Sa Pa was not in my travel plans. A few friends had recommended it to me, but I wasn’t too interested and I couldn’t fit it into my itinerary anyway. My plans for the north of Vietnam included Ninh Binh, Ha Long Bay and Hanoi.
Then Ha Long Bay lost the battle. And on my third day in Hanoi I booked a trekking tour to Sa Pa. Departure the following night.
Best decision ever!
Sa Pa is a mountain town in northern Vietnam, very touristic but also very pretty. A prettier version of Da Lat in my opinion. Perched on the edge of a mountain, it is very popular also because the surrounding villages are inhabited by ethnic minorities: the majority of the minority people in Vietnam live in the Sa Pa region.
Organised trekking tours bring hundreds of tourists to Sa Pa everyday, arriving in the morning from Hanoi by bus or by train (overnight journeys). My tour was a 2-day/3-night one, with one night in hotel. I chose not to do the homestay for logistic reasons, but it would have been interesting.
We did two treks: on the first day our Black HMong (one of the minority groups) female guide took us to see two villages, Lao Chai and Ta Van. The 12-Km trek was classified as “easy” but it still involved climbing steep paths on the edge of the mountain.
In the blazing sun it wasn’t always fun. But the views were amazing: terraced rice fields, water buffalos, mountains everywhere.
All this as we walked surrounded by local women in their beautiful and colourful costumes. Dozens of them tagged along as several groups of us tourists followed our guides. Talking to them was really interesting, they all speak very good English and were all very chatty. These women were all in their early twenties, and most of them carried a baby on their back. They told us that they get married very early, usually around 18-19 years old, and then stay at home or work in the rice fields or join the walks with the tourists when they have time. Their final aim was to dive in during our lunch break and try to sell us handicrafts of any sorts, and unfortunately some are quite aggressive when you refuse to buy…
On our second day we went to a village (Cat Cat) just outside Sa Pa, a much shorter trek that took us first to the Cat Cat waterfalls then up and down a mountain to enjoy some more stunning views. There was also a relaxing moment when we sat with our guide who taught us how to make some ‘souvenirs’ using plants :-).
I would love to go back to Sa Pa and do longer treks, and homestay too!
And here are more photos of Sa Pa and its ethnic minorities.