After a brief encounter with Hanoi we jumped on the overnight train to Sa Pa, famous for its smaller communities and its breathtaking scenery. The first point I think needs to be raised is that the overnight train is not a great way to travel, however when the alternative is the overnight bus or a several hour long car ride the train is looking pretty good.
Getting into Sa Pa at 6am we were met with perhaps the only unfriendly person we have met on this trip – our bus driver we sarcastically nicknamed Chuckles. Sleep deprived is perhaps not the greatest time to meet new people. Making your customers who have paid you for a service wait over an hour while you try and overfill an already crowded bus is perhaps not the most endearing first impression.
One thing that we realized when we started driving from Cao Tao station into Sa Pa was just how amazing the scenery was. Check out some of the photos that I have uploaded to the blog and you will get a feel for exactly how amazing the views are from the mountains up here.
We resisted the urge to squeeze in a cat nap, and headed out on a trekking adventure through the local villages. Guided by our tour leader Zhung and her younger sister Ting (10years old) I was amazed at how well locals speak English out in the mountains – even as young as 10 years old.
As we trekked through Sa Pa I was taken aback at the endless beauty in the scenery. We were walking through the rice fields, through the smallest local villages, some with only a few hundred people and taking in the breathtaking views that many of the local people wake up to everyday.
When we reached one of the villages for lunch we enjoyed some traditional Vietnamese food, and a traditional snack – fresh sugar cane. We also experienced another great tradition – a cavalcade of merchants selling cheap bracelets and handmade satchels. Travelling is awesome but sometimes the endless barrage of people trying to spate you from your money is exhausting, and it only gets worse if you show interest.
After a long day of trekking we were pretty happy to put our heads on the pillow for a well earned sleep.
The next day we took a very lazy day lounging around Sa Pa, scouting restaurants with the best view for lunch and shooting a little pool. We even met some travelers who quite convincingly taught us how to play pool – a far cry from the wins we enjoyed at Hue.
The Sa Pa township is very much like a ski resort however without the snow. Since arriving in Sa Pa I was strongly reminded of a Queenstown style atmosphere with overpriced restaurants and a heavy tourist population.
We were fortunate to find some authentic Vietnamese BBQ in Sa Pa which was definitely a highlight and a throwback to our very first night in Saigon eating meat by the side of the road drinking beers that really were far too cheap.
The rest of our time was largely uneventful, playing a bit of pool, getting a bit of writing done, and trying to recover from this cough that I have been fighting for a little while now.
Sa Pa is definitely a must visit for first timers to Vietnam – for us we await the next over night train before heading onwards to Ha Long bay.