Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Stunning Sapa

Annyeong old friends,

I've recently been working on planning an upcoming trip and it's made me think quite a lot about past travels and this unfinished blog. It's nearly 11 months after my trip to Vietnam and I really never had a chance to finish writing about my time in this beautiful country. This is mostly a testament to just how crazy busy this school year was, but now that it's summer vacation I think it's (finally) time to give this blog the proper finish it deserves.

Following our trip to Ha Long Bay we didn't have much time to rest because we got back to Hanoi around 6:00 and had to leave for the train station around 7:00 for our trip to Sapa. Luckily, our hotel was awesome and let us take a shower between our trips. They even got us sandwiches so we could have something to eat before getting on the train (Golden Charm Hotel, people! They are the best!)

Sapa is in the northern part of Vietnam, up near the border with China. It's famous for the stunning views, but it requires a long train ride to get up there from Hanoi. We opted for the overnight train,  which left around 8:15 PM and arrived around 4:30 AM. I had a surprisingly decent sleep given the inherent discomfort of overnight trains, but when we arrived at 4:30 getting up and out into the dark was about the last thing I wanted to do.

We had to wait around a while until they had found everyone who was coming in our van-we still had an hour ride to get to Sapa ahead of us. After they got us all crammed into a van, we began the twisty ride up the mountains of northern Vietnam. The views were absolutely beautiful on the way up, as there were clouds on the mountains and the sun was rising over them. Since we were up so high above the clouds we had a pretty incredible sight to look at during our ride, or at least for the parts we managed to stay awake during. One of my regrets is that I wasn't able to snap a photo of this ride, but it will remain in my mind as one of the most beautiful sights from my time traveling.

Finally around 6 AM we arrived at our hotel. There weren't any rooms available for us yet, but they thankfully had some showers that they have available for the early arrivers. After showering we had breakfast with quite the breathtaking view. Although I had only been in Sapa for a few hours, I was already in love.

It's no secret that I love views of mountains. Sapa's mountains were probably the most beautiful I've ever seen.

After we finished breakfast we headed back downstairs to meet up with the other people in our trecking tour. Our tour guide was a local young woman from one of Sapa's villages. She was so full of energy and had an awesome sense of humor, so I knew we were in for a good day. 

In case our luck in hitting the perfect weather in Ha Long Bay hadn't been enough, we had once again hit the jackpot in Sapa. In the days before our arrival there had been downpours in Sapa, but during our time trecking we had nothing but sunny, blue skies. 

It seemed the views along our tour kept getting better and better. Sapa is full of rice terraces along its steep mountains, and during this time of year they are as green as can be. 

Our tour guide and some of the locals

Some of the local women made these hearts for us during one of our breaks along the way

We continued walking until about 12:30, when we stopped for lunch. At this point all of the local women started trying to sell us stuff, as I pretty much expected would happen. 

After lunch we continued walking through a small village and we saw how they prepare rice. It was amazing to see how much work goes into preparing food on a daily basis in small villages like this. It really makes you think about how easy we have it when we can just go to the grocery store and buy food-it certainly isn't the reality for many people in the world. 

Our tour ended at about 2:30, at which point we were picked up and given a ride back to our hotel. Needless to say Katelyn and I were very happy to be in a nice comfortable room at this point. After dinner we walked around town for a bit and decided to try Vietnam's famous egg coffee. 
 Although this is something that sounds repulsive, it was actually delicious. They make this kind of coffee with the egg yolk, sugar, and condensed milk. The coffee actually doesn't taste anything like egg, but instead it's really sweet and creamy. Definitely a must-try for anyone visiting Vietnam!

After a long and exhausting day we decided to call it quits and got an early sleep to prepare for another long day ahead!


We got to sleep in a bit more our second day in Sapa, as we didn't have to meet our tour group until 9:30.  We had the same tour guide during our second day, but different people along with us. This time we were joined by a friendly Dutch family as we walked through a small village until we reached a waterfall and an area with small stage where we watched a traditional dance performance.

We also saw a local home and our tour guide explained to us how they dye their clothes with indigo. It's amazing how simply people still live in Vietnam. It's sometimes easy to take all of our modern conveniences for granted. In villages like the ones we saw in Sapa there is so much effort put into simply surviving. It's a great reminder of how different life is simply depending on where you are born.
Powder used to dye clothes

A local woman weaving

Dyed fabric drying

Inside a house

Quite different from the living spaces we're used to

After the performance we continued on until we got to the place where we had lunch and afterwards we continued walking back to the hotel, where we showered and repacked our bags.

We were very fortunate because just as we got back to the hotel it started to POUR--once again our good luck with the weather continued!

At about 6:00 we headed back to the train station to head back to Hanoi. We lucked out with our bunk mates this time around, as we ended up being with a Welsh couple who were both teachers as well. They were a lot of fun to talk to and it was interesting talking about their education system versus ours.

Overall Sapa was one of my favorite places I've been to and was definitely the highlight of my time in Vietnam. The natural beauty of that area is incredible and unlike anything I've ever seen. Of course, Sapa also suffers from the same problems as many areas of SE Asia. Many people are living in poverty and along the way you see far too many children begging for money from the tourists instead of going to school. The tourism industry has certainly improved the lives of some people, but it's also made communities dependent on begging. It's hard not to feel guilty when traveling to areas like this when you know that the belongings you have in your backpack alone are worth probably more than they have in their entire homes. Trips like this always make me think about all the STUFF I own and it also makes me reflect on my own selfishness, something that is sometimes all too easy to ignore in everyday life when you are living in a first world country.

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