No sooner had I left Ha long bay that evening I was booked onto the over night train from Han Noi to Sa Pa, a 10 hour journey. The down side, sharing a four berth cabin, and what a lovely surprise , it was me and an entire Australian family! Actually it was fine, they were lovely and the kids were super well behaved. We arrived in Sa Pa at 7am, we were picked up and taken to the Hotel, an hours drive from the Railway station to Sa Pa.
On arriving we had some “free time”, which usually means nothing is organised! So I had a stroll with two Vietnamese guys who now live in California in the states. You know people are so accommodating when you’re travelling on your own, they pick you up and bring you along, for a long as you want to. You meet some fascinating people, different culture, different up bringing, and it certainly give you a different perspective on the world….this is when you really learn from the experience of traveling.
This is Sa Pa town. You walk out of the hotel and these are the views you get. It’s a strange situation. Women from local minority villages pounce on you as soon as you step of the bus. The tourist information tells you not to buy from these people, but they are Sa Pa!, they have lived here for centuries and are trying to earn a few dollars. So eager for a sale they walk with you all day. One lady who must have been close to eighty walked with me on the second day whilst trekking. She was amazing!. She was helping me when the rocks got slippery or you lost your footing, she traversed the rocks like a mountain goat!. Well I didn’t buy anything of her but instead took her picture and gave her a handsome tip.
The other side of the tourism industry in Sa Pa is when you walk for example to Cat Cat village through numerous “shops”, all selling Chinese textiles and souvenirs. Hopefully this will be stopped, and they can keep to authentic Vietnamese fare, get past this and see how these minorities live and have lived then you have an understanding of what makes so much of Vietnam. The minorities all have their own language and dress.
Many ethnic minorities live in and around Sa Pa. Excluding the ethnic Vietnamese Kinh people, eight different ethnic minority groups are found in Sa Pa: H’mong (pronounced mong), Dao (pronounced yao), Tay, Giay (pronounced zai), Muong, Thai, Hoa (ethnic Chinese), and Xa Pho (a sub-set of the Phu La minority group). However, the last four groups comprise fewer than 500 people in total. The population of the district was estimated at 31,652 (1993) of which 52% were H’mong, 25% were Dao, 15% were Kinh, 5% were Tay, and 2% were Giay. Around 3,300 people live in Sa Pa town, while the remainder are peasant farmers distributed unevenly throughout the district.
This lady was from the H’mong minority.
Day one was a walk to Cat Cat village, they were the views, literally on top of the clouds…
We were shown some traditional music and theatre.
In the afternoon and “free time” I commandeered a Motor Bike rider and he took me to the Silver waterfall and beyond, where I had these spectacular views.