My first trip to Sapa (Part 1)

Sapa – the only place in Vietnam where we could experience the weather below 0 and the real snow! Just imagine snow in such a tropical area as Vietnam. I don’t remember when I first heard about Sapa, but when Victoria Hotel launched their luxury Oriental Express connecting between Hanoi and Sapa, I’d love to go there.

Back to early 2000s, I was planning to escape to this mountain-town in cloud, like in fairytale, but plan still plan. Just until few days ago, after visiting Halong Bay, I and my friend, we went back to Hà Nội and decided to book a 2-night tour to Sapa – one night in train, one night in Sapa, stay at Summit Hotel and back to Hanoi by bus.

156a9-sapa_4Sapa in March in a thick fog from morning till late afternoon…

The tour agent took us to the train station around 21:20. The train departed surprisingly on time at 21:50. We paid 1,8 millions VN Đồng per each which includes overnight train ticket to Sapa, 1 night at the hotel with full meals, and bus ticket back to Hà Nội. For me, the experience with the bus-bed was the first time, I felt a bit dizzy when arriving to Hà Nội due to the zig-zac route, before midnight, it was good as we didn’t waste another night on the train.

043e4-sapa_25Our ticket for the basic soft bed, very clean, some other compartments – luxury comfort.

There was various soft-bed wagons in the train to Lào Cai, managed by different tour companies – from very luxury with only two soft-like-cloud beds in nicely decorated compartment down to our basic soft bed as in the above photo.

Anyway we had a good sleep but it was freezing at night. We arrived to Lao Cai at 6:15 am and welcomed us was the crowd holding the signs to pick-up their guests to Sapa by bus (the route time around 1 hour)

e90ee-sapa_41

We arrived to our Sapa Summit Hotel at Road Thác Bạc around 7:30 am and right at the Desk Tour we were informed to store our luggages in the store room, take a hot shower, have a breakfast in the first floor, then back to the Desk Tour at 9:00 am for the walking tour to Cát Cát village.

9b7aa-sapa_19The magnificent view from our room at the Sapa Summit Hotel.  

20943-minority_4This crowd of Sapa minority tried to sell souvenir things or to accompany to the village…

2bb90-sapa_27We walked from hotel, across the downtown…to Cát Cát village

5faa9-sapa_45Impossible to imagine Sapa without these ethnic minorities in their colourful costume. 

c6892-sapa_36It was a long walk, nearly hour…many shops along the way to village  

750c1-sapa_35We were lucky with the weather – the beautiful sunshine with cool breeze  

4b310-sapa_8The most striking view was the mountains, the valleys… covered in cloud

5ec9f-sapa_34Houses along the road very poor, not impressive contrast to the magnificent nature  

b74be-sapa_33On our way we saw a funeral ceremony, people gathering with the white band on head…

e5a0a-sapa_32The life seems tough here. the naked terraced fields during the cold season…   

9ef35-sapa_30We kept going downhill and I tried to imagine the way back…uphill?  

ef4af-sapa_31Disappointed as the scenery around Cát Cát village in quite miserable conditions…

640de-sapa_37Unexpected residents along the way to village – pot-bellied pigs…

9ad96-sapaa mountain buffalo and the breathtaking view of the mountains behind. 

56eda-sapa_38Mountain goats…right in Cát Cát village 

d1b8f-sapa_29Traditional clothes for rent for taking photo at Cát Cát village-tourist centre. 

Cát Cát minorities village actually has been turn into a commercial tourist centre, with a small hall for the performance, many souvenir shops, eateries. The water fall and the mountain river right behind, but it looks quite sad to me!  I expect something more original. I heard a lot of good and bad things about Sapa before my trip. The magnificent mountains scenery, the valley with the terraced fields…surely indisputable beautiful.

Unfortunately, the poor management or the lack of love to the homeland, the local authorities already turn their unique mountain town into a city with ugly modern concrete buildings. The new market is one of the samples, and Cat Cat village – another one! And the minorities living there, no idea who spoil them, instead of the welcome smile, they always quickly hide their face or turn away to avoid the camera. Huge difference between people here and people I met in Thailand.

38caa-sapa_42

To be honest, I couldn’t feel the charms of the village or even of the lifestyle of the ethnic minorities. I love their colourful , very artistic costume, I love to talk to them unless I buy something, otherwise they keep running after those who ready to spend money for them. I have no blame, this could be an evidence of their not easy life here.

c909d-sapa_28An ugly abandoned concrete construction site – right in the heart of the valley 

After visiting Cát Cát village-tourist centre, we walked back to hotel by another road, we  decided to take motorbike, with hope that we have more time for rest at the hotel, after an overnight train ride. Lunch at 14:30 and after we were heading to the road again on rented motorbikes with drivers.

e18a9-sapa_43The way back was a bit uphill, nothing special, so I decided to hire a motorbike. 

cb1aa-sapa_44These little girls making bouquets of wild flowers…

Back to the hotel, we do check-in and quickly upgraded our room with the better view to the valley for an extra money of 10 USD! I got a bad cold, sore throat after my climbing on Yên Tử mountain two days ago, it was in a very bad weather – rain, wind and cold.  My story about Sapa will be continued!

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