Category Archives: Vietnam

I don’t know whether “backpacking” is fit to describe my type of travel in Vietnam but I believe it’s between being a backpacker and a flashpacker.

The Vietnam Trip: Beautiful Hill Tribes and Landscapes in Sapa Valley

This is a follow-up entry of The Vietnam Trip: Our Friendly Host in Sapa Valley. With this final entry, it will end the series of my stories on Cat’s and my 10-day escapade to central and northern Vietnam back in April 2013.

First of all, I feel absolutely blessed to have met Huong (translated as “Perfume”), the owner of Hanoi Family Homestay, who made our Halong-Sapa trip possible. The way Cat and I were introduced to this hospitable yet reliable travel agent was kind of weird (read it here), but how did it matter, right? Perhaps that only made our trip more memorable.


Of the many places we visited, both Cat and I were probably happiest while in Sapa. We definitely loved the chilly weather there. Somehow weather like that made travelling much more relaxing and enjoyable.

Much of our culture shock didn’t just stem from us being in a highland town, but also from us being exposed to a relatively different culture that is different from other parts of Vietnam. Staying with our host Huong and experiencing the simple life there was such an unforgettable experience!

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Ready for dinner with our host Huong in Sapa.

You maybe confused when I said our host’s name is Huong. This is the older sister to the one in Hanoi I was talking about. Both of them runs a homestay and have the same name, except that one is based in Sapa, and the other in Hanoi.

Speaking of our host… let me introduce Little Tom, the youngest son of Huong, who was the apple of everyone’s eyes:

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Little Tom was super adorable and had a boyish face. He just had every little trick to make your heart melt!

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Little Tom being mischievous.
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I had to join the fun!

One of the places one has got to visit in Sapa would be the Sapa market, comprised of both wet and dry sections, situated near the Sapa square (more on this after this). If I remember correctly, walking through this market all the way to the end will lead you to the direction of the Cat Cat Village.

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Fresh fruits, vege, and poultry can all be found at the market. A tip about buying things from the market is that if you look anything like a local, just keep your mouth shut and don’t utter a word. If you look anything Vietnamese, chances are that you will get the local’s pricing!

If you don’t fancy eating at the relatively more high-end restaurants in Sapa, you could head over to the food court at the back of the market where they offer a variety of foods.

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Right across the food court is a two-storey building (also part of the Sapa market), and that is where both the ethnic and non-ethnic locals sell an assortment of things such as handmade/machine-made blankets, fabric, jewellery, and souvenirs.

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The Sapa square is also a must-visit!

During both daytime and night time, the square is utilised as a platform for the ethnic locals to do business with tourists. They sell jewellery, accessories, blankets, and hats – most of which are handmade, as well as other interesting items. I must say the ethnic locals are a gifted lot – they make really good handicraftsmen.

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Cat and I were constantly approached by swarms of the ethnic locals who were desperately trying to sell their items. “Buy from me, I give you cheaper price.“Come, I have the colour you want.” “Why don’t you buy from mama? Say your price.

It can get annoying after a while, but think about it: competition among the sellers also means you have better bargaining power.

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If you’re staying in Sapa over the weekend, you may consider taking a 2.5-hour bus ride (110km) to Bac Ha on Sunday morning to visit its market.

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The market didn’t impress me too much as the items sold there were similar to what one can get in Sapa. However the market, at the time of visit, was operated at a big scale, and thus offered more things to buy and choices to pick from.

As Bac Ha is mostly populated with Flower Hmong – one of the 54 minorities of Vietnam, the textile motives on fabrics or blankets sold at the Bac Ha market were noticeably different compared to ones produced by other ethnic groups.

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Me donning a Black Hmong shirt.

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One special thing about Bac Ha is that it is known for its corn wine. Though, it was such a shame that I didn’t get to taste any corn wine while in Bac Ha.

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A Hmong lady making corn wine at her house.

On our last morning in Sapa, Cat and I, together with a traveller from German called Dominik, went on a trekking tour that allowed us to enjoy the picturesque landscapes of mountains and rice terraces in Sapa.

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I didn’t have a pair of sports shoes as I didn’t expect trekking to be part of our activities. As such I had to go on with the only pair of loafer shoes I was wearing.

