One of my favourite and most treasured memories of Vietnam has to be Sapa. It’s definitely worth the trip there – a 5 hour drive west of Hanoi to a gorgeous little mountain village which has the feel of a ski resort (if you’re visiting in the winter months). Once again, if you go in the winter, remember that it is even colder than Hanoi and Halong Bay, so make sure you pack a few jumpers, decent walking shoes and a raincoat.
Or if you’re not that prepared (like we weren’t) there are plenty of outdoor shops to pick up some gear. Most people opt for the 1 night stay but we did 2 nights there as we had the time to spare. Your time will be split between daytime trekking in the mountains and afternoons to yourself to explore the village and its surroundings at your own leisure. As we had 3 days there, we did all the treks there are which include one down to the village of Sapa. As you get off the minibus, hoards of the local women, many with babies attached to their backs, will surround you and start asking you questions like ‘Where are you from?’ and ‘What is your name?’.
It can be a bit overwhelming but as soon as you get talking to them, you’ll realise they’re really lovely people who are more than happy to teach you about their life and culture which is absolutely fascinating! We learnt about family traditions; weddings where families who hardly have enough to eat on a normal day to day basis sacrifice buffalos for the occasion; how the majority of husbands there have more than one wife; and about the ongoing tradition of young boys ‘kidnapping’ young girls who they want to marry. All in all, we learnt a lot about the traditional lifestyle in the north Vietnamese mountains – it couldn’t be more different to the large city of Hanoi just hours away!
Anyway, once you reach the village at the end of the trek, you’ll probably feel like buying one of their beautiful homemade bags or decorations or souvenirs – and they’ll be very grateful. Another trek takes you past various villages on the way to a beautiful waterfall and viewing platform, where in the hut nearby you can watch the locals perform traditional mountain dances.
On our final day there, we hiked to the top of the mountain, past an area called Hamrong and some botanical gardens, up to where lies an amazing view of Sapa which suddenly makes the climb seem worth it.
Spend your free afternoons wandering through the tiny town centre – have a browse in the shops which sell gorgeous local stuff, find your way to the food market where the streets are lined with green fresh produce and local food and stop off at one of the cute street-side restaurants where steaming glasses of mulled wine and home cooked meals are a much needed warmer.