Respite from the heat

Date: 01/06/2007 | Author: Dave

Sapa sits at 1650m on the side of a beautiful valley north-west of Hanoi and close to the Chinese border. We caught the overnight train from Hanoi to Lao Cai and then early on a very misty morning wound our way by bus the last 38km to Sapa. As we drove, we climbed 1000m with the lush scenery teasing us through the fog. Sapa is touristy but we were expecting that. Our original plan was to head due north from Hanoi into reputedly stunning mountain country around Dong Van and Meo Vac. Untouched territory barely mentioned in guide books. But for several reasons (including malaria, rain/mud, and some long car journeys) we adjusted our compass from intrepid back onto the tourist trail.
We checked into the 'Royal View' and indeed, as the clouds cleared, it certainly was. I can see why the French came here to escape from the heat. Across the valley is Fansipan, the highest mountain in Vietnam and stretching out below us a variegated carpet of rice paddy terraces. We spend our three days in Sapa mainly walking through the nearby minority villages. Although a bit touristy they are far more interesting than the villages we saw in Thailand. The H'mong and Red Zoa peoples have farmed this valley for generations and would be here regardless of tourists. These villages are a model of tranquility. Water buffalo preparing the flooded ground and the hand planting of the rice seedlings. The green is vivid and the views reflecting in the flooded terraces are serene.
However, as in Sapa, all western tourists here pick up a small entourage of women and children carrying their brightly dyed wares. The older women all have blue hands from a lifetime of using their home-made indigo dye and the call of "buy for me, buy for me" is a strain on ones good humour after a while. In this temperature I could sit and stare for hours but you are not permitted to become that relaxed.
After three days I am excited about returning to Hanoi.

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