The Vietnam Diaries 2011: July 23rd – Ta Va, Sapa, Lao Cai

The winding mountain road from Sapa to Lao Cai is now even more treacherous. Some parts of the road are cut off by mudslides and there are areas where only one car can pass through. There are excavators called up to these spots, cleaning up piles of mud. Our driver is moving forward slowly and cautiously.

At some stage we drive by an apparent accident site. A bunch of motorbikes and cars are parked by the side of the road. Their drivers and a few Black Hmong women are all looking down the slope, where an almost 1km abrupt drop leads to a river below. As we pass by we begin to wonder whether some motorbike has driven off the road. Our tour-guide turns around and announces: “No, it was a tourist bus, just like ours!”. He delivers this message in an excessively cheerful tone and with a smile on his face, making me wonder whether he’s secretly a serial killer. Also, way to lighten the mood!

“Hahahaa, I bet there’s at least one broken bone involved here!”

In reaction to the accident, our driver slows the bus down even further, so by now we’re essentially walking downhill on four wheels (don’t ask me how that works). As we descend a crystal clear mountain panorama opens up in front of us. One can see all the way into China from here. A group of Asian tourists are taking so many pictures that the end result can only be a still-shot video of their trip.

We arrive to Lao Cai without any incidents and with a good two hours before our train’s departure. We are dropped off at a restaurant, where a pre-paid dinner is served. In the meantime our guide walks off to the train station to exchange our ticket vouchers for real tickets. You see, the reason you can’t just get actual tickets to begin with is because shut up, that’s why!

Restaurant is very busy as groups of tourists pour in and out to get their prepaid meals. At some stage our tour guide comes back and announces that he could not get the tickets, because they have somehow been reserved by someone else. Well, doesn’t buying a package tour with transportation included also qualify as having “reserved” the tickets?

This voucher allows you to have a claim on the document that may eventually permit you to buy a real ticket, provided it hasn’t already been reserved or sold out. It’s simple!

Luckily, at the end our guide manages to get tickets for Katka and myself. I don’t know whether he had to pawn his soul at a local shop to do that, but he succeeded. The Danish family is less lucky, because they have forgotten their vouchers somewhere. When we leave for the train their fate is still undecided.

The train station is packed with people. For some inexplicable reason the doors from the waiting room to the platform are closed in between train arrivals/departures. Maybe the train station manager was inspired by airport operating procedures, or maybe he enjoys trapping people in confined spaces, because he’s the real life John Kramer. Either way, the waiting room gets extremely crowded and it’s a breath of fresh air (also literally) when we’re finally let out onto the platform, as our train arrives.

This time we’re sharing a cabin with two guys – a German-Vietnamese and a Dutchman. The German guy is travelling with four others and disappears into their cabin for the majority of the trip. We start talking to the Dutch guy (Thijs) and discover that he’s going to move to Copenhagen in September as an exchange student. It’s a small world indeed.

1:1 scale model of Earth

For the past six months Thijs has been living in Ho Chi Minh City as an intern (he’s finishing a master’s degree in agriculture). We end up talking for many hours. We cover all topics from travel stories to life in Denmark to politics (a subject about which I know only the fact that there’s some guy called Obama some place). Thijs is now travelling the country with his whole family that came to visit.

At around midnight the German guy who is also Vietnamese enters the cabin, proudly shows us a bag that he has bought earlier from the Hmong at a very cheap price and without any further verbal exchange goes to bed. We exchange contact information with Thijs and promptly fall asleep as well.

The story continues right here

Remember to check out Katka’s great pictures from the trip.

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