Sa Pa, Vietnam
I love Hanoi. The frenetic pace, the incredible street food and the colonial architecture. But after a week in Hanoi, I was excited for a more chill pace for awhile. Sa Pa in northern Vietnam was the perfect antidote for my city overload. It was one of the highlights of the trip for me. The hiking was incredible and it was one of my favorite early morning market scenes in Vietnam.
Sa Pa is the kind of place that’s so beautiful, you have to pay your dues to get there. Most people travel to Sa Pa on the overnight train from Hanoi. Which sounds like a great idea: sleep on the way and save a night’s lodging but the reality is a bit different. I’m sure there are people who sleep on the train and arrive fresh at their destination. I’m not one of them. With two Ambien and a couple beers, I’m still not one of them. The train lurches around every corner, stops and starts in fits…it’s like the engineer is napping up front and his five year old kid is driving the train. And conspiring with the five year old driving the train is the lady hawking snacks. She seems to know exactly when I’ve just started to drift off because I’ll be jarred awake by her rapping on the door.
I stumble off the train at 4am into a sea of touts. Sleep deprived and unsure of how to get where I’m going. This is exactly how touts want to engage a tourist. I end up paying three times as much as I should for the hour long van ride to Sa Pa. My bad for not doing a little research on this before I arrived in Lao Cai.
The folks at the Sa Pa Unique Hotel were awesome. I arrived long before check-in but they let me leave my backpack at the hotel and sent me off hiking to a nearby Hmong village. I didn’t want to do any trekking tours and the owner of the hotel never pressured me to do a tour and he was great about recommending off the beaten path hikes. I would hike all morning and never see another traveler, only locals going about their day. I would definitely consider staying at this hotel on my next visit to Sa Pa. The view from my room was stunning. And best of all, they bring a tasty banana, chocolate dessert thingy to your room in the evening.
A lot of people who visit northern Vietnam bitch about the constant selling by the Hmong ladies. True, the constant “buy something” gets old but I bought a few things off a couple super nice ladies. Then I would just chat with them whenever I saw them around town after that. I learned a lot about their way of life from these conversations. They never pestered me to buy anything again and I just gave a polite “no” to sales pitches from other vendors after that. Plus, their wares are all handmade and super reasonable.
Prints are available for purchase at BHI Prints.
All images were shot with the Fuji X-T1 and either the 18mm 2.0 lens or the 35mm 1.4 lens.