Once you land in the capital city of Vietnam, Hanoi, you get mesmerised by the sheer vibrancy of the country. Although if you’re looking for a peaceful getaway, this city won’t make the cut. That’s where Sapa comes in. This mountain region, six hours away from Hanoi, will be the respite you need. By Japleen Kaur
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Sa Pa, endless rice fields, true culture and so much more!🌱 This region is one of the spectacular highlights of northern Vietnam 🇻🇳 A drone shot was needed to give a good overview of the largeness 👀😅 Can you imagine walking in these fields and not getting lost?🤫 📸 by @hetisdemerckx & @lesleystraveldiary #tuitours #mytuimoment #vietnam
Living in Himachal Pradesh, I had no plans of visiting a hilly valley on my vacation as well. But Abhinav, my travel partner, insisted we do so. So, here is everything we saw, explored and conquered!
We chose a sleeper bus to travel to the mystic rice paddy fields of Sapa. Two week prior to the trip, we ventured deep into the web, vetted out all the reviews, and finally booked from the company Sao Viet on Bookaway. It costed us VND 2,28,400, which, when converted, comes up to INR 700 per person. Yup, it’s a steal, and the country will definitely make you feel rich!
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Hidden in the clouds among the soaring Tonkinese Alps, the small hill station of Sapa offers a gateway to one of the most exquisite regions in southeast Asia. #WayfairerTravel⠀ ⠀ As you break through the fog, you’ll discover the rolling green Hoàng Liên Son Mountains plunging into the Muong Hoa Valley, covered in a patchwork of glistening emerald rice terraces.⠀ ⠀ We recommend doing a 3-day trek between the villages to soak up the awe-inspiring scenery, and catch a glimpse of traditional culture of the H'mong and Dao hill tribe villages. ⠀ ⠀ If trekking isn’t for you, you can still explore the most beautiful spots with day trips in a vehicle.
Compared to the buses we have in India, this one was smaller, and hence slightly uncomfortable. The gorgeous view of the farmlands, however, compensated for it. We were dropped off at the town square, a place that resembled the mall road of Manali, but with cuter Christmas vibes enveloping the area. With that, our Sapa adventure had officially begun!
Living With The Hmong Tribe
Instead of staying at a hotel in the main area, we decided to head towards a remote village 45-minutes away, where inhabitants of the Hmong tribe live. The Hmong tribe are locals of the valley who rarely understand Vietnamese, and speak a different language altogether. Luckily for us, our homestay owner Surelee had studied tourism and knew English well enough to communicate.
Wooden cottages lined the rice fields, each higher than the other. A family dinner was cooked every night — an event I looked forward to every day! The meal comprised of beans, potatoes, pork, chicken, garlic soup cooked with a whole lot of lemongrass followed by shots of rice wine. If you think tequila is potent, you’ll find your throat burning with this drink. Even then, it was worth trying.
Spending a few days with the Hmong family, and being away from commercialisation, became the highlight of our Sapa leg of the journey. And I’m sure, it’ll be for you too!
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The Little Things*: our six-year-old hostess sharing her candy, the fog lifting enough for us to see farther along the road, breaking bread with a doggy friend who has one floppy ear, some horsey friends grazing in a rice terrace, catching some water buffalo enjoying the view of a waterfall, a fire to sit by, dogs that don’t growl at you, warmth from $25 knock-off North Face jackets, abundant invitations to drink more rice wine together. *not a comprehensive list. #mapify #keepexploring
Sapa’s treks are specifically mapped out for adventure lovers. You can choose to either hike around the fields allowing wild hens to cross your muddy paths as you stare at the beautiful views, or you can even choose to hire a local guide to lead you through a specific route.
The bamboo trek takes you through a spectacular bamboo forest. Not only is it great for pictures, but it is great for the soul, too. On the other hand, the Hmong trek takes you to the more remote parts like the Sin Chai village. A local tribe lives here, which gives you a chance to witness their daily routine. There are indigo dyeing workshops along the way, letting you get your hands dirty.
The Fansipan trek is a four-day long route, which is best suited for professional trekkers. While on this path, one can see the highest peak of the country, which beautifully stands tall. However, if you wish, you can even reach the top via a cable car — like most tourists do. Fair warning, though. It can get extremely crowded.
Make Way For The Waterfalls
Next, we visited the famous waterfalls — the Silver Waterfall, and the Love Waterfall. Both of them were stunning, to say the least.
Love Waterfall gets its name from a legend wherein a fairy falls in love with a young flute-playing boy near the waterfall. Forbidden to meet the boy by her family, the fairy turned into a bird to ascertain her love for eternity.
If you want a glimpse of other lesser-known waterfalls, keep driving ahead of the Silver Waterfall during monsoon. While driving might get risky, the sight is joyous as you’ll witness many waterfalls along the road itself.
Beyond Cat Cat Village
Cat Cat Village is a region authorised by the tourism department, and therefore one requires an entry fees to explore. At Cat Cat Village, there is a local market selling bamboo bags, items made of jute, indigo-dyed clothes, and more. The walk itself has many points of interest which finally end at a pond lined with flimsy bamboo bridges — a popular spot for pre-wedding shoots. A 15-minute walk away from the bustling area are layers of green fields and valleys. On reaching, there was nothing but a thunderous sky looking over us.
The town square is definitely where all the action takes place. When here, head to the many cafes to indulge in some delicious food, and drown yourself in coffee. I would recommend Le Gecko, a cafe run by three sisters. Next, take a stroll around the lake there which is lit up at night. The town square even has street vendors that sell barbecue meats, an absolute delight for non-vegetarians. The British-inspired train station here has to become a part of your phone gallery!
Here are a few tips to make your Sapa trip a memorable one:
- Hire a scooter or bike if you’re an experienced rider. It is the best way to unearth the country’s hidden gems.
- Wear comfortable shoes — there is a lot of walking involved.
- Have lots and lots of coconut coffee. Oh wait, that applies to the whole of Vietnam!