I went to Sapa at the hottest time of summer 2007. I never thought I would put my feet there one day, but I did.
My friends and I packed our stuffs and left Ha Noi behind. Before getting on the train to Lao Cai station, we experienced the way of buying train tickets. I, a Vietnamese, felt ashamed for what they did to passengers. They thought we needed them; without them we could not find any means of transportation to Lao Cai.
Tickets are classified into 2 categories: Vietnamese and foreigners. Of course, the foreigners would pay much more than Vietnamese. Whatever, after staying in a long line, we got tickets which were supposed to be cheap while they were expensive. We got on the train around 9 p.m, passing through Hanoi at night. I hardly looked anything outside because of the window protecting stuffs. It seemed Hanoi was cooler at night. Orange lights were everywhere. The sound of the train made me awake until mid-night. On our cabin, we shared it with some other people who did not have any tickets to get on. They said they were poor so they hided the ticket checker to stay until they reach Lao Cai. There were a lady and a old man. They told us that we should be aware those guys. I felt uncomfortable with a small bed and a dirty pillow.
However, that would be better than sitting on the bus to get to Lao Cai dangerously. I was very happy to make the trip with my two good friends. So, everything on the train would be alright to me.
The train arrived at Lao Cai station at 7.30 am, around 1 hour later than they announced. The bus picked us up at the station and we headed to Sapa town. 45 minutes on car brought me a chance to observe beautiful mountainous sceneries along the street. I took photos on the way, definitely. There is no word to express that natural beauty. It is so different from what I saw before at mountainous places down to the South of Viet Nam. More wild. More peaceful. Cooler. Anyway, I love this place.
We checked-in at one tall hotel near the center of Sapa town, covered by many other hotels and restaurants. Our rooms on the high floor so it can let us see widely around the town. The hotel is ok for me. Rooms were ok, not so good nor so bad. Actually, I need a bed, a bathroom with hot water shower and place to eat in Sapa. I am a backpacker anyway. I should not be so picky. I think, Sapa town would be better if the hotels has the same height. They have just grown as mushrooms after the rain; not in any order. Just a way to destroy the town’s scene.
View from my hotel room on our first day in Sapa
My first impression was ethnic minorities. They wear beautiful clothes. They speak their own languages and the young ones communicate with foreigners very fluently as their own languages which the young ones in other places of Viet Nam hardly do. We got some light and quick breakfast then started to discover the town. The town is pretty small but full of travelers. Somehow, it is not like what I read from the book “Quiet Sapa” – “Lang le Sapa”. So many people make the town more crowded and commercialized. That’s what I do not like there. My first disappointment there was the ethnic people’s behavior when they are taken photos. I know, asking their permission is always required. They did not tell me if they want to or not. They asked for money instead. I was told about this in advance, but still felt very bad.
The good ways to get to know the town is to use your feet and rent a motorbike. The roads were not too bad. We got some small accidents but everything was alright after all. I did not want to stick my ass on the bus. I could not have the open view then. Next time, if I got there, I would rent a scooter (which is the only one I can ride) to wander around again.
The first day, my friends and I walked to the central market and around the town.
Inside the central market in Sapa town
The next day, I got sick; not good at all. My friend tried to help me get better and then we trekked to Cat Cat village together. I did not why I could get my energy back in such a short time. That village is so large and beautiful. We spent more than 2 hours, I guess, to finish our trekking. I observed myself how they do with the stair-shaped rice paddies, how they live in the village. Their life is so simple and pleasant. I really hope that they will not effected by the tourism much even though tourism can make their life better somehow. We went up and down the hills in the village, stood in front of the water fall, got across the hanging bridge, reaching the top of the hill, went through the path which was man-made and small, looked at the local children playing with each other, saw people dying the clothes in dark blue color, and of course enjoyed the completely quiet and peaceful natural atmosphere.
One view in Sapa
In Sapa, I had chances to enjoy different foreign meals; much more than when I was in Ha Noi or Sai Gon. I ate some Indian food ( I love the carry and crepes). At night, Sapa is cooler and more fun. We went to the Love Market which I supposed very fun and more things to enjoy. However, there was nothing. A guy playing his traditional musical instrument which sounded good asked me for money while there were many other people standing around him. What the hell did he think? Meanwhile, on the way back to our hotel, we got the chance to listen to a very good piece of music played by 2 old men. I wish I could record that song. What they did that night was like street performance artist in USA or other places outside Viet Nam. They did not require anything from the audience but we did not want to pass by. They worked so well. They deserved much more than the guy at the Love Market.
The following day we rented motorbike and started to discover the north of Sapa. We headed to the Silver Waterfall and the Heaven Gate which we did not know at first. We just took the motorbikes and went along the street. The sceneries were so gorgeous. My friends were so good drivers. I cannot ride so far. When we arrived the Silver waterfall, there were many vendors and local travelers. We decided not to climb up to the waterfall.
We continued our trip. We just rode and rode. Finally, we reached the Heaven Gate which was so amazing. Besides, when we were there the weather got colder and we did not bring any warm jacket. It was cloudy and foggy and made that place so like the heaven (well, that’s why it was name the heaven gate). We hardly saw anything in front of us in a long distance.
The heaven gate – the highest point that vehicles can reach to
We stopped at the small vendor place along the street where there were 2 ladies selling “com lam”, some hot tea and some cigaret. They were very friendly and talked to us for a while. I hope I can meet them again when I go there. They told us that we should wait for a bit and then we could see a very heavenly picture from the heaven gate. They were so right and we did see that picture. No word to express my feeling at that time. Being with friends in front of such beautiful place, I seemed not require anything else. By the way, “com lam” – sticky rice boiled in the bamboo stick was so good. We ate 2 sticks with some fork. Those ladies were so poor and worked hard for their families. Mainly they sell those stuffs for long distance drivers and some farmers who stop by on the way getting back home.
She was getting the stick rice out from the bamboo stick
Then we got back to Sapa and enjoy the night life there again. If I had not got so sick, we would have got back to Ha Noi 2 days earlier which we could use for Ha Long trip. I was so sick to get my ass out of the hotel.
View from my hotel room on our last day in Sapa
Without my friend’s help, I did not how to get back Ha Noi. Finally, we made it out together. That was my most unforgettable memory in my life. I always wish I could come back there again. Probably at the winter, or summer again. I did not get a chance to spend one home stay night with the local ethnic people to know more about their life.
There are some other places near Chinese-Vietnamese border at the north most part of Viet Name where I love to go one day. The people, their lives, the lifestyle and sceneries are so different from what is around me down here.
Traveling is to discover and learn. The more places I go to, thee more knowledge and experience I earn