Our journey to Tavan started with packing a backpack (for our 6 day trip there and onto Cat Ba) and catching the overnight sleeper train from Hanoi to Lao Cai, then a transfer from the train station via Sapa on a twisty road up the side of a steep mountains - which was a little scary at times when overtaking slow trucks resulted in driving at the oncoming traffic. Our homestay was located on the side of the valley amongst the rice fields and we arrived just in time for breakfast.
Tavan, the home of the Giay hill tribe people, was quiet and peaceful but the impact of tourism evident with the number of locals offering homestays and lots of small scale construction by local tribes people. Sapa by contrast was chaotic with a mass of buildings squished along the hillside and huge construction by the Chinese and Vietnamese.
The peace and tranquility at our homestay and the views from our wooden bungalow accommodation set amongst the rice fields looking out towards the valley.
The cockerel that woke us up in the early hours of the morning and the hard bed 😜
Arrange an escort to the train station and platform to ensure you get the correct location as trains depart from different areas.
Try to get cabins/beds in the middle of the carriage as they are quieter than those at the end which are over the wheels.
Overnight sleeper train from Hanoi to Lao Cai - we booked a 4 berth carriage on the Sapaly train and was really impressed with how comfortable the beds were and with the help of ear plugs, and the couple of beers the boys bought from a lady outside the train, we slept for most of the journey. We arrived at 6.30am and were met by our driver who took us to our homestay in Tavan.
We went for a couple of short treks around Tavan village, stopping occasionally to buy from the Hmong, Dao and Giay women, eat from food stalls, drink local beer and wine, and watch in amazement as motorbikes passed us by with everything handing from the back: piles of bricks, wooden planks and a full sized live pig in a basket. We came across a ceremony involving the sacrifice of a pig and chicken for good luck for the rice harvest. The boys also went for a couple of trail runs up the steep mountainside.
A soak in a Red Dao herbal bath and massage was just what we needed to relax, and to sooth Johnny's aching legs after his earlier run up the mountain.
The peacefulness of the location was just perfect to stop, relax and recharge. Lots of time was spent reading, drinking and just chilling.
We spent our last day in Sapa, located in the Huang Lien mountains which includes Fansipan - Vietnamese highest mountain. First we drove out to see Tram Ton Pass and a walk to the Love Waterfall, then wandered around the town passing roasted chestnuts and full pigs on spits, tribes women offering their wares and guided treks around the local villages. Again motorbikes were used to carry everything and anything, including a full sized chest freezer 😳. The museum provided a great insight about Sapa and the different ethnic minority groups from around the area.
We finished the day in Lao Cai, having dinner at Le Bordeaux whilst waiting for our overnight sleeper train back to Hanoi.
Eating and drinking:
Bamboo bar- we wanted to try dried buffalo but it wasn't available so we settled for Dutch cheese and mustard and spring rolls- strange combination but nice. Later we returned for Dutch hot chocolate with Baileys.
Had to try the local homemade plum and apple wines and have only one word to describe them- yuk
The homestay provided breakfast each day, and we chose to join the family for dinner on one evening and experienced bamboo for the first time- our new favourite dish.
Banh mi (Vietnamese roll with meat and pate) from stall in the village - very yummy.
Le Bordeaux - had a mixture of Vietnamese dishes including stir fried morning glory and bamboo shoots.
Vietnamese coffee with (condensed) milk is our coffee of choice at the moment, sweet and very strong.
Sapaly Train- our accommodation and transport between Hanoi and Lao Cai. We had a 4 birth cabin, which was small but we managed as we were traveling together, however the limited space may be an issue if shared with strangers. The beds were reasonably comfortable and the bathroom remained clean throughout the journey.
Tavan Ecological Homestay- what an absolutely wonderful place to stay. They arranged our transfers to and from the train station and went out of their way to be helpful and meet our needs. Our accommodation were individual ensuite wooden bungalows located on the side of the valley amongst the rice fields. The rooms were basic but clean and comfortable, although the bed was a little hard.
Tavan Ecological Homestay: http://www.tavanecologichomestay.com/
Sapaly Train: http://www.sapalytrain.com/