Whilst researching what I could do in and around north Vietnam, I read an awful lot about this place Sapa. It apparently has beautiful scenery to enjoy, a culture which is still rich with tradition and the highest peak in Vietnam (Fansipan). I decided that I would spend some time in Sapa but I wasn’t sure what to do. The overwhelming opinion of the internet, and my guidebook, was that I should do some trekking in Sapa. I caved to the peer pressure and decided to trek.
The company I chose to trek with is called Sapa O’Chau. I chose them above cheaper alternatives because they have a school in Sapa which local village children can attend and the profit of their treks goes into maintaining the school. All of their guides are school graduates too so they provide education and employment in the region. I can get behind that.
I took an overnight bus from Hanoi to Sapa which cost me $16 (USD) each way. This is cheaper than the trains and actually gets you to Sapa proper (trains bring you into Lao Cai which is a couple of hours from Sapa by bus). I arrived in Sapa at about 7am so had time to grab some breakfast prior to my 9am trek start time.
I met my guide, Lam, at the Sapa O’Chau cafe at 9 and off we went! Lam had attended the Sapa O’Chau school before becoming a guide for them. She was born and raised very close to the town were I would be spending my homestay so she knew the trails between Sapa and Lao Chai very well.
As we were leaving Sapa, I got a glimpse of what the views were going to be like for my two day adventure.
Absolutely stunning. The trekking was not particularly hard but I would say you need a decent level of fitness in order to undertake it. There’s a lot of steep and slippery sections and you even cross rivers balancing on stones at some points. Here’s one of them,
Yes, I crossed that. I didn’t fall in and I’m terribly proud of myself. There was also good amounts of balancing on thin ledges done. Most of the ledges were separators between different level of rice terraces. The views as I walked were just breathtaking. I could have taken a photo a second but, you have to draw the line somewhere. I actively limited myself to photographing only the ‘extra’ beautiful like these watered rice terraces.
Lam explained as we walked that the families in this area do not sell the rice they grow. They keep it for themselves and their families. They do have other things growing and animals breeding for trade. I saw ducks, chickens, black pigs, pink pigs, buffalo, hemp plants, plants used to dye cloth black, plants used for pig feed and all manner of other income generating produce.
Lam explained that the terraces are normally family owned. One family will have tended a terrace for generations and tending the terraces seems like jolly tough work. They have to be prepared before rice can be planted. As the rice grows, it needs to be moved from terrace to terrace until it can be harvested. Each rice crop is a two to three month process of constant planting and picking.
I stayed in a village called Lao Chai for the evening with my host, Mai, and her 3 children. She was incredibly gracious and cooked enough food for an army. I thoroughly enjoys my evening but the trekking had left me more tired than expected so I got to bed very early and slept like a log.
The next day brought more trekking and more beautiful scenery.
The weather held out both days and was blisfully overcast on day two. With the clouds blocking the sun and the wind blowing, almost, a gale, the trekking on day two felt easier. I could feel all my leg muscles. I concluded that I have become hideously unfit since moving to Hong Kong and that I will do something about it once I’m settled again. The things you get to look at as you trek more than make up for the leg pain though.
We finished our second day at about 2pm which meant I had a few hours to explore Sapa itself before my bus back to Hanoi at 6pm. I wandered around and looked through the market in town for a while before simply retreating to a bar for a well deserved beer.
Sapa is a beautiful part of Vietnam. I’m just waiting for some of my friends to suggest climbing Fansipan so I can go back.