that clearly didn't stop me from falling straight into the stream earlier.

Flowing from the love stream, the waterfall is aptly named Cascade of love. The name is derived from a legend about a love story between Ô Quy Hồ, a woodcutter who was the eldest son of the God of mountain ranges in Laos and the fairy. The waterfall is a natural bath in the legend, where fairies choose to frolic and bath until the sun set; and holds special significance for this woodcutter-fairy couple.

Sa Pa cascade of love waterfall

Vietnam Sa Pa cascade of love waterfall

Vietnam countryside Sa Pa rapids waterfall hiking

We headed back to our rooms to get a quick change of clothes before dinner, I had long forgotten about my wet clothes because I was desensitized to it over time. Also, the sun came up for a meet and greet so my clothes were partially dry (and also extremely stinky). Peeling them wet clothes off and finally being able to sit by the fireplace for warmth was such a joy and relief. The accommodations we stayed in also kept fish and stingrays which were extremely mesmerizing to watch, there's just that hypnotizing feeling about pressing your face against the tank and entering a whole new ecosystem. Life's quirks, really. These creature portraits were taken on the last day before we headed back to Hanoi on the sleeper berth train. Products of my sentimental emotions.

Vietnam fireplace

Vietnam fish tank

Stingray Vietnam tank

We left Sa Pa for Hanoi late evening, and took the same overnight sleeper train back to city life. Exhausted from the physical fatigue of all the trekking, we slept through majority of the train ride and it was smoother than expected - there were also no drama because we were more certain of the schedules. We reached Lao cai railway at Hanoi round 4am and picked a cab driver amongst the throng of hassling drivers (note: be sure to know the estimated cost of your trip before approaching a driver). And not to mention, the chaotic circumstances coupled with the lack of sleep was guaranteed to make your head spin. 

So, there we were in a cab at 4am in Hanoi. The streets are quiet and the occasional flickering street light was a little spine-chilling but I was tired so I mostly just stared out of the window in a daze. Hanoi streets and peace just seem like a paradox in itself, so a quiet change was nice. But to our horror, the cab driver drives us down to an empty road and tells us that we have reached our destination....pointing to a building with the shutters completely closed and locked. At 4am and having nowhere to go, a little panicking was legitimate. The driver helps us call the hotel staff, but it diverts it to a Vietnamese speaking telephone operator and we have no clue how to decipher what our driver was telling us. But it's 4am and we aren't thinking, so my parents had this brilliant idea of knocking on the shutters loudly, which magically awoke the security guards inside. Apparently, the hotel was still functioning, but the guards closed it so they could get some shut eye - how convenient! 

Thinking we had our full dose of drama our day could offer, we checked in with the reception and managed to get our room keys promptly. However, we were given the wrong room keys on the first attempt at a check-in and on the second time, when we switched on the lights and finally wanted to settle down.....we found a naked Korean guy sleeping on the bed looking really confused because we woke him up. I have previously posted about this because this was just absurdly ridiculous! Turns out that the guy was a cook or a kitchen staff because we saw him at breakfast (talk about awkward) and he probably took a key card to get some shut eye as well. It was however, a perfect breakfast conversation and I relive that absurdity once in a while.

The next morning, we took a 3.5 hour drive to Ha long city from Hanoi city centre, and the Ha long bay boat trip took about 5 hours journey round trip. We cruised through the emerald waters between the limestone outcrops and long sea corridors, and stopped by the Thien Cung Grotto cave in the island of Dau Go. It's quite overwhelming at first because of the well preserved statues and reliefs, as well as the natural formations of stalactites and stalagmites formed millions of years ago. This is the largest grotto in Ha long bay and also the most beautiful one, covering 3000 square meters of amazement and 25m above sea level. There are panes showing legends of how each stalactite is formed, so it was like an Art museum. The boat ride itself was very relaxing, and the top deck was open for us to chill on deck chairs and enjoy the sea breeze.

Halong bay cruise

Thien Cung Grotto cave Dau Go island

The rest of the city was rather dull because of the poor visibility which rendered the famous Hanoi lake almost impossible to appreciate. The city buzz and traffic made the contrast between country and city life really apparent though, whilst the countryside was peaceful and calm, the city offered snapshots of locals entwined in their personal stories - the cyclo driver, the gold trader or that hawker peddling around makeshift stores with beads of sweat dripping down under her nón lá (leaf hat). There's never a dull moment in the city. Just standing at the corner of a random street offers you a wealth of insight, albeit not being the most pretty sight but observe and you'll get Vietnam unedited.

Hanoi city church fog

Hanoi lake fog

Hanoi forest

Good bye Vietnam, your unpredictability and unpretentious facade has been a pleasure to explore. I'm not sure if I'll be back anytime soon, but it was definitely an experience to wander on your grounds.


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