After we had our fill of chaotic Hanoi, we bought a bus ticket and made our way 195 miles north-west to Sa Pa; a town in the highest valleys in Vietnam surrounded by the Hoàng Liên Son mountain range (eastern edge of the Himilayas). At this point, we were only about 18 miles from the Chinese border. Sa Pa is a market town surrounded by several tribal communities, such as the Hmong, Dao, Giáy, Pho Lu, and Tay.
The highlight of our time in Sa Pa was a two-day trek we did through the region. We left our hostel in the morning and met our guide who was a local girl from the Hmong tribe. She took us from the center of the bustling town straight up into the rice paddies that surrounded us. We walked about six miles through beautiful surroundings while learning about what it is like to live in the region. The local girls showed us how they used indigo leaves to dye their clothes, what plants were grown (lots and lots of rice!), and what animals to look out for. We saw several water buffalo, some pretty big spiders, but luckily no snakes…! Around lunch time, all of the local women who were walking with us suddenly surrounded me and the other girl in our group, trying to sell us purses, clothes, and jewellery. It was such an experience—I’ve never had so many people vying for my attention at the same time. After a lot of haggling, I bought one handmade purse and was finally left to eat my lunch in peace!
We then hiked for a few more miles before we arrived at our homestay for the night, where we met the local family putting us up for the night. There was a group of seven of us staying in the loft of their home, which basically felt like a big adult slumber party. Looking out from the porch of the homestay we could see a vast valley filled with rice paddies and other homes and villages. The family had their own water buffalo roaming around, chickens clucking all throughout the night, and our favorite part: an adorable puppy and his parents.
The next day we got up to watch a very peaceful sunrise and then walked about eight miles back into Sa Pa on a different route that we absolutely loved. This walk included more ladies trying to sell us handmade items (they gave up on us a mile in!), a trek through a bamboo forest, jumping over a river, walking on the tiny ledges of the rice paddies, and seeing more village life. The trek was a great experience as it really pushed us into a completely different culture and we learned so much—the beautiful surroundings were an added bonus!
It was a great region to explore and soak up. The most disappointing part of Sa Pa was the pollution throughout the valley (common theme we were finding in SE Asia…), which made us cough. Oh, and the food was below average on the whole—think soggy vegetables and “meh” chicken. However, this was made up for by the friendly people, loads of puppies, and the unfamiliar simpler way of life we got to experience.