Although it had become very much worn-out after the trekking, I was thankful it was able to last me until I reached Malaysia.

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Local farmers planting rice on terraces.

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A Hmong woman making a handicraft out of leaves.
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Let’s jump… to greater heights?
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Catea with two adorable angmoh kids.

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Just like Malaysia’s Cameron Highlands, Vietnam’s Sapa is developing fast, and the volume of tourists flocking to this little paradise of Vietnam is also steadily picking up.

While economically I could see it helping Sapa and its locals a lot, my only concern is that continuous development and commercialisation may eventually pose a threat to its environment, just like what is happening in Cameron right now. On the other hand, modernisation could also harm Sapa in the cultural sense.

Maybe I can only hope the beauty of Spa will be preserved in the best shape possible.

The Vietnam Trip: Our Friendly Host in Sapa Valley

I know, I should have written and published this post ages ago but I just couldn’t find the free time and motivation to write it! And now since I’m in the mood to do it I’m just hoping I can still remember major details.


Anyway this one is from Cat’s and my escapade to Vietnam back in August, for a total of ten days. We started from Danang and wandered all the way up north to Sapa, then came back down to take a flight back to Malaysia from Hanoi.

You can read my previous posts on this long, wonderful trip below:

The Great Vietnam Trip: Hoi An Ancient Town

The Great Vietnam Trip: Where (Not) to Visit in Hue

The Great Vietnam Trip: Did Halong Bay Live Up to Expectations?

After spending two days on the cruise ship at Halong Bay, we headed back to Hanoi as Cat and I were scheduled to depart to Sapa on a sleeper bus that night. This was one of the places we anticipated the most because before we set foot there, we had heard a lot of great things about this paradise on earth.

Sapa is the border town between Vietnam and China, sitting at 4,921 feet above sea level. While still at Halong Bay, Cat and I had no idea that Sapa was going to be cold, until a Chilean couple mentioned to us about it.

In my heart I went like “Aiyah, whatever lah! Don’t think it’s gonna be that bad!” And of course, I was wrong.

I’m not sure about Cat, but my bus journey to Sapa was such a horrible one. We were supposed to take off at 7pm from the Hanoi bus station but ended up having to wait exhaustedly for hours for our bus to come.

I was already drained after our Halong Bay trip because I had woken up at 5am the same day – while everyone was still sleeping – in order to witness dawn on the upper deck of the cruise ship. Furthermore we were occupied with various activities during the daytime.

There was no explanation on what was going on, except they kept telling us to “please wait.” In the end I had to find out from a local who could speak English to tell me what was going on. Apparently the bus operator had oversold the tickets, and thus there was an under-supply of service.


After about 12 hours of bus journey, the bus stopped at Lao Cai, where some visitors were seen getting down. Cat and I had no idea if that was where we should get down also, but apparently asking other travellers did not help as they too had no clue.

After trying to communicate hard with the driver who could barely speak English, he shooed me back onto the bus and that was when I figured  out that it probably wasn’t our final destination yet.

We finally reached Sapa an hour later and by that time it was already close to 11am. If there had not been any delayed we would have reached Sapa two hours and a half earlier.

My initial bad mood started to wane after being greeted by the nice, chilly weather in Sapa. The temperature, I reckoned, was about 15°C.

Huong, the hospitable owner of Hanoi Family Homestay who made our Halong-Sapa trip possible, had arranged her people in Sapa to pick us up upon our arrival.

It was her sister, also named Huong and operating a guesthouse in Sapa, who came to fetch us with her bike. Yes, a bike, with the three of us on it! Of course, in addition to that were our luggages.

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We must be lucky or what – the day of our arrival actually coincided with Huong brother’s wedding day, and hence…

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Huong’s brother – the groom clad smartly in Western attire – was busy welcoming guests coming to his wedding lunch reception right outside the guesthouse. I buey-paisehly went up to shake hand with him like I was one of the guests.

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I experienced an immediate culture shock as it was the first time I had witnessed a Vietnamese wedding reception. I was just as stroked as most of the guest were.

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Although we did not join them, the guests were all so hospitable – they kept looking and smiling at us joyously, with one or two of them throwing us the “let’s have some beer” gesture!

Continue reading The Vietnam Trip: Our Friendly Host in Sapa Valley