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