At 5am we woke up to pack our bags and check out of our beloved hostel in Hanoi to leave to go to Sapa. Vietnam has the best buses for travelling, with fully reclining beds, wifi and a toilet.
The 7 hour journey was probably the best visually I have been on. Winding dizzily along the mountain roads I wanted to cunctate the journey as long as possible whilst taking in the eldritch, eerie views. Forthwith the journey came to an end and we departed our bubble of comfortableness and trekked to our hotel about a kilometre away.
If I’m to be honest Sapa didn’t give me a great first impression. The second that we started walking we were swarmed by women selling stuff and offering hotels to us which I politely declined to which they replied I was a ‘bad, horrible man’. I let it slide until it kept happening all the way to our hostel. The women were wearing traditional minority clothes but you could tell that they were from the city and trying to entice tourists into having an ‘authentic’ experience. I fear that Sa Pa with its huge increase in popularity is something of abit of a ‘Show’. I hope I am proved wrong the longer I stay here. The hotel we booked was extremely nice. A private room with en suite, a balcony, free breakfast and amenities is costing us £4 each a night which is well worth it.
We went out for some dinner and tried some traditional local food. I had an aubergine and minced pork soup cooked with piper lolot leaves (which are only found in Sapa), lemongrass, coriander and very mild chilli. Georgia had a rice noodles with mushroom, squash, tofu, tomato, onion and carrot. It was delicious. We then spent the evening drinking at a bar which was essentially a done up shipping container with two blokes who are photographers for National Geographic, they had some amazing stories that made mine and Georgia’s travels look like a trip to Tesco.
That night poor Georgia was up for pretty much the whole night with an upset stomach (sorry for the graphic anecdote) so she spent the next day in bed, she was really unwell. I spent the day wondering around Sa Pa town, looking at some of the churches and temples, had a walk around a lake and looked in some shops. I feel like I have committed treason as despite what people say about how amazing Sa Pa is, I just don’t see it so far. Fujian, Yangshou and Moganshan in China all beat Sa Pa for me regarding landscape and beauty. I wonder if China was more of a tourist haven these places would become how Sa Pa has ended out. Whilst walking around I felt like I was at a theme park, a run down theme park at that. Nothing seemed genuine, including the people wondering around.
A group of women wait for tourists to exit a bus to sell goods.
The town itself was in dire need of DIY SOS to step in and give it some TLC. Parts of it looked like it had been bombed, whilst other parts were half built construction work that is just abandoned.
If Sa Pa wasn’t a tourist hot spot my opinions would probably quite different but all I here from people is how you MUST go to Sa Pa, I’m not feeling convinced yet. However, tomorrow I am going on a trek to a local minoroty villiage so I’m hoping my opinion changes there.
So the following morning we woke up and were ready to go on our trek. We ‘hired’ a local woman called San to guide us as we were unsure of the route. San was 23 years old and got married at 17. She has two kids, a little boy and a little girl and her husband is unemployed and to my suprise she has never left Sapa. I turned 23 3 days ago so I was quite astonished how two people the same age have such different lives. I was able to gather this information by talking to her, her English was tremendously impressive and when I asked her how she learnt it she responded ‘I learnt my English on the street’. I can’t even fathom how long it would take me to learn Vietnamese in a full time tutored class let alone by just walking around eavesdropping on conversations. San was small, around 5ft 4 with dark skin, indigo and purple dressage and an infectious smile. She took us down and around the back alleys and hidden pathways of Sapa town to the edge of the looming valley. I was suprised at how interested she was about my life. Usually locals ask basic questions about where you’re from and how long have you been here etc but San was asking me about my thoughts on marriage, my schooling, where I lived and who lived in my house and my plans for the future. I think she liked to here other people’s stories as her own story from what I could gather was quite hard and seemingly mundane. As we walked further down into the valley San pointed out some of the local buildings, a school, a dance hut and of course the local produce which includes, rice, corn, pumpkin and cabbage. As we approached Cat Cat village I was keen to learn the religion of the people who lived in her village. She explained some were Christian, some capitalist (which she said was a form of religion) and some were shamans. This list took me by suprise as she explained further that the shamanic people are very ritualistic with frequent sacrifices to ‘scare away monsters’ taking place often. I didn’t see any obvious signs of religious architecture until this perhaps obvious sign almost spun against my forehead.
After walking down slippy mud paths through the Black H’Mong minoroty village we came to a small waterfall. We sat and rested, talking about butterflies and shamanism before the rain started to pitter patter against our heads. We took refuge in a community dance hall where the adults have some fun. Outside the hall was a lady making clothes from patterned stamps using indigo dye. Behind her was a hydroelectric power station that was presumably built by the French as there was a date on it that said ‘1925’. The setting of this village was where you would imagine Tarzan would live. Humans and wildlife coexist with each other like conjoined twins whilst the natural surroundings were so beautiful that you’d think they would of been crafted by hand. We carried on walking for a further couple of kilometres passing more waterfalls, ridges, traditional Black H’Mong homes and bridges. A couple of hours passed and we had made it back to Sapa town, we said our goodbyes to San and headed back for some much needed rest.
Overall I have throughly enjoyed Sapa despite my earlier blip a couple of days ago