The Mountains of Sapa

Sapa is only 380km north of Hanoi. But to get there, our journey started with an 8 hour overnight train from Hanoi to the town of Lao Cai. Being the long national day weekend, many Vietnamese were also travelling and we had trouble getting our train tickets. Thankfully, our Sapa hotel hosts managed to find us 2 "soft-sleeper" tickets on one of the tourist carriages. I wouldn't describe the beds as "soft", but the rocking of the train along the tracks lulled me into sleep soon enough.
Boarding the train at night from flat form 5
The narrow walkway on the train
Upon reaching Lao Cai, we found our bus and took a picturesque hour long drive to Sapa Town. We were soon at our hotel- Sapa Unique Hotel, run by 2 young, ambitious, and extremely nice men Hung and Viet. Since our room was available, they let us check in early (7am!!!) at no extra charge. While the room was basic. The view from the balcony was one of the best views I have ever had from a hotel room- rolling mountains slightly covered by mist, plunging into a gorgeous valley, with every slope manicured by rice terraces.
That's me on our balcony
Jan and I, with our amazing hosts Viet and Hung
 After a shower, Hung set us up with a map and simple instructions on how to walk to the nearest village and other sights of interest. And we were off.

Cat Cat Village was just several minutes by foot from Sapa Town, and after surviving some of the most persistent touts (young girls from the nearby villages trying to sell us handicrafts), we were there. The village was not quite the authentic experience, but it gave us a good introduction to the black Hmong people who lived in the area.

Shops selling almost identical handicrafts lined the paths

Weaving and embroidery of traditional Hmong clothes

We thought the views from Cat Cat Village and our hotel room were amazing. But we stood in awe of God creation when we went for our guided hike to Ta Phin Village. Our guide was a young lady from the Hmong tribe who brought us on a trek through paddy fields, streams, vegetable farms, and several villages.

The journey begins
Crossing gentle streams (getting our shoes very muddy since we were slipping all over)

Photos don't even begin to capture the majesty of the mountains
The crisp mountain air, cool weather and gentle paths made for a nice easy trek. While the stunning views of the mountains in a million shades of emerald and gold left an indelible mark in the hearts and minds of us 2 city girls.
Cradling the very useful plant which provides hemp for clothes, marijuana, and lovely smelling flowers 

Unlike Cat Cat village, we saw no other tourists around and the villagers were all just minding their own business in their farms. We were joined by 2 ladies from the Red Dzao tribe who followed us throughout our journey helping us along the more difficult paths and pointing out interesting things to us. But we were of course obliged to buy some handicrafts from them at rather marked up prices at the end of the walk. They were a tad too pushy for my liking and I would have been much happier with the arrangement if I was forewarned, but well, that's the way the wind blows.

Joined by many more Dzao tribes people at the end point of the trek

After the trek, we went back to our hotel and prepared for the long journey back with complimentary use of an empty room to shower. Our wonderful hosts were so apologetic for the noise from the nearby temple the night before that they packed 4 packets of food for us to take along on our train journey and supplied us with many bottles of water. They really went above and beyond the call of duty.

Unfortunately, due to heavy rains resulting in landslides the night before, there was a backlog in trains leaving Lao Cai for Hanoi and the train station was chaotic. Our wonderful hosts called several times to make sure we were safely on our train. So sweet right?
 Finally, we boarded our train and were back on the hard beds, back to Hanoi.
 The day we left Vietnam was a rainy rainy day. We were so thankful for the wonderful weather, journey mercies, amazing people and stunning scenery that we got to enjoy during our stay :)

Beautiful memories to treasure

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