Beautiful Sapa

May 2nd, 2007

Still in Vietnam, and just got back from 10 beautiful days in Sapa. Mmmmm… Sapa. It’s a small town in the mountains north of Hanoi, and a must for anybody who goes to Vietnam – unless you hate mountains, fresh air, relaxed atmosphere, and colorful locals. We spent our days hiking around the hills and mountains, visiting waterfalls, renting moto-bikes and seeing the countryside, as well as sitting around inside reading on a few cloudy and rainy days. Yes, the weather was not perfect – but close. The people were great, too, except for the the “you buy from me?” we got from many local villagers who hang out on the street, in front of hotels and bars, trying to sell jewelry, arts, and crafts. Also, the food was not terrible, but definitely not great anywhere in sapa. But it has the cleanest air in vietnam, and definitely the best scenery. You really have to check out my flickr pictures tagged with Sapa to get a feel for it.

We didn’t plan on 10 days – we just happen to get up there before a big holiday weekend. April 30 is Liberation Day in Vietnam, where they were liberated from the Americans in 1975 (end of Vietnam war). The whole country gets 5 or 6 days off (maybe Thursday, and Friday-Tuesday), and everybody heads to the beach or to the mountains. When i asked vietnamese about the holidays, most didn’t really know what the holiday was for. I guess many americans don’t know labor day from memorial day – they are all just holidays.

The overnight train ride back to Hanoi was booked till after all those crazy kids left (i say crazy cuz all the male vietnamese were drunk the entire weekend) which made us do a 3 day 2 night homestay tour. And we’re both really glad we did – it was one of the most interesting parts of my entire trip. First night was in Ta Van, about 13km from Sapa down river, and the next night was another 15km or so down in a village called Ban Ho. They were 3 types of village people we saw, the H’mong, the Red Zao, and the Zai (not sure spelling). Most were H’mong, and i ended up buying a H’mong vest and pants. Our guide was On-Shee, a 17 year old H’mong girl who spoke quite good english (no education, just talking to tourists). Our homestay dinners were also the best food i’ve had in vietnam – 10-15 people sitting around 6-8 different dishes, all you can eat. Awww yeah. And the houses and beds were not that bad. Our view from our room at the Cat Cat Hotel was the best view in all of sapa, though. Definitely stay at that hotel if you’re going to make it to Sapa (thanks to Croan for tha tip).

Before Sapa we spent our time going up the coast of Vietnam. That was also quite nice. We were only in Saigon (HCMC, Ho Chi Minh City) for a couple days, then we spent 4 days in Mui Ne, a really nice beach town. We didn’t do much there, its a one road town with some nice resorts – just ate well, sat on the beach, swam a little bit, and relaxed. One hotel had a nice pool right by the water with the fastest wifi i’ve had in Asia. I love uploading pics, and i totally caught up there. Sihanoukville in Cambodia was the first time i got to chill, but not till Mui Ne did i felt like i caught up on my need to chill. Ya feel me?

After Mui Ne we spent 3 days in Hoi An, an old colonial city in central Vietnam. Yes, we skipped the beach town of Nha Trang – not interested in another semi-big city or snorkeling. Hoi An is known for good food, cheap, custom clothes, and colonial architecture. The city was a major trading stop between China and India/Europe for centuries. But the river is shallow, and about a hundred years ago the boats became too big to navigate the shallow river. As a result, Danang (just 100k north) became the trading city, and Hoi An froze in time. Shayna and i both bought some clothes here – i got a wool coat and she got a nice dress, shirt, and coat. All custom made for like $10 to $30. After Hoi An we worked our way to Hanoi, stopping for less than a day in Hue, which was quite nice. Saw the old citadel, an old pagoda, and got a better feel for some old school Vietnamese culture. We were only in Hanoi for a day before taking the night train to sapa. Ahhhh… Sa Pa … (every syl la bull is its own word here).

Tomorrow we do the famous Halong Bay, then Saturday we’re flying to Laos (Vientiene). We’ll prolly spend 2 weeks in Laos, then a week in Thailand before Shayna heads back to the good ol’ USA. Then i’ll prolly kick it in Thailand another week or two before India.

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