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I was expecting a very early start, but it was probably 8am or so when everyone stirred. We had a breakfast of bananas, pancakes, maple syrup, lime and sugar, then all said our farewells. Which was funny considering we were all leaving at the same time along the same path. Carol and Big Song and I led the way however, and at one stage I felt like the Pied Piper leading a column of trekkers, guides and local hangers-on over the hillsides; but eventually we split from the group, taking a higher path into a lovely and peaceful bamboo forest. More trekking up hill and down dale, through small farms, past a water buffalo who demanded right of way on the track, across a rocky mountain stream, and eventually to the village of Ta Van, where we had another hearty lunch. Then, sadly, our wonderful trek had come to an end. We got into a minivan and were driven back up the road to Sapa. We gave Big Song a good tip and she tied little woven wristbands to our wrists (by the way, mine fell off almost exactly a year later). She was a wonderful guide and she and Carol especially got on very well. She has a beautiful little daughter too, whom we played with at the homestay.

Carol decided to buy the plastic gumboots she’d been wearing, having grown quite attached to them! We had drinks at a cafe, showers at the Sapa Sisters office, and I went for a wander through the thickly misted streets nearby, marvelling at how busy the little town was with tourists, most of them Chinese, constantly snapping pictures of each with their iPhones even though visibility was at about 10 feet.

The minivan left at 5pm; packed full of travellers like ourselves it drove through the mist, and then the darkness, to the train station at Lao Cai, the unattractive transit town where we originally arrived by train, and the closest I’ve ever been to the Chinese border. We had an average dinner in an average restaurant, pestered by a precocious child practicing his English (“what is your email?” he asked when we were leaving; “we don’t have emails” I answered – cue stunned silence). After a boring wait in the noisy train station (a football game was cranked up to 11 on the TV), we got on the train without incident and found our sleeper cabin. A noisy bunch of older French tourists shared the carriage – one stupid woman stood at the door to our cabin and rudely pointed at us as she prattled to her friend – but thankfully they settled down once we got moving. We got comfortable and drifted off to an exhausted sleep as the train bumped and shuddered its way to Hanoi.


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