Sapa is a beautiful, misty mountainous region of Vietnam close to the border of China. Not managing to get there on my first visit to Vietnam it was an absolute definite this time around. Catching the late overnight train was the perfect way to travel there without wasting too much time. While not luxurious, the sleeper cabins were perfectly agreeable and being very tired, I was out like a light waking up only an hour or so before Lao Cai station. Upon arrival we had another bus ride of about 40 minutes up the mountains to reach the town of Sapa.
The indigenous hill tribes of the area mix in the town with Sapa locals and indeed, their presence is a very visual one. Sapa is probably the most well known area of Vietnam to produce beautiful hand-crafted textiles and it is here that a textile lover could quickly empty her purse. (And I nearly did!) A variety of hill tribes live in villages near each other and all have a particular style to the work that they do. Prominently, the Black Hmoung.
With only two days to see what we could of Sapa, we spent the first day doing a trek to Cat Cat Village which is one of the closest villages and consists of a lovely 6km round trek from the Sapa township. Mostly downhill into the valley stepping amongst the mud ruts and moving through the mist which would settle and lift, it was a great introduction to the area. The views were as expected – magnificent. A mix of terraced agricultural fields, valleys and hills and random pockets of huts and small collections of animals. The steep descent into the main part of the village landed us at the base of a waterfall and, what I would imagine, the town square. And as would make sense, it was then a steep ascent back out of the valley. Granted Cat Cat now caters for the tourist walker but if you had more time to spare you could spend a little more time heading off the main track into other areas of the village. What I found disappointing/upsetting/frustrating was the buildup of rubbish that seemed to frequent the roadside. This is not limited to the Sapa region though – it is found throughout Vietnam. Packaged goods and water might be great for convenience and necessary(in the case of water) but the huge price the environment pays for the extra dollars that tourism brings in will reach overload at some point. The huge issue of education around waste management is something that Vietnam will have to deal with effectively at some point. And with a growing population, growing tourist market and limited land mass to make it all a bit more difficult. But with a huge amount of the population still struggling to pay their way and feed themselves, I suppose this is probably not of the highest priority. Travellers themselves need to be aware of their own responsibilities when it comes to waste and its disposal. I would imagine that I am not the only one that feels uncomfortable when I see the mounting rubbish piles that threaten to destroy the beauty of Vietnam and knowing that the industry called Tourism, of which every visitor is a part of, has contributed immensely to this.
The second day took us on another trek – this time a 16km one through a number of villages. Once again, gorgeous scenery and the Black Hmoung ladies kept us entertained with their humour inbetween the bouts of selling frenzy. Cho our guide, was a lovely, sweet lady who told me little tales of her domestic life in a village 15km from Sapa.. As she was doing an all day tour, she bought her 8 month baby along so she could feed and care for her. As with all the babies carried tightly to their mothers, they always look so contented and cry very little. As the mist was starting to settle heavy, we reached the final village where a bus took us back up the steep track in order to catch our night train back to Hanoi. And yes, I was out like a light once again.