Happy for me Happy for you.......it's Sapa!

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February 16th 2012
Published: February 27th 2012
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16th – 18th Feb ’12 Sapa

After a fitful night’s sleep and being woken an hour early but some woman screeching we’re here when we weren’t we pulled into Lao Cai – the border town between China and Vietnam and the jumping off point for Sapa. We stumbled off the train still in a daze and were met by a woman holding a board with Howard’s name on. Gratefully we climbed into the minibus which soon filled up and we were off on the journey over the mountains to Sapa. I have to say I didn’t see much as no sooner had we started and I nodded off. After an hour we arrived at our hotel and to our delight it was actually sunny and we got our first views of the mountains and valley.

We went in for breakfast and luckily our rooms were ready soon after. I must say Howard had found us a real gem of a hotel, the rooms were lovely with French doors opening onto a big shared balcony with fabulous views across the valley and up to the mountains. We even got clear views of Fransipan the highest mountain in Vietnam.


You can get anything on the back of a scooter!
hotel manager had warned us that today was going to be the best day of our stay as the weather was going to change the next day, so rather than having a rest we decided to go out on a hike to Cat Cat one of the closer Hmong tribal villages.

The route actually ran right from our hotel and we were soon walking down into the valley accompanied by several of the Hmong women. As we had just arrived we didn’t know the score regarding the selling tactics of these lovely ladies (something we soon cottoned onto!) I have to say these ladies knew every trick in the book, but they were so friendly and interesting it was hard to say no to them.

So we carried on down the mountainside along with our new friends, who spoke pretty good English and asked us millions of questions about our lives and England while at the same time producing a vast array of souvenirs from the baskets on their backs. It was pretty obvious they would follow us the whole way until we actually bought something which was soon borne out when one of them said you buy something and I can go home, so of course we did!

Once we got down into the village there was a little steep market street which you had to walk along with yet more people trying to sell you things but it was also a lovely place with little wooden houses and pigs and kids running around and everyone calling out hello. At the end of the houses was yet another set of steep steps leading down to a bridge over the river and a gorgeous waterfall, with a few more shops and a little stall selling food and the local hooch.

We climbed up the other side of the valley the path going alongside fields and sheer drops and carried on until we reached another bridge back over the river and the start of the extremely steep climb back up to Sappa. Never to miss an opportunity to make a bit of cash the enterprising local lads are all stationed here with their scooters and for a few dong will take you on the back up the hill.

Needless to say we were all soon on the back of a bike each and flying up the

Cat Cat Village
mountain. You have to admire their driving skills, the ‘road’ was just a track really with lots of potholes, loose gravel and twisty bends but not once did I feel unsafe. It was great, flying along, gazing across at this magnificent scenery and all too soon we were back at the hotel. We all loved it and Mum was particularly excited by it, I have visions of her buying a bike when she gets home!!

The next morning we opened the curtains and it was foggy, cold and damp. It was quite obvious we wouldn’t be doing any hiking, the paths were hard enough to negotiate yesterday when we could see and it was dry. So we spent the day ‘looking’ around the town. Sapa was originally built by the French as a Hill Station and there is still quite a lot of old colonial houses. We walked along to the lake, but couldn’t actually see it due to the fog, had a look at the church and generally potched about. The weather didn’t put our friendly ladies off though and they were still out in force with their baskets of goodies on their backs. At one point a tour group arrived on the main square were several ladies had blankets laid out with hats, clothes and other bits and pieces for sale. Once the group was spotted though they all made a bee line for them and soon they were totally surrounded. I took advantage of the distraction and had a good look at the hats – which were lovely, all handmade and embroidered and managed to buy one without all the usual hassle.

We found a restaurant to escape into for lunch and once we had finished a lady appeared trying to sell things to us. She was from a different tribal group – the Red Dhow and had a very elaborate red headdress on with a beaded and embroidered neck piece. Well she took a real shine to Howard, she put a hat on his head, asked him how old he was and told him her age (53) and kept cuddling him and pulling his ear, the rest of us couldn’t stop laughing and she was absolutely fine when he said he didn’t want to buy anything.

We spent part of the afternoon in the museum which was really interesting and explained about all the different tribal groups, their costumes and customs. One of the most interesting facts was about the Hmong tribe and the custom they have off ‘kidnapping’ brides! Apparently when a young man takes a fancy to a young woman he tells his parents and they prepare a room in their house for her, he then gets about 5 of his mates together and they then literally snatch the unsuspecting girl from wherever she happens to be and again literally carry her off to his house. She is then put in the prepared room and is treated as a guest but has to stay there for 3 days, if after 3 days she doesn’t want to marry him she is allowed to return home. Very bizarre but I’m glad to see she does actually have the right to say no!

Our last day in Sapa dawned and it was just as, if not more so, foggy and damp! It was a real shame, but we had read the weather at this time of year could be really bad and very cold so I guess we were lucky to have had 1 good day.

It was Saturday and that was the main market day for the town so that’s what we did. Mum the demon shopper was such a bad influence and soon had me purchasing with gusto too. The town was really busy, with lots of different tribal people coming into town from the surrounding villages and all dressed in their finery, it really was a great sight. There were also buses of young people arriving during the day and we reckon they were all coming for the Love Market which happens on a Saturday night and is the place to find yourself a mate! Or maybe to decide who you are subsequently going to kidnap?!

One of the funniest things was the tribal ladies realising mum wanted a hat and then she was suddenly surrounded by loads of them, all trying to get her to take their hats and try them on. She got out her compact mirror to have a look at herself with the different hats on and they all just burst out laughing, they clearly had never seen anyone do that before and were absolutely fascinated by it!

It sounds as if we spent our whole time here being hounded to buy things and in a way we were but the tribal people were really friendly and happy, after the first day they recognised us and as we had bought things previously they kept saying you buy from me now you bought from her yesterday but it was all done with such good humour and they didn’t keep pushing it. I also think they are quite incredible as they could speak English, could do maths at the speed of light and work out how much you owed and what change was needed in at least 3 different currencies!

We may not have got a lot of hiking done (not necessarily a bad thing from my point of view!) and we did only get one out of three days of seeing the views but we certainly did a lot of interacting with the locals and I will never forget the warmth, humour and smiles of those tribal ladies!

Additional photos below
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Howard's lady friend from the Red Dhow tribe

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