Situated at the North of Vietnam lies Sapa, a hill station that is known for its terraced colors. The ride up to Sapa gave us brief glimpses that acted as teasers of the views to come. Most tourists that visit Sapa are not as interested in the city as they are interested in the small villages that lie scattered around it. One particularly famous village is called Cat Cat.
TOUTS DO WHAT TOUTS DO
A view from a look out point.
Everywhere you wander in the tiny city, you will find people coming up to you trying to pawn their wares. At first we were a bit astounded because everyone kept saying ‘Walking’ or ‘Tour’. Some people even came up to us and said ‘My village’. On their own these words don’t mean much and hence it took us awhile to understand that they were offering their services as guides to the neighboring village ‘Cat Cat’. You don’t really need the guides for the path is well trodden and easy to find. It is also fun to roam it on your own. That’s the way we did it.
SAPA: WALKING THE PATH WELL TRODDEN
A little girl enjoys a few moments on a seesaw.
The path to Cat Cat village is a well trodden one. We had no apparent idea why the village was named Cat Cat. Shawn jokingly said that they must have a lot of cats and almost on cue two cats popped their heads out in front of us.
That winding brown line is the road that we needed to take!
Heading down to Cat Cat villages requires following one of the famous Sapa roads till the trail begins. I met a number of tourists who were worried about their safety when walking on this road. Being from India it did not worry me for it was something that I was used to. It was an eye opener to realize that in other parts of the world this was considered far from normal.
A few tips on such roads will help you cover the mile pretty easily.
- Always walk facing the oncoming traffic. In this case you will need to walk the right hand side of the road. This will give you a visual of how close the traffic is to you. I know it may sound scary but it is far less scary than the traffic coming from behind.
- Take care when rounding bends or blind corners. Remember not everyone is watching out for tourists on the road.
- Walk to the side of the road and not on the centre. Though this is expected from people all across the world, there are a number of tourists who have violated it. That’s why I had to include it.
- Carry (and use!) a torch if you are walking at night. This helps you see where you are going and also alerts a rider/driver that someone is walking.
At some point on the road, you will come across a ticket center for Cat Cat village. Yes! To enter Cat Cat you have to get a ticket. I found it absurd but when you’ve walked a great distance there is no use going back. Plus the price was not really that bad (25,000 VND per person). We were furnished with a map of the entire trail of Cat Cat which quite helpful.
THE CAT CAT TRAIL
An unexpected encounter!
The trail to the Cat Cat village is a simple one. While it is easy, you do have to climb up and down numerous steps so carry a bottle of water. A glimpse of the traditional lifestyle can be obtained by walking into some of the houses that are on display. We were surprised to see a number of mills at the side of the road. These mills are powered by the flowing water and are rather ingenious. All through the trail you will see how the people have used the flow of water to their advantage.
Shops dot the side of the Cat Cat trail and the villagers kept calling out to us as we passed. The wares that they try to sell range from food to clothes and some even keep queer wines. That however is a story for another time!
OFF THE TORUIST TRAP
We just love to goof up!
Eager to get away from the well worn tourist paths, we took a path that bifurcated from the main stream flow. Shawn suddenly noticed that we were being followed and by followed I don’t mean by a tourist group. It was a local that was following us. Since she didn’t speak English it was hard to understand what she wanted and it was certainly unnerving to find her stopping when we stopped. We finally decided to sit and watch the fields. After awhile she got fed up of tailing us and went on her way.
I was rather curious to know what she wanted for she never said anything other than gaze at us. I guess we will never know.
THE SILENT WATERFALL
That’s the little stream which was fed by the silent waterfall.
A little further as we rounded the bend we were greeted by the sound of falling water. Strangely enough the waterfall was at a great distance away but could be heard only at certain parts of the path. The water formed a stream which passed across the path. This meant that we had to go through some shenanigans to get across.
School children on their way home.
Now I’m well known as a klutz. It’s something that I have come to terms with a long long time ago. I decided that unlike Shawn I would not be able to hop from rock to rock gracefully and I had no intention of sitting with my butt in freezing water. So I stripped off my socks and crossed the stream in my crocs. (Yes! I wore socks! The weather was too chilly to be caught without them!) A few villagers stopped to watch my antics and I wasn’t particularly pleased to have an audience but they had a good laugh at my cost. It was enough for them to be curious about us and start a conversation. They even offered a little help at some spots which challenged my awkward soul.
THE PLUNDERED FIELDS NEAR SAPA
The plundered fields of Sapa were beautiful none the less.
Unfortunately for us our timing was off. We were in Cat Cat village after the harvest which meant that we did not see the vibrant colors that are synonymous with the village in the hills. The walk was beautiful nonetheless and we had fun watching the myriad of animals around us.
BACK ON THE CAT CAT TRAIL
Shawn smiling despite the chill.
It took us a while to get back on the trail. The Cat Cat village map helped us find our way to another waterfall. We saw this waterfall up close. The weather was chilly through most of the day and the temperature ranged from anywhere between 8oC to 11oC. This meant that the water was bound to be cold. It was definitely not the time to plunge in for a swim but that did not stop us from wetting our feet.
I think that it was the coldest water that I have ever put my feet in. After awhile my toes began to lose all sensation. It definitely wasn’t one of our brightest moments!
WARMING UP FROM INSIDE OUT THE CAT CAT WAY
Wine from a water filter!
We made an interesting discovery on the way back from Cat Cat village. This discovery was called ‘Apple wine’. One of the villagers offered us a small shot glass to taste it. It was nice but it wasn’t something that I would drink. I found this surprising because I usually like wine.
It was only later that I discovered that ‘wine’ is a lose translation for ‘tao’ and ‘tao’ is actually ‘whiskey’. Blissful in his ignorance, Shawn bought a 200 ml bottle for 30,000 VND. Suffice to say that I had an extremely happy husband in a little while. When I say happy I mean happy for he sang Christmas carols all the way home!