This post might not be the best post to show how Sapa is, but I guarantee that the next one is. No matter what experience I had on this day, Sapa is still the best place I have ever been to and I definitely will come back here again.
After arriving back to Hanoi on 26th, I was ready to leave for Sapa on 27th. My cousin booked a coach for me and to my surprise it was a double bed bus. In Vietnam sleeping bus is common but the one I took before was single bed. This time it was double bed which was a bit uncomfortable for me as I travelled alone. Let’s look at the positive side of it! I had a place to put my bag.
The road was around 6-7 hours and it went straight to Sapa. On the road we had a rest twice until arrival. When we were near Sapa I already saw the terrace rice field. After Ha Long it was another sight I wanted to see. It was amazing. When rice field appeared the scene seemed lot more wilder. As if we went back to time. Many forests and trees. I liked it though.
However, I didn’t like the house structure. It gave me feeling as if it was a poor area where crime usually happened. I had to take off in a place that gave me that feeling. Since my hotel wasn’t far from the bus station I decided to walk. I hesitated a bit. The traditional motortaxi driver (xe om) didn’t help me feeling better either. But luckily after walking a while I realized Sapa is not a dangerous place. The structure of the building didn’t look good but the people were normal. Arriving to the lake I felt much better.
My hotel was on the hill. I had to go up the steep road which wasn’t fun as the road wasn’t the concrete one but it was cart-road. Sapa is surrounded by the mountain therefore it gives people feeling like they are in the wild nature. The colder weather also proved it. As it is mountainous there are many slopes in the town. The weather is colder but it’s unpredictable. No one knows when it would rain. When there is heavy rain the mountain break down. Therefore the workers always work on it to make sure it wouldn’t be a dangerous break.
Couldn’t go to the summit of Phanxipang
After arriving to my hotel, I had a bit of rest. The view was amazing. It was straight to the highest mountain in Indochina, the Phanxipang. But the construction made it worse. I found a vegetarian restaurant nearby then I walked there. There was no one in the restaurant. I ordered fried noodle dish. It would be more delicious if it didn’t contain too much oil. The owner saw that I was alone so she started to talk to me. She asked me many questions then she started to talk about her life. Similar to the one I had in Gyeongju. I was tired and I just wished to eat my food in peace. Never happened. I even stayed for a while after finishing my food.
I wanted to go up to Phanxipang by cable car as I didn’t have a lot of time to climb the 3154 metres high mountain. It was 3pm. The owner told me not to go up there as I would have to come down fast before it got dark. I didn’t know how long the cable car would take but she kept telling me I shouldn’t go up there in the afternoon. If I wanted to go I should go in the morning so to see the scene peacefully. Biggest mistake of my life.
Since Phanxipang is extremely high, you should only go there when there is no cloud. If there is cloud it would be a waste of money. The cable car is already 700.000 VND. That day the sky was a bit clearer than the other days, at least the summit didn’t have cloud. I should have gone up there at that time so maybe I would be able to see something from up there.
Couldn’t climb to Ham Rong mountain
But of course I didn’t go. Instead I went to Nui Ham Rong (Jaw of the Dragon mountain). When I arrived there the entrance fee was 70.000 VND. Then I found myself in an artificial park with many Walt Disney and Zodiac statues. It already irritated me. Then I went to the lookout of the Phanxipang. It was the mountain in the light fog. The other side was the road to the Ham Rong mountain and San may. I had to pass two stone gate then I got to see the jaw of the dragon. There was a small shop there and the owner told me I couldn’t climb up to the mountain. No one climbed up there. I thought the area was forbidden. It irritated me.
But I let it go and went to find San May. I had to pass narrow stone coves to arrive to the viewpoint. The scene was breathtaking. The whole Sapa, the Phanxipang, the rice field and the whole nature in the back. I stayed there for a while but it wasn’t enough. I guess it would be never enough. I could have watched that scene for the whole day.
Clinging Xe Om driver to Cat Cat village
When I left the area of Nui Ham Rong I decided to see the Cat Cat village. I went to the stone temple and I wanted to ask the tram car driver to take me there as the price was the cheapest. However, he only went if at least two people were in the car. So the traditional motortaxi driver all gathered around me and told me they would take me there. They convinced me why I should go with them. Because the village was 3km away. Too far. They gave me cheap price…blah blah.
