I have always been a country girl, regardless of continent. If I have not seen the countryside I do not feel that I have seen the true country. This definitely applies to Sapa and Vietnam. Although other tourists have found this gem, it is one of the few places where you have to use little imagination to understand what Vietnam used to be.
Hanoi and the “overnight sleeper”
Our adventure starts after an intense day seeing Hanoi’s Museum of Ethnology where we began to understand the Northern hill tribes that we’d be visiting, followed by an afternoon taking a cooking class which included some spicy regional treats! That evening instead of going back to our hotel we excitedly headed for Hanoi’s central train station where we boarded our “overnight sleeper”. Although this was certainly more adventurous that the rest of our small group tour passengers don’t have to do without our creature comforts. On board you’ll find pillows, a duvet, full air con and even a TV (although this showed mostly Vietnamese favourites). During the journey I slept like a baby, I put this down to the gentle hum and rocking of the train.
At 5.15 we got a firm knock on our cabin door letting us know we were now only 15mins for the Sapa station. Weary eyed but excited, the sun was just coming up and the fog was clearing. As the light increased we could see the start of the lush landscape, palm trees and rice fields for which this epic region of Vietnam is famed!
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First local encounter
On arrival to the Bamboo Hotel our minds were set on jumping in the shower as and freshening up. However, the breathtaking views from the Hotel’s French style balcony distracted the entire group and we spent as least half an hour picture taking and soaking up the scenery! Once we were all watered and fed we had a chance to explore the town. Walking through the town we chatted and bartered with the beautiful local hill tribe Black Hmong ladies. Altough adhering to strict customs these ladies are savvy entrepreneurs: the key is to stay strong and promise them nothing, they will not forget if you do! No matter where you go, more than anything the locals are always interested in you and they are always keen to practice their English.
Rice terraces and local portraits
Our local guide in Sapa was fantastic, his depth of knowledge and English were second to none, but more than that he tailored our trip to the group’s requirements. Taking one look at us, he decided that we could handle a more “adventurous” trek, and so took us down a mountain lane which opened up into the most stunning valley. What started out as a gentle amble down a rocky road (like the trek in the original itinerary) soon turned into hopping over idyllic little streams and getting to take in the views from the edge of working padi fields. Elsewhere we visited a local village that felt a world away from much of modern Vietnam. We sat and watched as local kids played in streams, the locals diligently went about their daily routines and many of the village elders gazed at our camera’s with innocent curiosity. We were a little worried by the language barrier but fear not! I found after asking their permission for a photo through some improvised sign was dead easy and my now local friends were always flattered and impressed by seeing their faces on LCD!
Read more: Travelling Sapa Experience (Part 2)
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