Vietnam: Sapa

Catching a night train in any country is always an adventure.

However, in Vietnam they are something special. With a lack of stabilisers and young Vietnamese who aren’t that keen on sleeping, our trip to Sapa saw little sleep and lots of tossing and turning.

Mum had done some forward thinking and booked a tour, meaning when we arrived weary and delirious at the station a driver was there to pick us up.

Despite being dropped to the wrong hotel, we eventually found our room and guide. There was no time for the wicked, as our tour guide Huang led us straight to the Love waterfall.

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It was just a little misty….

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Unfortunately, a typhoon had hit the region a few months prior, leaving much of the flora destroyed. But it didn’t detract from its awesomeness.

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After some well-needed R and R, it was time for our first foray into the areas that Sapa is best known for. Rice paddies.

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Lai Chau and Ta Van are two regional villages occupied by ethnic minorities. The black Hmong people emigrated from China thousands of years ago,  and have lived fairly sparsely ever since.

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The people make their money growing rice and producing handicrafts to sell.

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Their villages are sparse, but they have access to a surprising number of technologies. For example, in the uppermost hills, there are still telephone lines and satellite dishes. Our guide was having a good ol’ chat on his mobile while we stopped for refreshments!

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Exhausted after our long day, we made our way back to town and rewarded ourselves with massages. I went for a head, shoulders and back massage and can gladly say it was one of the best I’d had. I wouldn’t have called it relaxing though, with the small Vietnamese woman ironing out all my knots and cracks with force!

Mum and Dad both went for a pedicure to heal their weary feet after lots of walking!

But that was only the beginning.

The next day we rose early to start a 15km walk to the villages of Ma Tra and Ta Phin. Again, they are populated by ethnic minorities who lead fairly simple lives.

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In the middle of the walk we stopped at a small store at the top of the mountains for a coffee.

Vietnamese coffee is brewed slightly differently to what we do at home. Ground coffee is put in this mini-percolator and the coffee drips down. It’s super strong, and so is diluted with condensed milk. I loved it!

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Mum went for a lemon and ginger tea.

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On the way back we visited a salmon farm. The water travels from the top of the mountain ranges into the large dams where the salmon are bred. They are then farmed and sent to bigger cities for sale.

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The early rise meant we finished the walk around lunch time, so headed straight for Red Camelia, a restaurant on the main street.

We had the afternoon ‘free’ and so took the time to have a better explore of the town of Sapa. Like most Vietnamese towns, they have a local market.

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However, time was short and it wasn’t long before we were on our way to Lao Cai, the gateway to Sapa and location of the train station. After a lengthy wait at a restaurant, we finally boarded and made our way back to Hanoi.

Note: The tour we went on was through ATP tours and while our tour guide was excellent, I wouldn’t recommend them. They were unorganised and ineffective at communicating. We were initially taken to the wrong hotel, and then told we were doing a different itinerary to what had been advertised. Luckily, we had a copy on us and were able to rectify the situation. There were also long periods of waiting, despite it being a private tour and they failed to tell us all meals would be a set menu – unfortunate if you don’t like what’s put in front of you. If possible, I’d look elsewhere!

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