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At just past 6am, on time, we arrived in Lao Cai, and after some confusion (a couple of guys tried to scam a ride in our already packed van) we were piled into a mini-van and driven the 50 minutes or so along a misty mountain road to Sapa. Shrouded in white fog, this place very much reminded me of Shimla in India, another hill town. At the Sapa Sisters office, with whom we had booked a trek tomorrow, we were given breakfast, stored our bags, then went out to do a bit of shopping along a nearby muddy street lined with shops selling North Face gear knock-offs. Our haggling skills are very rusty – well, more to the point the local shopkeepers don’t seem to care less about it when there’s always another gullible tourist walking through the door – but I got a few bucks off the asking price of a fake North Face fleece jacket, and a scarf for each of us.

Carol was stressed that she hadn’t managed to get a flight at the right time from Hanoi to Hue, so we went to a nice cafe where she sorted it out and cancelled the extra night we would have stayed in Sapa. I’m in awe of her abilities when it comes to online booking! Instead of a minibus, we’ll be taking the sleeper train back to Hanoi, so we can get a flight and not spend another night there.

So, after that epic piece of organisation was done and Carol was much relieved, we got a taxi to our place for the night – the Eco Palms Lodge, about 20 minutes out of town. The road along the steep side of the Muong Hoa Valley was unbelievably bad – a muddy, rutted road barely wide enough for two cars. Thankfully the thick mist obscured the fall into the valley on our right. The road was clogged with construction vehicles and at one stage we had to stop and wait about 10 minutes, but eventually we made it to Eco Palms Lodge and a very effusive welcome from the host, Nam. The place has heaps of character and we have our own bungalow (an upgrade from our original booking). We got settled, had showers, then returned to the main reception/restaurant/lounge for a good lunch and drinks. Now, here we are sitting by the fire, a cat – just one of the several cats and dogs running about – grooming itself on a nearby chair, and I’m finally at the end of catching up in this diary. Carol is posting pictures on Facebook and all our friends from the JM Marvellous hotel are commenting on them.

I’m feeling good, apart from last night when I thought I was getting a cold, which thankfully hasn’t developed. Later, dinner was great (apart from having to endure constant slurping sounds behind us from the young couple kissing by the fire!)

We slept under a mosquito net in our cosy bungalow.

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