My Vietnam Launch – Hanoi, Sapa & Fansipan – 2018

My Vietnam Launch – Hanoi, Sapa & Fansipan – 2018

There are a lot of photos in this blog and in looking back will be one of my favourites so hopefully you will enjoy the blog & the photos? Engraved deep in my heart. Look out for my heaven photo too. There’s more story after the photos.

A whole new adventure awaited me after my very early buffet brekky at The Hanoi Gratitude Hotel in Hanoi; and at my very last bite my limo driver was fast arranging my backpacks for the journey (much like a thief in the night he was so quick) to the bus station for my 4-5hrs trip (315klms) to Sapa in NW Vietnam, very near the Chinese border. Everything is so punctual & efficient at this hotel.

My driver dropped me off at an empty corner block somewhere in Hanoi .. no bus station … but there’s quite a few travellers here so this surely must be the place for boarding. Two young ladies caught my eye & they both said ‘Hello’ & started talking. They were both from Sydney .. Go figure! Just a few metres away a very gorgeous blonde kept looking at me .. I thought OK? What’s out of place (my self-consciousness). She kept looking away & showing some shyness, I guess. I couldn’t approach her as the conversation was full-on with the Sydney girls. Finally, our bus arrived (Sapa Dragon Express .. sometimes called “The Green Bus” .. painted full green obviously) and we all boarded; but it took a while as we had to take our shoes off & put on supplied thongs (flip flops) as part of the custom the driver said .. I think it was more to keep his bus cleaner, really. The Sydney girls took the very back seat while I took the very front single seat as I like to look where I’m ‘driving’. The gorgeous blonde sat immediately behind me (winner!). I said ‘hello’ & she smiled back. Later, I offered her some of my snacks but she declined. Hmmm!! Plus, she had her music buds in her ears so I’ll let her off .. for now.

We realised the bus was running late when the driver started using the accelerator hard and with very little braking, and overtaking everything in the dual lanes. He also was on the phone a lot and I thought on the odd occasions I could literally see horns coming out of his skull like the devil himself. Much like Steve Martin driving between two semi-trailers in the Planes, Trains & Automobiles movie. LOL!! I most definitely will be kissing the ground once we arrive. The highway was very impressive (dual roadways and well-constructed). It took us a little over 4hrs and the worst part was the scary, awful winding, rutted and very steep road when we turned off from Lao Cai (City right on the Chinese border) to Sapa. It had rained heavily the night before making the journey even more precarious. Almost got bogged too. We had left Hanoi at 16m elevation to Sapa at 1,500m (4,921ft) above sea level so it was certainly a climb & mostly after Lao Cai with their elevation of just 90m above sea level.

We arrived at Sapa’s city roundabout in the middle of the historic centre, adjacent to the Catholic Church with its unique stone belltower. The Sydney girls yelled “WOW!! it’s just like Peru!!!” which opened my eyes further into the surrounding building landscape and seeing the local Tibetan style children in costume ready for us tourists and dollars for photographs and simultaneously thinking of my Peru trip planned for next year with my eldest son. At the same time the beautiful blonde was quickly ushered away by a local (homestay pickup I think) so that ruined any further connection. I was left to Google Map my hotel, somewhere NW of the church but the Sydney girls had already arranged for a taxi & said my hotel is on their way. It was a tight fit for all the bodies & luggage, but we managed; like sardines in a tin. We certainly didn’t expect the steep highly rutted and very tight streets (mostly one-way streets, so there are no short cuts) where it would be far better if the taxis were 4wheel drive or Hummer-type vehicles. Worn out by the constant rough travel I arrived at my hotel, The Viet Flower

Hoan (Hon), provided the most enthusiastic welcome!! Due to the bus lateness, Hoan rescheduled one of my treks for tomorrow and said, once I unpack into my room it would be best if I undertook the Fansipan and start that experience straight away by 3pm, but I must hurry. My room was excellent too & found it instantly comfortable. Post blog: I found out when leaving Sapa, Hoan (Hon) also likes to be called John .. LOL!! Now that would have been handy to know prior. John normally works 10-12hr days running the hotel 7 days a week. An amazing Superhuman and so very good at what he does. He will have a holiday but not sure when or where. Some bookings in Vietnam do impose a sole occupancy levy by travelling alone so make sure of your charges as they can be significant. I have found this out on 2 occasions so far.

