Tuesday, 17 July 2012

The way to Sa Pa

We had been looking forward to visiting the far north of Vietnam, Sa Pa in particular. Our previous trips to this amazing country had only taken us as far north as Halong Bay. Finally the time came to leave Hoi An and make the long journey to Sa Pa.

We traveled by car for an hour to Da Nang airport, there we took a one hour flight to Hanoi. Once we landed in Hanoi we needed to grab a taxi to the train station, for some reason I thought I had read this would take about 20 minutes. Forty five minutes later and we are still driving but the good thing was that both Phoenix and Morgan were now asleep.

We finally reached the train station. It was stinking hot, about 32 and it was now 6:30pm.

So with our four children, two of which were asleep and all our luggage we sit at the entrance of the train station not having a clue where we need to go. Joel opts to stay with the kids and bags while I head off to get some direction. Remembering that no one speaks English here, or at least not very well. We also do not find the people of vietnam to be very helpful to tourists in general. I know there are exceptions but with no signs in english  I was hopeful that I could find an exception here at the train station.

I went to an information counter and was waved off into another direction. I walked in that direction and a young male, about 20 years old came to me and said, "You need ticket". I said, "Yes I have a voucher for the Orient Express". He took my voucher from my hands and walked off, so I had little option by to follow. He brought me to the travel counter. I soon realised that he was trying to change my voucher to travel on another carriage provided by Lavitrans. I insisted that I wanted to travel with Orient Express and tried to get my voucher back.

The young boy then said, "Ok I'll help you - come with me" and off he walked again. All my instincts were screaming, get your voucher off this guy and get the hell out of here. But what was my alternative. He at least spoke English.

We walked fast, out of the train station entrance and onto the street but the male kept saying 'follow me'. I walked over to Joel and said that I'm not sure where to redeem the voucher but this guy said he would help. With a shrug of Joels' shoulders I knew that the decision lie with me. I really didn't know what to do but had to do something otherwise my family would be sleeping at the entrance to Hanoi Train Station for the night.

As I walked off to follow the male, Hamish shouted out that he wanted to come with me. Again not ideal but I had to get things done. So off we set. The male walked so fast, Hammy and I had a hard time keeping up with him. He stopped and lifted Hamish onto his back. Hamish smiled, he was use to asian people just picking him up without consent by now. We walked for ages and I really thought that this guy was leading us somewhere other than the Orient Express counter. I was doing my best to take in where we were walking in case I needing to return to Joel alone. We were walking on the road, motorcycles, cars and trucks within inches of us, the noise of horns and vehicles was deafening. There were people everywhere. Hanoi is crazy busy. Again all my instincts were screaming. This is wrong....

Anyway after about 10 minutes we reach what looks like another entrance to the train station, the male waves in a direction and said, "you get ticket over there, I wait here." Ok I walked in that direction and to my delight I see a small counter for Orient Express. It takes all of about 2 mins for the staff there to issue our train tickets. I return to the male who then takes the tickets from my hands, again I'm not happy with this. He walks to the entrance to the train station and hands over my tickets to the guard who punches them and we enter the train station.

At this point I start asking, 'My family..... I need to get my family" The male says 'yes, yes' but I'm not convinced he understands what I mean. We do not walk back in the direction we came. We are now walking on the train tracks inside the station. I start to worry that I'm not going to be able to find Joel and the kids from here. We walk for about 5 minutes in between train carriages and platforms. Then I see the area that we had started at, he had taken us via a short cut over the rail crossing. Phew....

I went out and got Joel and the kids, then this male helped carry of bags to platform 5 where the orient express carriage was boarding. Finally our beds awaited us. Seriously, if it was not for trusting this male against all my better judgement we would have NEVER found the Orient Express counter and NEVER made the train on time. Thank god I was able to find an exception to the rule, the best $10 I've spent all trip.

Georgia loving the top bunk of the overnight 'sleeper' train.

Space was at a premium. 4 beds with a narrow standing area in between. But we all slept like babies the whole 9 hour trip.

The kids settled into bed quickly and we all slept the whole nine hour trip to Sa Pa. We were woken by banging on our door to let us know that the train was approaching the Lai Ca stop. We were met by a transfer from SaPa Eden Hotel. This vehicle drove us the 45 minutes into the Sa Pa village. The most amazing landscape I have ever scene. Simply breath taking. We were greeted with smiles at this wonderful hotel. Although in was only 7am and our room was not yet ready they sent us up onto the rooftop cafe for breakfast. What a way to start the day ! And Sa Pa only got better from here. Will write a more detailed post about that shortly.


  1. It's hard to trust knowing that your instincts are just screaming to do the opposite. Glad it worked in your favor today. Sometimes, it's just a matter of not being comfortable, but I do like to hold my own tickets.

    1. Yes Sabina, I agree.
      Being uncomfortable is a new experience for me, but I'm working on being ok with that. That's the only reason I followed this guy and didn't argue and snatch my tickets back. I was proud of myself for going with the flow this night.

  2. wow freaky! So glad it paid off, the train looks pretty cool.

  3. Good to see Joel took on the difficult job of looking after the bags. Exactly what I do when we are in a foreign country.

  4. holy cow, that was a close one! I was so nervous reading that :) Glad it all worked out well, sounds like the 9 hour sleep was well deserved x
    The Browns
    Fern Bay