Sapa, Vietnam

Rice fields in the valley

The bus ride from Hanoi was long, and i didn’t sleep particularly well. Not that it mattered to the bus operators - we were kicked off the bus upon arrival in Sapa at 5:30am! At about 6:00am, we were picked up on a bus and driven from the main town to the villages in the valley below. I can’t say I knew what we were in for until we got our first glimpses of the valley. By the time we reached the tiny village in which we were staying that night, the sun had risen bright above the surrounding hills and was shining through the clouds, decorating the green grass and the rice fields with a magical glow.

Sun through the clouds near our homestay

The sun shining through the clouds near our homestay

We got to meet the host family and were given a wonderful breakfast of pancakes and fruit, during which I remembered I had brought maple syrup with me all the way from Canada in case I ever got invited to someone’s house in Japan (what with gifts being a common courtesy during house visits). Then, our hiking guide met up with us, and we took off for a 14km hike. The views were awe-inspiring!

Village below

You could see the villages below us as we hiked

We were joined by several women and children during our trek - they would walk with us for a while and help us with the more difficult footings, then try to sell us their homemade bags and bracelets. They were lovely people though, and very friendly!

Standing with a Hmong woman and child

I knew the Hmong people were short, but I’ve never felt so tall in my life!

Thankfully, it wasn’t raining that day, as we took some routes along mud paths that would have been damn near impossible had they been any more slippery! We eventually emerged at one point near a rocky outcrop, so naturally we had to take a photo.

Standing on the outcrop

Standing on the outcrop overlooking the valley and celebrating Vietnam!

After a long hike, we finally returned to the homestay, exhausted and covered in dirt and mud. We had the opportunity to relax before dinner, and the girls opted to take a nap while I socialized with some of the other (also Scottish) folk that were at our homestay that night (Ian, Tom, and Matt). We then had a wonderful dinner with our hosts, and finally topped off the night with some card games.

Card games on the floor

An intense game of Spit between me and Ian (I won)

The next day, all of the Scottish people split off from us (including Sophie and Guy, as they were headed to Cat Ba Island one day earlier than the rest of us) to do a different hike. Ellie, Becca and I packed up small backpacks with enough gear for one night, as our second hike would take us to another village and another homestay. The second hike, 17km in length, ended up being a lot rainier unfortunately, but we were on main roads for a lot longer so we didn’t get quite as dirty. And we still got some incredible views!

Broken wood along the road

The second day was much rainier, but still a nice hike

Close to the end of the hike, we ended up falling in step with some Germans who would be staying at the same homestay as us that evening! They were all school teachers, and ended up being great company, especially since our second homestay host made his own rice wine that we were expected to drink! Our second homestay didn’t even have a table inside - our meals were outdoors and exposed to the elements. And the host only spoke the local language, and a little bit of Vietnamese! But the food was still great, and our guide acted as a translator, and we all had a good time.

Dinner spread

Dinner at homestay #2

Day three was fairly uneventful. It involved a measly 5km hike before lunch and a long car ride back to Sapa town. The car ride itself may have been the most interesting part, as the roads were half destroyed by the rain from the previous day! At one point we had to throw large rocks into the road so that the car had something to grip on as we went uphill! We did eventually make it back to Sapa safe and sound, and relaxed in a cafe for a while before grabbing some dinner.

Sapa at night

Sapa all lit up at night

Finally, we hopped on our overnight bus to Cat Ba Island, although not without getting involved in a disagreement between the bus operators and 5 annoying Spanish guys over a “broken” seat. After being held up for nearly 40 minutes because none of them wanted to sit behind the “broken” one (that could still be propped up anyway albeit a bit less securely), we offered to swap around with them, just to shut them up. Won’t go into the details here, but that bus trip was far less pleasant than the first. However, we were rewarded on the other side by arriving on the beautiful Cat Ba Island!

Want more? Check out an overview of my Vietnam trip here!

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