Monday, July 28, 2014

Surreal experience in Sapa, Vietnam

By Asha and Ryan
Sapa – or more accurately, the mountainous countryside around Sapa – is the most stunningly beautiful place we have been since leaving the islands of Thailand’s Krabi provence a few months ago. On this point, Asha and I both agree.

To get to Sapa we took an overnight sleeper train (our favourite mode of transportation) from Hanoi to the border town of Lao Cai, however a bone rattling fever made the trip pretty awful and sleep hard to come by for me. Our hotel (Hanoi Guesthouse – probably the best place we have stayed this year, i think they will get their own post on here later) were incredibly helpful, booking our train tickets, calling out next hotel to organise our pickup at the other end, organising a taxi to the train station and even sending someone from the hotel on motorbike behind our taxi to make sure we got on the right train. In a place like Hanoi, where travelling can be a bit of a headache at times, having this kind of service is just fantastic.

Sapa, Vietnam

From Lao Cai it was only one hour by bus to Sapa, a trip that revealed to us just how mesmerising the scenery in this part of Vietnam is. The region is full of soaring peaks and steep valleys, with terraced fields, rice paddies and thatched roofed villages turning the region (as Asha said) into something out of a National Geographic magazine. Add women in traditional dress (usually chasing you down to sell you their handicrafts), snotty nosed kids and families planting rice across the valley, and yeah, you get the picture.

Sapa is a tourist town high in the mountains, close Fansipan (Vietnam’s highest peak), and it immediately felt very different from everywhere else we had been in South-east Asia. The temperatures in Sapa are much lower than everywhere else, with winter temperatures often dropping below freezing and snow even falls from time to time. But its summer now, and we were blessed with some gorgeous sunny afternoons and a cool breeze, although at time clouds did sweep in and blanket the town white.

In Sapa it felt like the heat and humidity that had clung to our skin and clothes for the last 3 months had finally dropped away, and the fresh mountain air had our spirits soaring (after my fever had passed).

Travel Sapa, Vietnam

Our hotel was more akin to a mountain chalet, with open fireplaces in each room and wood paneling. The landing in front of our room overlooked the huge valley and distant peaks, but a box of kittens living in the woodshed behind our room was of far more interest to Asha, who was constantly sneaking out to check on them and win the trust of the mother. “She trusts me, I am one of them now”

Apart from gazing at the view and watching endless activity going on in the terraced fields and paddies below and above us, the only real activities we did in Sapa were trekking (well, walking really, but trekking sounds way better) to Cat Cat Village, and doing a Vietnamese cooking course.

The trekking Sapa took a few hours, and it was great to get out and into the countryside, to walk through villages and fields and see people going about their day to day. The return journey however was a bit more difficult, as it didn’t seem to register on the first leg that the return would be all uphill, and all steep. But some strenuous exercise, lungfuls of cool mountain air and a much needed release of endorphins had us pretty content that afternoon, and watching the hawks win in the late afternoon .

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