Sapa, the mountain paradise.
I had just arrived in Hanoi, the humidity was making the sweat pour down my nose and for some reason I just was not feeling the vibe of the place. The city was so busy, I needed to get out. I knew some pho would clear my mind, and when I walked into the nearest restaurant I made friends with a cool German lady who convinced me to go and see Sapa. The next morning I was on a bus out of the mad city and into the clean green mountainside that was Sapa.
Sapa is located in the north west of Vietnam, originally established by the french in 1922 as a hill station. It has grown into one of the most visited tourist destinations in the northwest area and will only grow busier with time. Get there while you can, before it becomes way too crowded.
When you reach the town, jumping off that eight hour sleeper bus, you are instantly swarmed by the local ladies in there full Sapa clothing, covered from head to toe in traditional footwear, leg wraps, head gear and baskets, trust me you wont miss them.
Everyone is trying to get a piece of you, screaming, "guesthouse", "trekking," "you want something?" Its is a little much but funny to see. My advice is to get out of the town as soon as possible. Sapa is under quite a lot of construction as the tourism it's receiving is creating much change in the town.
Hop in a taxi or rent a bike and head out of the town, roughly seven kilometers to one of the many wonderful home stays. It is cheaper, more welcoming, no construction workers waking you up with grinders and the views are breathtaking.
Sapa is situated perfectly on the hills. On clear days you can take in the full scale of the mountains towering all around, with the plunging valley helping create a wild scale of just how small you are next to these giants. I was lucky enough to be in Sapa while the sun was out and shining. The clear skies were perfect.
I stayed out of the town in a small place called Miku chill house. It was run by a small family, kids running around, barnyard style rooms, cats and dogs roaming around and a great selection of local food after a long day of trekking. Nothing better than a quiet spot in the hills after a long day.
This was a quick snap I took from my home stay. I got to wake up to this every morning.
Day two in town had me up early, as I lay back taking in the views, sipping on a black coffee, my attention was taken by one of the local ladies. She approached me, her gaze looking both ways, checking that no one was over hearing what she was about to say. I thought she was going to try and sell me something illegal but that was not the case. "You want to go trekking? I do good price for you, don't tell the lady at the front, she get very mad at me." I looked at her, a little shocked about this underground trekking ring that was going on and happily agreed. She tied a classic Sapa bracelet on me, to seal the deal and told me and my friends to meet her around the corner at noon.
As I sat around waiting, I was intrigued and entertained to see the locals washing there clothing and motorbikes in the nearby waterfall. Guess they were saving water, but probably polluting the stream, oh well back to the trekking story.
We headed out into the hillside, the streets turning to gravel roads, green forestation growing all around and the hills becoming quickly steeper. Our guide began taking lead and was soon asking other local ladies to join our group. Two more women joined, and our party of seven became nine.
For some reason I was the only male and the funny thing was, I was the only one to fall on my butt. As we walked through the dense forestation, crossing a narrow dirt path, soaked from last nights rain, I was soon to give the Sapa ladies something to laugh about. One side of the path lead almost straight into a very painful fall, all of the girls hopped through with ease. When I came to cross, my boots slipped from underneath me, I reached for a nearby branch to keep me from falling further down into the valley. The Sapa ladies leaping to help me and quickly had me back on my feet. "Phew that was close," I thought once I regained my footing. I continued on, my very next step and I was back down on the ground, the Sapa ladies were in tears, laughing and helping me at the same time. "You too heavy" they chuckled. Luckily everyone else in my group had already walked on ahead and missed my performance.
As we crossed through the layered rice fields, the ground before us became separated by the ice cold flowing river, giving us a moment to rest, catch a few rays and cool off. My body was covered in mud so I had a moment to clean up in the river.
The more we ventured, the greater altitudes we reached, basking in the views, the sun on our backs the wind cooling our cheeks. Sapa was a natural beauty to behold, the sheer size of the mountainside made me feel so small, humbled and grounded. The greens were like nothing I had ever seen and the shape and size was comparable to nothing.
After a quick lunch we headed for our last leg back, greeting locals and taking in the sunset over the rice fields. The golden sunset began creating hard shadows and turned the already spectacular landscape into something magical. Witnessing the sun create depth and wild composition drove my shooting finger crazy. Once I had my shot I just sat back and took this all in. The greens became yellow and the tips of the fields turned to a honey gold.
As we made it back to town, legs exhausted from six solid hours we felt a great sense of satisfaction. Our tour guide handed us one more bracelet for the road before parting ways. A wonderful end to a great day.
If you ever have the time to make it to the north of Vietnam, Sapa is a must see. There are so many trails you can wander off into. Get lost in the endless rice fields or take a scooter out and soak up the views on the road. A little bit of sun will go a long way here but the weather should do little to deter the adventure seekers.
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