Sapa – mountain ride

After the very scripted tour the previous day, the mountains landscape surrounding me drove the urge to go a little bit wild.

In an unrestrained fit I hired a 100cc scooter from the hotel, purchased a chocolate croissant for the ride and saddled up my beast for a lose yourself tour of the mountain country.

The first stop wasn’t too much of a departure from the previous days tour; a visit to CatCat village.

CatCat is on the tourist trail, a weak start to my getting away from it day.

To confirm this, the tour group that I joined the previous day were doing the same walk, so with a quick hello and goodbye I (after walking the 4km up the hill to my parking spot) mounted the searing hot vinyl saddle and jerkingly skid-scooted up the windy road and on my way out of town.

The next stop on the rough bike trip map I had inherited from an Israeli couple the night before at the H’mong Sister Bar, was ‘Silver Waterfall’.

The fall was about 1/2 hour ride from Sapa town, and lay at the start of what becomes the Tram Tom Mountain Pass.

The large fall was visible from quite a distance, sunlight glistening on the silky stream running down the mountainside.

As I approached the scene grew less and less beautiful and a collection of busses and motorcycle taxies lay gathered in the large car park accompanied by a flurry of tea selling women.

I slowed down to take in the view from the road, but as a lady waving a packet of tea power walked up to my bike, I throttled the death-trap of a scooter and left silver waterfall and its retail outlet in the smoke blowing out of the terminally ill Honda.

My ad-hock map had run out of suggestions, and with a whole day and a full tank still left, I decided to motor on further and see what the top of the pass had in store.

Just before the top, a pagoda on a hill top popped into view.

The pagoda was a short walk in the National park that also included Mt Fanxipan trek, and a walk to the ‘Golden Stream Love Waterfall’.

(Yes I giggled as well)

I spent the better part of 2 hours wandering the short walks through the forest.

As the track met up with the stream I followed it through to a small shelter where two Black H’mong men sat smoking a bamboo water pipe, looking over two French men swooping delicate long handled nets in large and fast arcs through the air, creating a pseudo ballet of sorts.

The two men were Geneticists, catching the farthest flying of the Himalayan butterflies that find their way to Mt Fanxipan.

Once caught the delicate creamy green and brown winged butterflies were pocketed in little white paper bags, to be taken away and studied for genetic research

With a few track directions I made my way back up the creek, following my ears to the crashing sound of Love waterfall, launching hundreds and hundreds of litres over the 20ish m drop into a rocky pool below.

After emerging from the jungle, I made my way up the stone staircase to the hill top pagoda. Battered with mountain wind, I stumbled the last few cobbled steps to find an old bronze bell swaying about within the structure.

The view spread in both directions; back across the side of the mountain pass I had already motored up of sculpted rice terraces, out over the Fanxipan mountain ranges, and down the long bleak far side of the mountain pass winding its way down the uninhabited mountainside towards the next province.

Over the far side mini busses and coaches were not to be seen, replaced with the occasional touring landcruiser or truck carrying roadbase up from the bottom of the pass.

My bike and I made our way 100 m up the road to the official highest piece of tarmac in Indochina, marked with a derelict shed and a collection of tarpaulin huts selling roadside food; bbq eggs or potatoes, and tea.

Over a bottle of water I shared some words with the only other tourists I came across, on their way back to Sapa from the adjacent provence, and then carefully guided my bike down the unmarked roads of the farside of the pass only occasionally seeing a local riding a bike or hearing a warning blast of the horn from a passing truck.

As the road flattened, and the looks from workers on the verge grew stranger, I turned my bike around to ride the pass in reverse and return to Sapa.

Near the top of the pass I stopped and enjoyed a cup of sweet tea from a local H’mong girl.

Conversation was limited, so most of the time was spent listening to the wind blast her tent, and communicating my appreciation of the tea with a series of ‘mmm’s, ‘aah’s, and smiles.

As the sun found its way closer to the mountain tops I returned the bike, still with an almost full tank.

Never fill the bike for a day trip – only put 2 dollars in it.

I strolled into Sapa to get some dinner feeling satisfied (that with a bit of hit and miss) I had found my way off the matching hats, minibus, and guide with a flag tour group trail that on the one hand makes Sapa so available to visit, but on the other hand diminishes a bit of the sense of place that is so thick and rich.

 By ED BOURKE

Source: Ed Bourke’s Blog

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