When we booked this trip a few months back I really wasn’t too sure about whether to go on up to Sapa or not but following a sincere recommendation from a friend it ultimately proved to be a very wise decision. Following a long nine hour night train between Hanoi and Lao Cai followed by a very winding one hour bus ride we finally reached our destination which was a small colourful town where tourists and local black mong tribe people (below) mixed freely among each other.
Over the last ten years or so Sapa has become a premier destination in the north-west thanks to the great views (on clear days!) and an amazing array of minority hill tribe people and colourful markets. I didn’t realise quite how much this old French hill station has become part of the northern travelling trail until arriving in the centre where it was lashing it down with rain. Typically as soon as we splashed out on some poncho’s it stopped raining and the sun came out though thankfully (for the sake of getting some use of the poncho!) it did rain in intervals throughout the day.
The question beforehand was whether or not to do a tour or just roll up and organise it freestyle. Thankfully we chose the former and our tour guide, Quand from sapapathfinder.com was a very nice, friendly, smiling guy whose English pronunciation was clearer than any other local we met during our time in Vietnam. The tour started with a trail through a market where just about every part of an animals body was on sale (above) and then we trekked on into the countryside visiting Cat Cat and Sin Chai villages. Views of rice terraces in the foreground of mountains could be seen and was a very common sight over the two days.
We could see a completely different way of life and fascinating it was too. There were very young kids selling bracelets everywhere and we entered a local home (below) which really was quite gruesome and so, so basic as they cook inside the hut and then sleep there with almost no daylight coming in which means that they sadly, often have a low life expectancy.
After a night at the Hoang Ha Hotel we did more trekking the following day and took in a couple more villages amid soaring heat. We walked across the bridge below which had no railings or anything at the side to stop you falling off which wasn’t helped a few nervy times by vehicles passing over it meaning you had to stand very close to the edge to let them pass. Over the other side we had lunch in the Black Mong village before continuing on through a Red Dzao one but not before the hassle involved in the local kids and black mong people (who had followed us from Sapa) trying to sell us some local handicrafts. We had decided shortly before to buy something from a very, very chatty young girl (22 & married with two kids!) who we learned a lot from about Sapa, herself and her tribe. That didn’t stop every other person in the village from trying to sell us something too once they’d seen the sight of money!
Can’t remember exactly when, but we did sample what I think was sparrow (below) which was fairly tasteless and not exactly easy to pick at due to its bones. For the record the building lit up below is the originally named Sapa Church.
As someone who has travelled to many places around the world now I have experienced a lot of things so it was a relief that Sapa provided me, for one, with an intriguing and unique experience blending a mix of ethnic diversities with some beautiful green scenery.