With a 30seconds overview from Hoan, I was ushered into a taxi and a 9klm trip up to another steep elevation slightly West of Sapa to Fansipan; the highest mountain in Vietnam & also in the Indochinese Peninsula (Vietnam, Laos & Cambodia) with its nickname “The Roof of Indochina”. I noticed the road was very new and well-constructed so that was quite surprising. From a large carpark the driver pointed down the slope (closed off ‘street’) between new building structures with a huge smile. There is only one way to walk so his direction was clearly understood. Haha! Hoan told me to buy my gondola tickets straight away and view this building section later. With virtually no people around it took me a while before I could figure out the ticket booth location. Surprisingly, I found a few English signs which was helpful & timely. They even had tickets for the Funicular train if needed which I thought was not needed and with so little info on it anyway.

Walking through the enormous automatic glass sliding doors I was taken aback by the amazing setup of the Sun World gondola cars and the size of them (35person capacity), the wire cable (Triple cable design) & wheelhouse  A very large sign above stated “Highest car height 1,410m above ground & the longest gondola ride of 6,292.5m by Guinness World Records”. These figures came to a frightening reality the instant my car left the platform!!! “SHIT”!!!! It instantly became a free-fall view of some hundreds of metres (instant vertical view drop). My body tightened in all areas, trust me!! I was the only one in the car so any anxiety was unnoticed and then it struck me! If the car became stuck, where or how would the rescue be undertaken; and if I’m alone I’ll be left to eat my own arm when hungry. Thoughts in your mind .. hey?

Gradually getting custom to the sheer height of some 1,410m (never to jump out of a plane like all of my 3 sons) my camera finger started and the scenery was beyond words!!! I couldn’t take my eyes away from these glorious scenes. I could only use my Samsung S7 camera phone due to weight & storage limits (no SLR Camera & lens) when backpacking so I’m praying my photos will turn out.  Fansipan has about 4-5 vegetation elevation levels with Acacia trees of a thousand years old being the main hiking attraction.  Rice, etc are grown on the lowest levels. I noticed it was getting somewhat colder too, remembering Hoan’s overview where the weather can change in the blink of an eye. Some 20mins in the cable car I believe, I landed at Fansipan Mtn “Base Camp” where the first signs I read was “Welcome” and then numerous high altitude warning signs and safety measures to deal with this altitude. I had already noticed the thin air & air-intake difference. This is my first experience with High-Altitude so I made sure I took all the advice in and sat at the nearest bench seat for a good 5mins or so to be accustomed and give my lungs and heart some climatization time.

Next second, I realise I’m deep within the clouds and the magic of such, began a mind-blowing adventure in what is called “Heaven’s Gate” … of course. In and out of the drifting clouds I noticed some enormous new structures of temples and pagodas, set in the old style. How in the hell (excuse the polar components, for I’m in the heavens remember) did anyone build such enormous structures & monuments on such a demanding mountain? The scale of such is incomprehensible! Once the clouds drift away you are in complete full-on sunshine and sky blueness. From the wheelhouse you take in all the religious ambiance noticing the temples, extra-large bronzed toning bell and other worshiping structures with the instant calmness (high-altitude demands calmness too). With the clouds drifting in and out more amazing things are exposed, but you become aware of the limited time available. The mountain ‘closes’ around 5.30pm so I had best get moving … safely.

Past the sacred bell another sign warns you of your health management & rest stops needed; for it states 636 steps to the mountain top. What!! 636 steps!!! I instantly remember the countless thousands of steps I took undertaking the Cambodian temples (earlier blogs). I can do this!!! From this sign the Funicular train (2 carriages) starts its climb to the top … but I’m more determined to use my leg power & hope my heart & lungs enables me to transverse to the top under my own steam. I’ll figure catching the train downwards if need be. The next level provides me with the inspiring 20m high Buddha throwing out its amazing aura!! The photos go from a misty ghost appearance from below to a full sun shot standing in front looking up and then more mist seeing it from above. The photos do not do it justice!! This Buddha is the largest in Vietnam and I can’t believe how it could be constructed up here & that also complies to the gondola structure too with about 6 towers soaring above the various mountain ridges. Being a limited number of towers, that equates to about 1klm apart for each. Mind blowing cables over that length plus the weight. Hence, the triple cable design.

