The story of Heaven’s Gate is a sad one, and it’s nothing to do with a very poor film with Richard Gere (I think it was him anyway). Some time ago, I can’t remember how long though Loi did tell us, a wandering westerner found a hill tribe village. He claimed to be an angel and that everyone there should worship him.
This guy then spun a load of lies about how they had all been chosen to ascend to Heaven. All they had to do was sacrifice all their worldly possessions, party to celebrate, build wings for themselves and throw themselves off a cliff. God would help them fly up to Heaven. Sounded like a good deal.
The unsurprising result of this was 120 winged corpses at the bottom of the cliff and the utter decimation of the village. Two people survived and were located by police.
The place they jumped from is called Heaven’s Gate and offers some stunning views (yes, more of them) including – weather permitting – the peak of Fansipan, Vietnam’s tallest mountain at 3143 metres. Fansipan is climb-able (Loi has done it 6 times in various capacities as guide and porter), but it wasn’t on our schedule. Maybe next time! The views from there are almost perfect. Imagine the kind of hills with the kind of trees that the kind of person who makes model railways creates with papiér maché and little models. It’s like that. So perfect you just can’t believe it’s real.
A few kilometres further down the hill is Tram Ton Pass, the centrepiece of which is the beautiful Silver Waterfall (Thac Bac). It’s 100m tall and a looped pathway has been built around it. This takes you up steps maybe halfway up its height, across a bridge and back down the other side. There is a lake that feeds it which you can swim in, but it would involve climbing the rest of the way without the aid of steps and getting back down could be a problem. We skipped that idea and just gaped and basked instead.
The drive back to Sapa was either in a posh Jeep (actually a Ford Everest) or one of the bouncy Russian jobs. No need to guess which one I went for – bouncy bouncy!
Once back in Sapa, we walked for a while and saw the man-made lake with flower borders. Lunch was calling, though, so we headed back to the main street and into another restaurant similar to the one from the previous night. I had a Vietnamese hamburger which is different from what I’m used to. It’s a small French-bread stick, slit at the side and stuffed with ground beef and herbs. Very nice indeed.
The service, however, was flipping awful. Everyone bar Andy had finished by the time Loi’s rice arrived – and in the meantime the rest of his food had gone cold. When Andy’s burger finally arrived (after re-ordering) he got halfway through before noticing that come bits were a little bit pinker and colder than one would hope for in a burger. The rest remained uneaten and he got his beer for free.
Our afternoon trek was to a small village in the valley with a motorbike ride back, but Andy and I cried off. I’d had some messages from Lou that she was having problems and needed to try and get hold of her via a cybercafe. Andy, I think, was just pooped and traipsed hotelwards to sit in the sun and turn even redder. My 2 hour online session came to 11000 Dong – not even 50p. And the chap didn’t have enough change so he let me off with the odd 1000. I did get change later in the evening, though, and handed it in to him. Hey, it’s nowt to me but a noteable little sum to the people there.
After the others returned from their walk, luggage was packed and left with the ever-workhard Loi who said he’d arrange to have it all on a bus which would meet us in the town square at 6:30. We walked back uphill to the main strip and wandered. Kate, Dale, Andy and I decided it was about quarter past beer o’clock and found a nice place in the market to sit down and watch the world go by.
Part of this consisted of a horse walking along pooing manically to a laughing crowd, then a man grabbing his son and slapping him as the young boy was trying to get a lump of it onto a large cocktail stick. Kids don’t change wherever you live! We were also accosted by a little old lady who shoved a hat down on Andy’s head and attempted to tie a friendship bracelet to my wrist. After several “No thank you”s and some handing back of these items, she snatched them and literally stormed off muttering under her breath. I think we’re all now cursed.
True to form, Loi and bus turned up at 6:30 and we began the downhill drive to Lao Cai. The only interruption was a young lady with a bout of travel sickness. Fortunately, the bus stopped in time for her to jump out.
We had an hour or so in Lao Cai to get some food from a roadside cafe (it was awful – I had a ham omelette that had enough salt added “to taste” to dehydrate a whale) and Loi failed to get the ticket he needed on our train. Instead, he hopped on the 8:30 train to meet us in Hanoi the next morning. Only his 8:30 train didn’t leave till 9:30, while our 9:15 train left after 10pm.