Our journey itinerary was not carved in stone, but we had decided on a few places we would not under any circumstance want to miss out. Sa Pa Valley was one of these must see attractions.
So right after returning from Ha Long Bay, we set out for Vietnam’s famous rice terraces. Based on our previous experience with Ethnic Travel, we again chose them to be our guides for the trip. So we left Hanoi in the evening taking the overnight train to Lao Cai, a railway station situated 38 kilometers from Sa Pa. We shared our sleeping compartment with two other travelers and it was a pretty bumpy ride until we arrived at our destination the next morning. I would not say we got that much sleep that night at the train and yet it was another travel experience we do not want to miss.
In Lao Cai the Ethnic Travel minibus was already waiting for us to take us to Sa Pa town. After an hour ride we arrived at a hostel in the tourism center where we finally met our local guide and two other fellows. We left our large backpacks at the hostel, only taking with us a light day pack including some clothes for the night and the following day. After a quick breakfast we set off to discover the countryside of cascading rice terraces and tiny hill-tribe villages.
Sa Pa town is not worthwhile hanging out, as it is pretty modern and touristic. On your way through the town we already met the first hill tribe women, who come all the way from their villages every day to sell their staff to tourists in Sa Pa. The different ethnic groups can be easily identified by the variation of their colorful clothing.
The landscape presented to us after leaving the town was breathtaking: lush valleys and small villages situated in an undulating landscape, in the background mountain peaks wrapped in clouds. And, of course, green rice terraces as far the eye can see. A group of Black H’mong women accompanied us throughout almost the entire hiking trip. Their English is pretty impressive, bearing in mind that they never visited a school. Later on, when we stopped at a village to rest and have lunch, they tried to sell us their handmade scarfs, wristbands and other stuff. Everyone of our group bought an item from them in return for their help during our hiking trip, also knowing that they depend on tourist money to survive. In the end we were surrounded by big group of women, all of them offering us some souvenirs. It took a while to make it clear to them that we would not be able to buy something from each one of them.
After our lunch break we continued our walk though meadows, rice paddies and farms. We passed a lot of water buffalos having a bath in the muddy waters. The farmers use them for ploughing the fields and transporting goods. Walking up and down the hills was pretty exhausting but also rewarding. We enjoyed spectacular views and encountered local people, such as being greeted by children returning from school. After 6 hours of hiking through the mountains and villages, we finally arrived at the house of a local family to have dinner with them and spend the night at their place.
The next day in the morning our guide picked us up again and we continued our trek through the valley. Around lunchtime we were picked up by a van and taken to Sa Pa town. We spend some hours strolling through streets, getting some food and shopping some outdoor clothing, before the arranged transfer to the train station to take the night train back to Hanoi. Such a great trip!