OK .. one step after another … the air is so thin … Yay!!! There are landing points with bench seating. They are most welcomed during this incline. On one landing I took a photo of the Buddha below misting out of the clouds in all its aura. Such a vision. Powering on for I don’t know how long I finally made it to the top where there are a few enormous timber decks, various flag poles and a stainless-steel cap with a giant Vietnamese flag placed on Fansipan’s highest point with its name and height heavily engraved. This cap & flag is barricaded off to the public but are compensated by having a few replica monuments for close photographs scattered on the decks. Of course, you can’t stop the disrespectful idiots. One idiot was within my presence & climbing over the barricade. I was about to take stern action but a local Ranger beat me to it although the idiot ultimately got my full eye & disgust face look. Such disrespect. My selfie with the cap became one of my profile photos. How could it not be so? On the timber decks there are, what my laymen term would be, Rhododendron Bonsai trees (Vietnam Heritage Trees) in very large pots. Obviously, some centuries or decades older than me. Not much grows at this height so these trees have lots of patience … in keeping with the Buddha below, I’m thinking.

It was time to descend & I walked down about 20 steps to board the Funicular train but alas, I was informed I had to buy my ticket below. Arrgh!!! OK, another 616 or so steps; just another challenge. Surprisingly, I found this ‘trek’ far easier. Go Figure! Walking down, out of the blue a moth flew around my face and then landed near my foot (wings spread on landing). It was the only sign of life I saw amongst us humans & vegetation on the high stairway beyond heaven. The moth remained still, so I sat down and placed my hand partially around it (Photo). I have never seen this happen before. I found that so incredible, and like I had a silent conversation with it. I eventually, & somewhat reluctantly said good-bye to my new found moth friend and walked down to several levels where I indeed saw heaven. My photo surprised me … I felt so connected and without hesitation I said “Hello Rod” to my youngest brother, who we lost suddenly the year before in 2017, aged just 54. I felt so happy, yet so sad instantaneously. I felt cradled .. and it was so difficult to continue down the several hundred steps whilst also knowing I was losing daylight and time for the gondola return. This photo became my laptop screensaver shot. In 2019 a photo expert assessed my photo and his comment was it is the closest photo of heaven he had seen to date. What do you think? Thank the heavens for not riding the Funicular train for I would have missed such love & life memories. Maybe everything happens for a reason?

With 636 steps done so easily downwards (stamina wise) I clambered into my private gondola car (hardly any public people here now, just workers finishing their day) and descended the 20minute ride ‘alone’ … I think Rod was still with me. I was so blessed in this opportunity and experience I had to share with someone, so I face-called my daughter, Kate back in Australia. She was so thrilled to see the live pictures of the landscape below plus my description of Fansipan too. I told her about my moth friend and she said Google The Moth/ Butterfly & see their spiritual meaning. It replicated my experience of Rod, etc. Freaky, Hey?  Shame my other children didn’t answer my face calls to share this precious life event. Kate told me the Moth also comes towards light and that may have been me. Sounds good & comforting.

Walking back up the vast empty concrete ‘street’ to hail a taxi I was amazed at the new infrastructure around me. I had longer to look, as there were no taxis at all and everything appeared deserted. After about 40mins, feeling stranded I rang Hoan & he arranged for his cousin’s taxi to pick me up but he said it would cost me 100,000 Viet Dong ($4.20AUD). So cheap, but I paid him more. I later read some people complained about the clouds on Fansipan being a nuisance & a feeling of being ripped off .. but really, that is the magic and special ambience to embrace everything Fansipan displays. Without doubt the most amazing 2.5 hours of EVERYTHING!!!!

I was so much on a high when I saw Hoan and couldn’t thank him enough for this life experience and also couldn’t wait for dinner & to talk to whoever sat at my table. I slept extremely well too and that was a good thing as I was booked to start my 12klm Linh Ho – Lao Chai – Ta Van Trek from the hotel the next day & my 6klm trek the day after which will leave me to write another blog soon on the 2 treks. I will leave this blog in the hope you have enjoyed some of the feelings I had reliving my Fansipan experience and hope you will get some family/ spiritual connection from it.

Thank you again for reading my blogs and I trust you will stay safe, happy & healthy, especially through this COVID-19 pandemic and for 2021 to be a far better year. I do not receive any commissions &/or ‘perks’ from the above nominated businesses & locations as I am purely happy to provide the acknowledgement and connection.

I always look forward to seeing the feedback so don’t be afraid to comment. My next blog/s will be more of the amazing Vietnam experiences and quite a few were life changing, & not just for me.

Live life to the most and a quote that I truly love is from Ekhart Tolle ..

“If I am not the hero of my life … who in the hell could be?”

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