Sapa is a town nestled in the hills in northern Vietnam close to the Chinese border. It's known for its terraced rice fields and for the many distinct indigenous peoples that reside there. It’s a relatively short six hour bus ride from Hanoi, so it was within striking range for us.
We got right to work on our first day. Once the bus arrived in Sapa centre, we were met by our guide Chin who brought us to a nearby restaurant for lunch. Coincidentally, we were also met by throngs of local H’mong women who would wander alongside us for a good five or six kilometres in hopes of selling goods to us. We were in a group of eight -- the four of us (Ian, Sandra, Joe, Caroline) and a group of four Italian guys all hailing from Milan. After polishing off lunch, the hiking began in earnest.
The first day was a reasonable 10-12km walk to a local village where we would settle in for the night at our homestay. It’s really fun to be walking around in the country and checking out how the locals live. It’s a bit of a tourist trap in the sense that you’re never too far from a group of ladies trying to hold umbrellas over your head and offer you traditional textiles and such. But after enough gentle refusals the crowd tends to thin and you’re left only with the stunning views of the region. Although we didn’t have the best luck with weather (mild rain and fog were out in abundance), the temperatures are much cooler in Sapa and it makes for great walking. And hey, the clouds just add some mystery to the pictures, right?
The homestay was populated by some of the cutest dogs to have ever lived. One was a three-legged little dudette we labelled (perhaps unsurprisingly) “tripod”. The whole crew of dogs were great accompaniment to our fantastic dinner at the homestay. After dinner, we went straight into rice wine drinking mode. Chin liked to call the rice wine “happy water” given its transparent appearance. Before long, the whole table was shouting out choruses of:
“Ee, Oh, Pei (call) YO! (response)
Oh, Pei (call) YO! (response)
Oh, Pei (call) HOW! (response, and drink!)”
This translates to something like:
“One, two, three WELCOME!
Two, three WELCOME!
Two, three DRINK!”
Our crew downed three water bottles of this rice wine concoction. Things got a bit rowdier as the night continued!
The second day started with a lovely pancake breakfast followed by an easier 6km walk deeper into the countryside where we met a bus to take us back to the city centre and eventually back to Hanoi. Probably for the best that the hiking was easier the second day after the previous evening’s festivities.
We’re now back in Hanoi and awaiting a cab to take us to the airport in thirty minutes. Destination: Laos! Our time in Vietnam has been fantastic. If you’re thinking about visiting, give it a look! It’s been one of our favourite countries thus far. Also, farewell to Joe and Caroline who have been our patient and fun-loving travel buddies for our entire stay in Vietnam. Things are going to be very different without you guys to keep us entertained!