Our journey continues in the mountains, going west to Sapa, very popular touristic town in northern Vietnam.
We leave the beautiful region of Ha Giang late morning with a bus to Lao Cai, road junction to reach Sapa, where we arrive around 5.30pm.
HOW TO REACH SA PA?
Most of backpackers reach Sapa from Hanoi, stopping over at the Chinese border city of Lao Cai. If you are not driving yourself by motorbike, you have 2 valid cheap alternatives:
- by train, preferably a sleeper train from Hanoi to Lao Cai, about 6-hour long, followed by a 1-hour bus ride to Sapa. You can easily book your train ticket on Baolau.vn with any foreign credit card, print your ticket or just show it on your phone when you board the train;
- by bus, a straight little bit longer bus trip from Hanoi to Sapa, which normally takes between 6 and 8 hours, depending on traffic and delays. Book your bus ticket to Sapa here on Baolau.vn and secure your journey.
Coming from Ha Giang to Lao Cai, we had read about a more convenient local bus to Sapa, instead of private minivans; so we walk to the train station with two Vietnamese guys going back to Hanoi, and we wait for the bus at the bus station in front of it. A man approaches and tries to convince us to get on his minivan, saying that the local bus will not show up. We resist and the bus n.2 to Sa Pa finally arrives, for 30.000vnd (instead of the 60.000 the harassing driver asked us).
The city welcomes us in the dark and there’s a cool air we haven’t felt for long time. The road from Lao Cai to Sapa should be panoramic but coming late we cannot see that much. One hour driving and we are at 1500m of altitude. We settle in our room in one of the many hotels in the town of Sapa.
The city centre strikes us immediately with its lake, the amphitheatre square and the steep streets full of restaurants and handicraft shops. It reminds us of the mountain villages back home, if it wasn’t for the H’mong women and children in colorful traditional dresses selling their products. In this area there are many ethnic groups that, isolated in the mountains, try to preserve their traditions and customs. The main ethnic groups are the black H’mong (with black hats) and the red Dzao (whose women are used to shave off their hair from their forehead and wear red hats as standard of beauty). Considered the huge number of visitors in Sapa, these minority groups live thanks to tourism and for this reason the city is crowded of women and mostly children trying to sell handicrafts and clothes.
Actually the colours and textures of their clothes easily draw your eye, and we often stop to admire clothes, hats, and jewels typical of their culture. Another thing that at the beginning shocks us is seeing 10-year children speaking a perfect English: we understand knowing the language is the only way to communicate with tourists and earn money to live, but after months in Vietnam where talking to locals in English was a luxury, it’s impressive doing it so easily in villages isolated in the mountains.
The day after we understand how lucky we’ve been the first night here, cool but dry; the two days spent in Sapa have been humid and wet. Between a downpour and another, we manage to visit the Cat Cat village, the closest one to the town.
A steep 2-km road leads us to the entrance and from there we follow a loop that crosses a small village where it’s possible to enter some typical H’mong houses, see some of their activities and of course buy some small objects. The simplicity of their houses is disarming: sheds with a few naked rooms, bare soil pavement, a pot on a small fire, a fridge and some cots to sleep. And yet no embarrassment in their smiles, rather a lot of dignity.
We hike down the hill to a nice waterfall, close to an old hydroelectric plant with big windmills, to then proceed up towards Sapa.
Unfortunately the weather is not the best and days here have been more a break to recover from the long hours by motorbike and buses of the last days. Cold and sick of the non-stop rain, we jump on a sleeper bus leading to Dien Bien Phu, from where we’ll catch the bus to cross the Lao border.