*** All images taken with Fuji X-Pro 1 and 35mm f1.4 lens ***
From Hue I backtracked to Danang to catch a one hour flight to Hanoi. For USD100 this was a far more comfortable option than the 15 hour overnight train or bus. Hanoi was my base to get to Sapa and also out to Halong Bay, so I was in and out of this city a few times and I'll do a separate post on Hanoi later.
It's not possible to escape an overnight train journey in Vietnam it seems. I was considering the day train so I could see some scenery, but apparently there's not much to see and it's a poorer quality and slower train, so it was an easy decision to take the more popular option of overnight. It was a 9 hour bouncy noisy trip to Lao Cai, which is close to the Chinese border, then a short bus trip to Sapa itself. The mini bus touts at Lao Cai are pretty unscrupulous with their attempt to rip off unsuspecting tourists trying to get to Sapa independently. The real price is 50,000 Dong, yet they try to make the tourists pay 300,000 Dong. Before the wheels even stop on the train they jump on board to round up sleepy naive tourists. Fortunately I knew the price to pay so held my ground...but it was a force of wills believe me.
Sapa is in the north western area of Vietnam and is the most accessible town to use as a base to go trekking to visit some of the ethnic minority villages. (There are 52 known ethnic minority groups in Vietnam). I chose a homestay option for the first three nights so I could experience village life up close, although my family were living in a modern style house so I didn't have to sleep with the corn and chickens! We had the obligatory dawn chorus of roosters though :)
I was staying in a Black H'Mong village, and there was a Red Dzao village nearby. The village was close enough to Sapa to trek there in fours hours, and I had an escort of three Red Dzao ladies the whole way. This is their marketing tactic. They get a ride into town in the morning, then follow the groups of trekking tourists on the route back to their village. They chat nicely along the way and gently suggest that perhaps you could have a look at their wares when we get to the homestay. It's a little passive aggressive...but it must work as they persist with it. While the Red Dzao ladies have the trekking trails sewn up, the Black H'Mong ladies work the streets of Sapa. It definitely gets tiring pretty quickly to have to continually turn down their offers to buy their embroidery and jewellery. This was definitely the down side to visiting this area...I wish they weren't quite so pushy.
Fortunately the weather was great for the first couple of days so I was able to do some exploring around the area and get some non-rainy scenery and village life pictures. Unfortunately that all changed on the third day after a huge thunderstorm rolled in the night before and brought with it two days of soaking rain. There's not much to do in the village when it's raining like that, so I moved back into Sapa town to wait it out.
I quite liked Sapa town. It's up high and was often cloaked by clouds that gave it a misty mythical feel...and more importantly it was cool. It was such a welcome break from the sweltering tropical heat. With the ethnic villagers walking around, the central market as the heartbeat, and the tourist shops and restaurants lining the streets, it felt like a miniature Cusco (Peru), or like some of the hill towns in Bolivia, Ecuador or Mexico. There's just more rice than potatoes here! There's still plenty of maize though.
I took a lot of pictures in this area, so sit back and enjoy the slideshow. There's plenty of rice terrace scenery, bare bottomed grubby children, and tobacco bong smoking!
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