Friday, November 29, 2013


I’m a firm believer that things always happen for a (good) reason.  In fact I’d say it’s one of my guiding principles on this trip! Consider my experience finding a hotel today.  I had a very easy day planned. I was looking forward to arriving at my destination early and doing a bit of route planning and a blog post.  I was going to ride to the base of the Tram Ton Pass, 75 kilometers from my point of origin in order to be prepared to ride the pass the following day and end up in Sa pa, northern Vietnam.

I had done some research on the pass, but it was really difficult to determine where exactly it was and what the road conditions were like.  I hate doing out and back routes, and therefore I planned the next few days so that I could make a loop from Lao Cai to Sapa as I went over the pass.

China is just on the other side of the river
I rolled into Lao Cai at about 2:30 pm.  China was a stone’s throw away, literally with the Song Hong river separating the two countries.   Lao Cai just seemed like a big city to me and so I kept riding up the road, even closer to the base of the pass, however, there were still no road signs to be seen for the pass.  I could see there was a small town about 10 kilometers ahead and I thought for sure they’d have a hotel.  Sure enough there were three, but none of the three had wifi.  I was really keen on getting some work done, so I thought rather than ride on further, I would head back to Lao Cai.  I was bummed I had to back track, but I had spotted a few stands with fresh pinapple and bananas, and it made for a good excuse to go back. Just as I left the city, there were a few hotels (Nha Nghis), and I could stay there and still avoid all the chaos. 

Promise imy hotel wasn't as tacky as the sign makes it look!
Wouldn’t you know to my bad luck, these Nha Nghis didn’t have wifi either?  So I pedaled back to the city and stopped at the first one I saw.  Rude as it was, the first question out of my mouth was not, do you have any rooms available (and this is all done with a few hand signals by the way…) it was simply the word….Wifi?!?!  They said yes and I was relieved, I was done pedaling!  I unpacked my things and gave them my passport.  For some odd reason, I also asked them about the Tram Ton Pass.  I drew a little map showing them the route I wanted to take to get to Sa Pa, thinking that they would be able to advise me.  They guy kept saying I had to go to Sa Pa first, and I kept insisting that I didn’t want to go up and down the same way.  Finally he called a friend, and passed over the phone to me.  The man on the other end spoke English and I told him about my planned route to climb the pass.  He told me that you could only go up and down the pass in one direction. 

Wow!!! How grateful was I, that he clued me in on this small detail.  I had looked at various websites and they did mention leaving Sa Pa to climb, but I assumed that what goes up on one side of the mountain must come down on another?  I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to have been given this crucial information. Imagine heading out and starting to climb 1,900m only to realize that the road didn’t go through and that I would have to go all the way around and start from Sa pa.  Yes, it meant that I would have to go up and down the same road to experience the Tram Ton Pass, but if that was my only option, I would do it! 

Usually the motor scooters are parked inside, not outside
When I finally got all my gear in my room, I checked the network connection.  My good luck streak hadn’t lasted long because there was no wireless network available from my room.  When I went down to the desk and had them help me connect, their router wasn’t working either and so once again, I was without wireless.  I know, I probably should have stayed, after all, they helped me figure out my route for the following day, but I didn’t…shame on me.  I carted my stuff down, loaded up my bike, and headed for another hotel.  At this point a big, noisy, and chaotic big city was the last place I wanted to be.  I could tell I wasn’t in the hotel part of town and it took me a good 2 kilometers or so to get my bearings.  I found the road to Sa Pa, stopped,  and asked a restaurant for a Nha Nghi.  They pointed me in the direction and I found one just down the road, although it looked a bit sketchy.  You see, these Nha Nghis have historically been hourly hotels, so depending on the city and the clientele, well,….you can imagine what you find.  I’ve really only had to wear ear plugs once in my 2 weeks here in Vietnam. At The Nha Hghi where I ended up, there were two very nice older women working.  When I asked them about wifi, they nodded and so I tested the connection.  Perfect.  At this point I didn’t care if it was indeed more of an hourly place, I was exhausted and wanted a rest.  My 75 kilometer route had turned out to be 95 and it was just about dark.

Simple room with clean sheets....don't you love the mosquito net canopy?
My drying system, works like a charm wherever I go.
They showed me to my room, which was clean, spacious, and actually quite nice. I even had a fan to help dry my clothes. I was thankful to be settled for the evening.  I took a shower and started to wash my clothes when one of the little old ladies came in, without knocking and was showing me a finger on her hand.  Here I am thinking…..yes, I’m just one person, I’m here for one night,….didn’t we already go over this?......We had agreed on 200 vnd, a mere 7 euro, but she wanted me to get out my calculator again on my phone and typed in 160.  Then she had me follow her to a different room, with just one bed, rather than two.  Now I understood.  Seeing that I was just one person, which I thought was quite obvious from the time I rolled up alone, she wanted me to switch rooms and save me a bit of money.  Wow!?!  Somebody was actually trying to help me out and not take advantage of the fact that I’m a tourist.  That, or she desperately needed the room she had originally given me.  Who knows, but, yes, I ended up switching rooms!

The all-in-one bathroom, with hot water, of course

I’m settled, ate my fresh pineapple, my clothes are clean, drying with the fan on full speed, my bike is in a locked garage, and I have a decent wireless connection.  Life is good!  Not to mention, my room is much more peaceful as it is in the back of the hotel and not above the street.  This is the first hotel where the owner has hugged me a hug after getting me all settled.  I like this place!  I tell you, it’s high class here in Lao Cai for 6 euro a night!   

She just got voted the nicest owner of any hotel I've been to so far (except for the one in Turkey where I was treated like royalty).
Sa pa is about 35 kilometers away, and from there I go directly up for about 15 or 20 kilometers to the Tram Ton Pass.  At 1,900 meters, it is the tallest mountain pass in Vietnam.  Do I dare mention that I’m currently at -10 meters?  After all the climbing I did earlier on in the week, I feel prepared.  I look forward to Sunday as it will be my day off to visit the Bac Ha H’mong market (by bus, from Sa Pa).  Funny how everything works out at the end of the day!  There was a reason why I wasn’t suppose to stay up the road in the other town at the “base of the climb” and there was also a reason why I needed to stop at the other hotel in Lao Cai that didn’t have internet,…and now there is definitely a reason why I need to go have a beer!  Cheers to Lao Cai and the Tram Ton Pass!!
My hard earned meal at hte end of the day plus Bia Ha Noi, no complaints here!

No comments:

Post a Comment