The route to Sa Pa was an eventful one! We headed off thinking the drive would be a maximum of five hours. Leaving Ha Giang at 10.30am we thought we had plenty of time and that we would be able to arrive before sunset but we were wrong. About an hour into the drive we entered a road that was the worst road we have ever driven on. Muddy, wet from all the rain the night before and full of the largest holes you have seen, we could only drive on it at about 10-20km an hour without breaking the scooter! Every corner we turned we hoped it would be the end of the horrific road but it went on for like 40km! After driving on here for so long once we reached the flat road it never felt better. Luckily the scooter made it and we carried on the journey to Sa Pa. We stopped off for lunch quickly as the road had taken us a lot longer than we calculated and at 5.30pm we got to Lao Cai. Here we had two options as it was getting dark, brave it and get to Sa Pa, or stay a night in Lao Cai but it meant sacrificing a night in Sa Pa and continue the journey the following day. We went for something to eat at ‘Dreame”, here we asked how long the drive to Sa Pa was and they said maximum one and half hours, debating over dinner we decided to just go and take it slow because once were there we can enjoy Sa Pa for a couple of days.
The road up to Sa Pa started well, we stopped off for petrol and continued the ascent up. Half way through the journey the cloud came in and we could literally see about 5 meters in front maximum. A Taxi over took us and we decided to try to stay behind them to see where the road went. We had driven through cloud before but not in the dark. Sharing the road with big buses and trucks with their full beam lights on makes it a lot harder! Leila used the sat nav to warn Harry of any sharp corners that were coming up and Finally Sa Pa was only 1km away. The feeling when you see that road sign and you have been on the bike for a long time is amazing! We looked for somewhere to eat and where to stay then headed for ‘Sapa Memory Hotel”, We arrived covered in mud and freezing cold but the owner couldn’t of been more welcoming. He gave us the best room, with a large balcony for 500,000 dong per night, breakfast was extra but we didn’t mind as there seemed to be a lot of eating places around.
The next day we got up, checked out and went to get some breakfast. We went to ‘Elegant Restaurant’, here they had great food and drinks and the place had a great ambience. Leila wasn’t feeling to great and started coming down with a bad cold so we looked online for hotels with a bath. We found ‘Freesia Hotel’, for 900,000 dong per night we got an amazing room, with bath, an amazing free breakfast (one of the best since we have been away), a spa and indoor heated swimming pool! We paid for breakfast and headed to the new hotel to check in. The room was so nice and the staff were so helpful. We needed to get the scooter cleaned as it was covered in mud so after we had checked into the room we looked for somewhere to get the bike washed. We rode into what looked like a car wash and asked if he could clean the scooter, which he said he could and started doing so. We were surprised at how much mud had come off the scooter and was pleased with the result we tipped him an extra 10,000 dong as he only charged us 30,000. We soon regretted tipping though as we went to get back on the scooter and the engine wouldn’t start, after about 10 goes the guy came back out and fiddled around with the bike a bit but he still couldn’t get it started. We put on our translator ‘is there anywhere to get the scooter fixed?’ And he pointed down the road.
Luckily we were on the top of a hill so we rolled down to the mechanic. Here we explained on the translator that we had the bike cleaned and it won’t start, he tried a few different things but it still wouldn’t start, in the end him and colleague had to take the bike apart and dry all the small parts and eventually they go the bike going. Extremely happy we drove off thanking our lucky stars and that it wasn’t the end of the scooter, as we were driving around we noticed that the bike was slow. It only had the two of us on though, how were we going to make it to our next destination with our backpacks on the bike? We drove the bike back and said it’s not as powerful, they said leave it with them for one hour, with that we headed to the market, here they have all the local tribal souvenirs and loads of north face fakes. We went to buy a traditional baby carrier from a store but the lady asked for $25! Shocked we just put it back and walked out the market. Sa Pa is extremely touristy so if you want cheaper souvenirs get it from other villages. We walked around and stopped for lunch, grabbed some fresh ginger for Leila and then it was time to go back to get the bike.
