Journey Back

After spending the afternoon relaxing at the Sapa Rooms Hotel, it’s time for us to leave Sapa for the journey back to Hanoi. Similar to the travel coming to Sapa, we had the transportation arranged through the hotel. For someone who is used to plan everything in advance myself, it was a bit uncomfortable not knowing what the next thing that’s going to happen in this trip.

I asked Andrew and Cathy, the other Sapa Rooms guests who are also traveling back to Hanoi about how this would work, and they were not sure either. So we asked the hotel’s front desk person about this, and he told us not to worry and just be ready to leave by around 5 pm. A minivan that would take us to Lao Cai would show up, and once we get to Lao Cai, we would be dropped off at a place where we could collect our train tickets. I was so used to having everything planned out in advance, knowing the point of contact in the event of emergency, etc. — not just going with the flow. So even this explanation was not completely making me feel comfortable about the trip. At least knowing that at least there are other people in the same position made me feel a little comfortable.

Around 5 pm, sure enough, a Ford Transit minivan showed up outside the hotel. By then I had just finished settling the hotel bills, and the hotel manager told us that our ride to Lao Cai was ready to take us there. So we loaded up the van and got ready to leave. In addition to Andrew, Cathy, Kristi, and me, there was a family of four tourists that also went with us. The rest of the van were locals who were on the way to Lao Cai. We recognized one of the passengers; it was May our tour guide from the day before. She recognized us as well and said hi. I remembered she mentioned that her daughter stayed with her in-laws in Lao Cai during the week, so she was going to Lao Cai to see her daughter.

It didn’t take long to load the minivan and off we went. The trip was like the reverse of the ride coming in. We came in the morning when it was still dark when we left Lao Cai but then we saw the sun rising on the way to Sapa. For the trip to Lao Cai, we left when it was still light outside, but the sun set on the way there and by the time we arrived in Lao Cai, it was already dark.

The minivan dropped the local passengers including May along the way as we entered Lao Cai. The last stop was at a restaurant located right across the street from the train station. Apparently this was the drop off place for us, and someone from the restaurant had the train tickets for us. We got the tickets, and not long after, we were told to head to the train station with our tickets, get inside the station, and find the train car and cabin as marked on the ticket. Andrew and Cathy were assigned to different train car than ours, so we said goodbye to each other on the way in, and that was the last time we saw them.

The photo below was taken at the restaurant where we were dropped off by the minivan in Lao Cai. It wasn’t a bad idea for the Sapa Rooms folks to coordinate with this restaurant to help with the travelers’ logistics. This allow them to have someone helping in Lao Cai without having personnel going along from Sapa to Lao Cai. For the restaurant proprietor, I’m not sure if they got a cut from the train ticket purchase, but since we had to wait for few minutes before our time to head to the station, some other passengers ended up getting food to go from the restaurant to take during the train ride. For the passengers, the restaurant also had restrooms they could use before going aboard the train for the overnight journey.

Ticket pick up place

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