Rod McLaughlin


A ride halfway to Sa Pa (03 oct 15...23 dec 15)

It was downhill most of the way to Lao Cai. I was there five minutes when the unbelievable happened. A Chinese girl named Zoe walked over, sat down next to me, and offered me a ride halfway to Sapa. She and her friend Mia work as translators for the company building the new hydroelectric dam. A guy picked us and my bike up in a truck. The scenery rapidly changed. Pine trees and waterfalls appeared. It sometimes snows in the winter. Zoe and Mai showed me round the dam works. Sapa is 40 Km from Lao Cai, almost continuously uphill. I wouldn't have done it in a day, but getting a ride halfway up the hill meant I could.

I'd read in the ever-reliable Lonely Planet that the reason Lao Cai is such a modern, concrete town is that it was destroyed by the Chinese invasion in 1979, and had to be rebuilt. Before meeting Zoe, hordes of Chinese tourists were piling off buses. These two things weren't endearing me to the great nation to the north. But Zoe more than made up for it.

When I got on my bike to climb the remaining 750m, I fell off - dizziness - from altitude, dehydration, and the beer I'd drank in Lao Cai. Zoe ran across the road, concerned. However, I only had a couple of bruises, so I continued. I must have walked most of the way, but three hours later, I'm in Sapa. The Nha Nghi Thanh Huong, to be precise. 

This area is known for what the Lonely Planet guide calls "hill tribes". They have similar clothing to the highland people of Guatemala. Maybe at one time all the elevated regions of the world were connected, and then valleys and seas appeared, separating the mountain people, but they kept their colourful outfits.

Sapa was created by the French colonial regime, and it is a bit like Paris. Expensive, unfriendly, and snobby. It's full of Chinese and Vietnamese yuppies, plus the aforementioned ethnic minority types selling tack. I did however run into a pair of Norwegian Spurs supporters. After recovering from seven days non-stop riding, I'll move on south, over the pass and down to Lai Chau.



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