Welcome back to the latest edition of Postcard From, where I chat to some lucky traveller about a recent trip to some fascinating part of the world!
This week I’ve been catching up with fellow blogger Salazar, who runs 14 Shades of Grey. Salazar is a writer from Vietnam who’s currently traveling the country with her friend Debbi, who she met whilst studying screenwriting at grad school. The trip is partly to wind down after three years of constant schooling and internship, and partly a research trip for books the two are planning to write. Salazar has caught up with me here to share her pictures and thoughts about Sa Pa, in Northwest Vietnam.
Thanks for taking a break from your travels! Where have you been most recently?
Sa Pa, a frontier town in the mountain area of Northwest Vietnam. The centre of town is developed to cater to tourists, but the surrounding mountain range and the presence of the ethnic minority people keep it from being too modernized. In fact, there is a great contrast between the modern town and the terraced fields and lush green mountains surrounding it.
I stayed at the Sapa Hostel. It was quite nice for the price (about $15/night for a double room, with breakfast), and the owners are this lovely couple who are very friendly and helpful in recommending places to see and things to do around town.
So what did you learn from them – what’s good to do in Sa Pa?
On the first day, we went on a wonderful hike to Ham Rong Mountain. It’s a beautiful park with stairways and stone-paved paths going up the mountain, and you can stop at gardens and explore little caves. It was really rainy and foggy that day, but that added to the mystical and fantastical feel of the place. The next day we went on a longer hike, down to the terraced fields, to see where the ethnic people live. In between we also checked out the central market and the church in town. There is one other place I wanted to see – the Ancient Rock Field, where there are rocks with mysterious carving from the prehistoric times – but we were so out of shape and exhausted after the two hikes that we didn’t even think about it!
Sounds tiring! What was the highlight?
My highlight has to be the hike on the second day. We went into it not knowing that it’s going to be a 16km hike through muddy fields and slippery, steep paths! Suffice to say, there was mud everywhere (Debbi later said, “I’ve always wanted to see a terraced field up close, but I didn’t think it would be that close!”) At least we were lucky to be wearing boots though, there were other people on the hike who were in flip-flops! Still, we were guided along by strong, reliable locals, the view is gorgeous everywhere you look, and at the end of the day you have to be proud of yourself for walking 16km without knowing about it beforehand!
Did you have good walking weather?
It was nice and cool (about 18 – 25 degrees Celsius), but rainy and foggy, but it’s to be expected in early September. I think it would be dryer (but colder too) in the winter.
The food was good; we tried both Western (there is something so wonderfully weird about having pizza in a mountain town of Vietnam) and local food. For the best food though, you can’t go wrong with the street vendors and in the market. We got kabobs of local meat (Sa Pa and other similar mountain towns are famous for their black pigs), roasted sweet potatoes, grilled corn on the cob, and deliciously fried rice-flour donuts.
Do you have any embarrassing or funny stories?
Nothing too embarrassing happened, thank goodness, but remember how I said our guides on the 16-km hike were all strong, reliable local women? Well, this is the proof for that: we were walking on this tiny path, with a terraced field on one side and an incline on the other. My guide was helping me along when she put her foot in the wrong place. I reached out to help her, but the heavy pack on her back made her lose her balance and she tumbled down the incline. You can imagine my horror as I stood there, helpless, with my hand over my mouth. Luckily the incline wasn’t as steep as I thought it was, and my guide was perfectly fine. All the other guides just burst out laughing as we stood there waiting for her to scramble back up. Seriously, you gotta love it when somebody fell down a cliff and the reaction was “We’re just going to throw your sandals down to you.”
Do you have any tips or advice for anyone heading to Northwest Vietnam?
Bring your sturdiest pair of shoes! You’re going to need it!
Did you pick up any of the Sapa language?
Most ethnic people up there speak Vietnamese and some form of English, so you won’t have any problem communicating. I kinda wish we’d learned some phrases in their language though.
NB – all photos are owned by Salazar (14shadesofgrey.wordpress.com)