After few hours of sleeping in a tiny sleeper during the train ride between Hanoi and Lao Cai, we were woken up by the sound of the train stopping, followed by someone shouting outside. Then someone banged on our cabin’s door. When we opened the cabin’s door, we found out that we had arrived in Lao Cai, and the loud shout was to tell the passengers to get up, pack up their belongings, and leave the train. The time was around 4:30 am, so most of the passengers were still half awake. They slowly freshened up a little bit, gathered their belongings, and left the train.
It was still dark outside when we disembarked from the train. It was similar to the Hanoi Train station; we walked through a dimly-lit outdoor platform, pretty much following other passengers in front of us as noone really provided any direction other that we had to leave the train car (the lights inside the train car flickered several times as warning that they would be turning everything off soon, so we had better move out quickly).
We said goodbye to George and Gol, the couple who shared the cabin with us during the overnight train ride. Before we left Hanoi, Mr. Viet, the gentleman who arranged our travels between Hanoi and Sapa, told us that once we arrived at Lao Cai Train Station, on the way out we should look for a driver with a sign saying Sapa Rooms and my name written on it. As we reached the exit of the train station, sure enough, we saw someone with the sign. I used hand gestures to tell him that we’re the passengers he’s waiting for. He nodded and motioned to us to follow him to the parking lot. He had a minivan that was empty, and after loading our luggages, he asked us to get on the minivan. I was quite happy as everything seemed to work like clockwork. Or so I thought…
The driver then left us alone in his minivan to go back to the train station. We waited there for few minutes, until he came back with several more passengers (all foreign tourists) who had their luggages loaded and got on the minivan joining us. Then the driver left again… This happened for several times, until finally our minivan was fully loaded. So it seemed that even though the driver might be contracted by Sapa Rooms to pick us up, he was also trying to maximize his load by picking up other passengers there. This was the only means of transportation to get from Lao Cai to Sapa, so the demand for such service was pretty high especially everytime the train from Hanoi has just arrived.
It was already close to 6 am when we left Lao Cai. It was still dark outside, and it was quite foggy as well. The drive to Sapa took a little more than an hour, and it was pretty much an uphill climb all the way there. For the first half of the ride, it was still dark outside so we couldn’t tell what’s on the sides of the road, but what we could tell was that the fog was quite dense that the visibility was quite low. We could barely see any car or incoming traffic within 50 feet in front of us. But yet the driver was driving constantly at 60 km/h. Most passengers were pretty much going back to sleep on the drive there. I was awake by then, so I thought I tried to capture the experience by getting my camera out from my backpack. It was quite a challenge trying to get the camera out and changing lens to the one with the right aperture and focal length to use while being careful to prevent dropping the lens cap or anything else in the dark and crowded minivan cabin. I managed to take some shots; most of them ended up to be mostly dark scene, but they captured the moment of being in the dark, driving in a dense fog.
About halfway during the trip the sun came out and we could start seeing the scenery around us. The photo below was taken during the ride. It was my first glimpse of the mountainous region of Sapa that we’re about to visit. It could’ve been nice to see clear sky and the sun rising in the distance, but the clouds and fog slowly clearing up added a different dimension to the sense of place.