In early August I met a couchsurfer in Nha Trang who stayed at my apartment for a night on his way up to Hanoi. His name was Nic and he was from Paris, France, travelling from Saigon (South Vietnam) to Hanoi (North Vietnam) via motorbike. I was really jealous when I met him because his journey sounded like something I would love to do, and I almost joined him for a couple days as he took off for central Vietnam, but I had to get to work a few days later so it just wasn’t feasible to jump on the back of his motorbike for some adventure. We did, however, agree to meet up two weeks later in Hanoi and take a two week trip through Laos since I was about to have some time off from my project in Nha Trang. The original plan was to go to Sapa, a small mountain town teeming with minority hill tribes, for one night, then back to Hanoi to sell Nic’s motorbike before heading off to Laos. We took the 10 hour night train up to Sapa and from the moment I stepped outside I knew one night was not going to be enough time… Immediately I noticed how relieved I was to breath clean, crisp, cool air after spending so long in hot, humid Nha Trang. It reminded me of home…
The geography in Sapa is breathtaking. A quiet mountain town and home to a great diversity of ethnic minority peoples, Sapa lies in the Hoang Lien Son range of mountains. The highest peak in Indochina, Fan Si Pan, can be seen looming in the background while surrounding landscapes are covered in sloping terraces used for farming rice. Our first day in town, Nic and I rented a motorbike and took to the hills. It was by far the most stunning scenery I’d ever seen as we rode from one tiny mountain village to the next, I was instantly in love with this place. The day flew by, and before I knew it we were supposed to be heading back to Hanoi. I convinced Nic to let me stay another night while he was selling his motorbike in Hanoi, giving me one more day in this paradise.
The next day came and went just as quickly as the first, and I called Nic to see whether he had sold his motorbike. He told me he was having a great time in Hanoi, which was a relief to hear since I really didn’t want to leave Sapa, and we both came to the conclusion that we would stay in our respective places and skip the Laos part of the trip. Thus began a wonderful adventure…
The next day I met some young Hmong teenagers (a local ethnic minority) who lived in a small village 18km outside of town. We chatted and quickly became friends, and they invited me to come stay with them in the village. I couldn’t turn up the opportunity, so I packed my bag and hiked up the 18km to their home, where they graciously cooked a wonderful dinner and showed me where I would be sleeping. The bed was actually quite cozy, in spite of the giant cockroaches that scurried from under the blanket when I scuttled into bed, the water dripping on my head through the night when it rained, and what I suspect were bedbugs after waking up rather itchy… but otherwise, cozy J
I spent the next two weeks living with the villagers, trekking about 30km a day to get from one side of the mountain to the other, working with the buffalo, the rice, and the farming. It was a dream come true for me – a real escape from the modern world and a reality check about what life is really like when you’re not constantly bombarded with the consumerism that has become the life we live today. Every experience was so peaceful, so magical, that it’s impossible to put in words the experience I had up there. It was in many ways life changing, and every day I spent in Sapa left me wondering if some day, I would find myself back there, forgetting about the intricacies of our hustle bustle life in America and living a relaxed, peaceful life in the mountains. It was the first place I’d travelled where I felt a genuine connection, and actually wanted to spend a significant amount of time living. The life people live up there is so REAL. It’s the first time I’ve really experience that… everything they do, everything they own, it’s all so real. Their houses are made from bamboo and mud that they collect in the mountainside. Their tools are made from wood from trees they chop down. They peel strands off the grasses to make fiber, which they use to make their clothes. They are fantastic sewers, and they wear their traditional clothes with such amazing and intricate designs that they sew themselves. They cook on the fire, with pots, pans, and spoons their fathers father made for them. The water comes from the stream and is funneled to each house using a network of bamboo shoots. It’s amazing, truly amazing, to spend time living like this. It had a profound effect on me, and I loved every second of it. Not to mention, the people are all so wonderful, so kind, so caring, always smiling, always laughing, and always friendly. It was like living a dream…
My two weeks in Sapa really flew by. It was an unbelievable place – a really magical experience for me and it will forever be near and dear to my heart. I hope to find myself back in Sapa someday, even if only for a week, a month, a year… who knows!
Riding through the mountains on our rented motorbike
The stunning landscape of Sapa
Fillin' up at the side of the road. Now that's some good quality gasoline!
Nic and I at the base of a waterfall, of which there are many in Sapa
Riding through the mountains
Hiking - sometimes it got steep!
This is what it's all about up here... rice
Vietnamese people are really tallented at finding unique places to nap
getting dinner ready
cooking dinner on the fire
one of the local villagers who invited me to stay with her family
one of the families I stayed with in Sapa
Girl in the rice fields
Taking some villagers around on the motorbike
The kids are really adorable...
Getting ready for dinner...
Tending the buffalo
Met some friends from Hanoi, and we went around for a day
Friends from Hanoi who I rode around with for a day
This is what I think of when I think of Vietnam....
Dinner in the village
A Hmong village girl
Can you find a better picture to represent Vietnam!?
One of the adorable children of the family I stayed with
The kids here are tough...they carry their siblings around on their backs for hours
Young buffalo herder
really... really loving it....