I wanted to sit in the tram car and search the route on the map to walk there. Because it wasn’t far. I thought at least they would let me alone. But they kept trying to persuade me to take their service for at least 5 minutes. I felt so irritated so in the end I left with them. It cost me 40.000VND which was expensive. I will explain why in the next post.
The man told me he would come back and take me home so I didn’t have to pay right at that time. But I didn’t like the idea. So I told him firmly that I paid him right there and later if I called him I would pay again. He didn’t like the idea. But he was still very nice and polite. I bought the entrance ticket of 70.000 VND to Cat Cat village.
Touristy Cat Cat village
It was a village where the Hmong tribe lived. The majority of Sapa is the people from Hmong tribe not the Vietnamese Kinh tribe who I am as well. Vietnam has 54 tribes all over the country and Hmong is one of them. The other tribe that I saw was Tay Nguyen tribe in the middle of Vietnam. They dress differently and their language is different as well.
When I entered the shop assistant told me to buy a cake and share it with the kids in the village. I didn’t want to spend money but I thought it was a good idea so I did it. Then I met two little girl. I gave them cake. They gave me a handmade bracelet. I thought it was a present for the cake. But they kept following me and told me to give them money. I didn’t understand the situation. They told me if I didn’t give them money then give the bracelet back. I decided to give the bracelet back. They took it and left right away. I was surprised by their behaviour. I mean who taught them this kind of attitude?!
After the irritating incident of the restaurant owner stopping me from going to Phanxipang, then the other owner telling me not to climb the Nui Ham Rong and the motortaxi driver who kept persuading me to go with him, these kids and their attitude was an oil to the fire. I passed a whole road with shops on both side. Usually the shop owners would invite me to buy their stuff which is really uncomfortable for me. But luckily this time I went there late so they were also ready to close their shop. However the scene of the shop already made me realize this village was more about tourism than the natural habitat of the Hmong tribe.
Later I saw the terrace rice field, more exactly only the small part of it, and of course people taking pictures there. Another thing that irritated me was to see many people dressing up nicely and taking picture in the “nature”. Don’t get me wrong! The dress and photo itself wouldn’t be a problem. The problem was that these people only do this to show off. They pass a symbolic manmade “natural” place and took a picture saying they saw the rice field. Many people were there just for a sake of a photo which wasn’t taken in the real rice field. I don’t judge these people, but I simply don’t like the show off part. For them the picture is more important than the real scenery, the history, culture behind these places. As for me I prefer to take picture in the real natural rice field.
Cat Cat village couldn’t give me that feeling. Or the area I could visit there wasn’t that area yet. It was only made for tourism. Then I walked a while and saw the river. The road was mainly built. There wasn’t a lot of cart road. To be honest I couldn’t enjoy the place. I was running to see everything and I wanted to go out and get back to my accommodation. I suddenly felt so tired and restless. I didn’t like the scene either. Mainly because the rice field was only near the entrance. After that it was only the side of the mountain.
However I did see the children. I somehow felt bad seeing them in that life situation. I don’t know if they lived well or not. But the fact that they had to sell things or take care of their younger sibling when they themselves were younger than 10, it hurt me. Some of them even walked barefoot. The house in the village was made from wood and it really didn’t have a lot beside mountain, land and river. Of course shops but they were operated by the Hmongs too in order to earn their living.
I hardly found my way out and of course the motortaxi drivers waited there. They also invited me to go with them as the slope was steep and I would get tired. One guy said this but I didn’t understand what he said and turned back. He immediately thought I agreed to take his ride so he already reached for the helmet. I said okay. At least I arrived home earlier. But of course I didn’t let it go that easily. On the way up we passed the rice field. So I asked him to stop on the slope for me to take picture. Then we continued. After 200 meters I asked him to stop again and to take picture of me. Then I let him continue the road until I arrived back to my hotel.
Ham Rong mountain can be climbed
Arriving home I called my mum as I was frustrated. Turned out people CAN climb up to the Nui Ham Rong, the mountain where the shop owner told me no one climbed up there. My mum were up there. I felt so frustrated and I was restless for the whole night. First I couldn’t go up to Phanxipang, then I couldn’t climb to Ham Rong mountain, then the motortaxi driver kept persuading me to go with them, then the whole touristic village without any naturality then another motortaxi driver. I felt as if this trip couldn’t get any worse.
Still I had to sleep somehow as the next day I decided to go somewhere far from Sapa. Luckily the next day I had a real adventure in the terrace rice field.