Sapa

10 Nov

Normally, I like to start my blog posts with a bit of history and banter but honestly, Sapa was too gorgeous for that. Instead, we’ll start with a few of my favorite photos.

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Our  journey to Sapa from Hanoi was an adventure all on its own because we traveled in style on a “luxury” overnight train. I had taken overnight trains in Europe, but had no idea how trains in Vietnam might compare. For Orestes, Sean, and IMG_9025-2Shorna, sleeping on a train was all brand new. Clearly, we had to take a team selfie while squeezed into our cabin, and share a few local beers to commemorate the occasion. Afterwards, the short ladies ended up with the top bunks while O and Sean luxuriated below. Eight hours of swaying and rocking later we arrived in the town of Lao Cai to catch our minivan to Sapa.

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There’s something about having mountains on all sides that always makes me happy. It must be my Vermont roots showing; I feel more comfortable and content when the skyline is filled with mountain peaks and I’m safely tucked away in a valley. Of my top five places we’ve traveled to in Asia, three of them involve mountains, and Sapa is definitely part of that list. Before tourists, Sapa was a sleepy little town, and a former hill station for the French. Present-day Sapa exists mostly to cater to backpackers, although its cobblestone streets and mountain views are lovely.

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The real draw of Sapa is the surrounding countryside. The mountains rise up quite dramatically and are often hidden in the clouds. Seemingly every inch of available land has been terraced for rice paddies or other crops. That much agriculture should seem obtrusive, but the way the terraces follow the flow of the land prevents that. The terraces curve with each bend of the hillside, interspersed with groves of pine and bamboo. The overall visual effect is stunning, and hard to capture on film (not that I didn’t try). The majority of the people around Sapa belong to various hill tribe groups, mostly from the Black Hmong or Red Dao tribes. Their villages are scattered around the valley, and add a touch of color to the otherwise green and yellow landscape. The women of the tribes in particular still wear their traditional dress, and their clothes are ornate and colorful, with jingly silver accessories.

After a day of relaxation in Sapa, we headed into the hills for a two-day trek with Sapa Sisters, an organization that helps Hmong ladies find gainful employment while sharing their culture. Our guide, Tung, was fabulous. She knew all the hidden paths, and the good photo ops, IMG_9238and she spent her free time teasing Sean with a faux British accent. We hiked down to the village of Lao Chai, followed by an entourage of Hmong ladies hoping to sell us knickknacks. Apparently this is standard procedure as we did not see a single trekker without at least one lady attached. They insisted on helping us over rocks and branches, which was alternately helpful and annoying. When we paused for lunch, we were given the hard sell until they finally gave up on us and wandered off. Post-lunch, sans entourage, we headed back up into the hills for several more hours of sweating, stunning views, and watching Sean attempt to catch piglets for dinner.

We spent the night with several other trekkers in a home stay run by a lovely Hmong family. It was super peaceful after the touristy vibe of Sapa, and quite chilly as well! Bundling up in a fleece is novelty that feels delightful. Dinner brought a homemade brew of “happy water” served up in repurposed water
bottles, and the discovery that the card game alternately known as Capitalism, President, or Asshole IMG_9465(depending on who you ask) can span cultures, whether one is American, Spanish, Danish, or Hmong.

The following morning was misty as only a mountain morning can be. We wandered along terraces, enjoying the cooler air the misty weather brought. We passed through the village of Giang Ta Chai, where I snapped pics of the local elementary school (check out the yellow building below) before hiking up to the main road where lunch and a ride back to Sapa awaited us. Here’s our final group selfie with Tung. 🙂

And finally, the photos. I swear I weeded! It was so beautiful I couldn’t stop myself.

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One Response to “Sapa”

  1. Corky November 19, 2015 at 2:27 am #

    Thank you Darcy for continuing to share your adventures and showing us here in Vermont that there really are other places besides Vermont that are the most beautiful places on earth!

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