We arrived and he put the bike on the stand and revved the engine. It seemed powerful and we were happy so we went back to the hotel to get warm as Sa Pa was freezing and Leila still wasn’t feeling great. We treated ourselves to a back massage as the hotel had 25% off promotion, so it was only 280,000 each for a 45 minute massage! Had dinner at the hotel and relaxed for the evening. Leila had a bath and chopped ginger into it, helping her sweat out all the toxins of the cold and hopefully get better!
The next morning we got up for breakfast downstairs. They had everything you could want from toast, eggs, pancakes, noodle soup, fruit and cakes etc. Full up and with Leila feeling better, we decided to go for a drive to the Fansipan cable car. On the route up the bike still wasn’t great so we decided to take it back into town to another garage. Luckily there was someone who could translate for us and we explained that we had it cleaned and it cut out and now it’s not performing well. The guy had a look at the bike and said that there is water inside the more we drive it, it should warm up and the water will evaporate, if not bring it back later. With that we drove back to the cable car.
It was still thick cloud in Sa Pa so we took it slow but unfortunately when we arrived at the cable car it was closed due to maintenance, with that we decided to carry on driving along to ‘Silver Waterfall’. Whilst driving the cloud started to clear and there was blue sky and sunshine, the bike seemed to like this and started to work a bit better! We started panicking though as we nearly had an empty tank and there was no petrol stations or petrol pumps about. We parked at silver waterfall and had a look around got back onto the bike to drive back to Sa Pa and it wouldn’t start! Luckily we were on a hill so we started rolling, then unfortunately we went around the corner and there was an upwards hill. Leila jumped off and Harry started pushing, annoying as it was, it was hilarious and finally another bike stopped and asked if they could help, they drove on to try to find us petrol, came back and luckily about 500 meters later there was a local shop with a petrol pump outside. We got the bike filled up, said thank you to the kind person who helped us and then we were on route back to Sa Pa!
That evening we went to ‘Moment Romantic Restaurant’ for dinner, which was lovely and number one on ‘TripAdvisor’. We had a nice meal here before heading back to the hotel to relax. The next day we had to leave Sa Pa to head to Hanoi to start covering the south but due to the bike still being funny and the lady at the restaurant saying the drive will be eight hours due to scooters not being allowed on the highway we needed to work out how to get there. After doing some research online we new we could get the bike on some buses, so the next morning we asked the hotel if they could give one of them a call to see if they had space, luckily one did and it left at 11am. The hotel asked us to meet at reception at 10am and one of the staff led us there on his bike and helped us cypher the fuel out, take the bike rack off and get it onto the bus. It cost us 250,000 dong each for a bus ticket to Hanoi and 500,000 dong to put the scooter on the bus. It only takes five hours though, and it meant we could relax and watch Netflix rather than concentrating on the road for eight hours.
We arrived in Hanoi, went straight to a fuel station and thankfully the bike was back to normal! Being under the bus in a dry place for 5 hours sorted the bike out which was lucky as we still had 2 more weeks of driving left! After filling up we drove to the train station and organised how to get the bike to Hue. Due to us running out of time on our visa and unable to extend as we had planned to meet friends in Cambodia on the 1st January we needed to skip some of Vietnam out! We arrived to the train station and to the left there is a good transportation service. We said we needed to get the scooter to get to Hue and was planning to get the 10pm sleeper train ourselves. They said we had missed a slot for that night due to them being busy but they could put it on the train tomorrow, that would be fine for us as we had planned a night in Hue anyway, They said it would arrive at 1pm in a couple of days time. With that we filled out all the paper work, paid, went for dinner and got the 10pm train to Hue. The sleeper train to Hue cost us 1,100,000 Dong each and 350,000 Dong for the bike.
Tip: If the sun shines in Sa Pa make the most of it! The weather can turn very quickly and most of the time we had thick fog while we were there!