Visiting Sa Pa turned out to be one of the best decisions we’ve made on our entire trip. It was absolutely stunning; top 5 at least of the prettiest places we've been & we’ve seen an incredible amount of beautiful places so far on our trip. It was reminiscent of Nepal & the locals were simply amazing.
We were lucky enough to arrive during harvest season, the tiered rice fields yellow & heavy with seeds were slowly being replaced in color by the green freshly cut stalks. Every evening, after the people had left for the day, the water buffalo would wander out amongst the recently cut rows, grazing on the leftover fallen stems.
Here we were doing our first homestay. From another travel blog, Ben had managed to find a WhatsApp contact for a local guide who organized multi day tours with the local tribes in the area. A few quick texts back & forth & we were signed up to take a night train, meet some people on the side of the road & head off into the mountains on the backs of their motorbikes. At some point we probably should have felt a bit hesitant about it, but it seemed legit.
Sa Pa Day 1:
As mentioned, we showed up after a long night train to be greeted by two men on the side of the road & we hopped onto the backs of their motorbikes to head off to the homestay. Luckily, we found out they were our guide’s husband & brother so that was a relief!
It sounds cheesy, but as we rounded the final bend & pulled into their home, we looked out over the fields just as the morning sun was breaking through the clouds. We were awe struck.
I was content to sip on a couple cups of coffee & just sit there most the day, but that was not on our very full agenda! After a homemade breakfast of banana pancakes, we were back on the bikes & off further into the valley to the Lao Cai village. Hong, our host, had arranged for an all-day trekking excursion with a local H’mong tribe guide.
We crisscrossed our way through the local villages, up into the mountainside to waterfalls & through the bamboo forest, which I thought was delightful until we were up to our ankles in soppy mud from days of rain - I no longer thought the bamboo forest was cute.
Here, we had decided not to return to Hong’s home for our first night, but to stay in the H’mong Homestay with Mik (our trek guide) & her family. It was great fun; she invited us to join in cooking dinner & taught us the proper way to mix spring rolls & we shared the dinner table with her two young boys, other relatives, several family kittens, & their adorable little puppy.
Sa Pa Day 2:
Our adventures for day 2 were decidedly more relaxed. As it is the end of rainy season, a nice heavy downpour had settled in over the valley & we were quickly soaked to the bone on our little motorbikes making the trip from Lao Cai back to Hong’s village of Ma Tra.
To beat the weather, we headed to the local Sa Pa market & selected loads of fresh veggies for a proper BBQ lunch. You could get anything you want here, & a few things maybe that you don’t (i.e dog meat)…we settled on veggies for me & pork for Benny.
I haven't had this much food prepared for us probably since India. The different dishes all cooked up over the small open grill was overwhelming. Hong would giggle as she kept sending more food our way saying “eat more!” Apparently, a large lunch & smaller dinner is the way to go around here, or at least that's what we hoped or I would die of overeating.
In the afternoon, as the skies cleared up, we were back on the bikes & headed out for a quick trip to another small village a few kilometers away. The landscape continued to be breathtaking, we couldn't help but exclaim how gorgeous it was over & over. As I have extensively practiced my writing this year, I should have a better word choice but I didn’t, all I could manage was “this is just stupid pretty.” Classy, I know.
Our afternoon treat was going to be a (very) hot herbal tea bath! We arrived at another homestay of Hong’s friend in the Ta Phin village & sat down to sip a little tea while we waited for the giant pot of herbs to boil. Comprised of at least 15 different area herbs, it is believed that sitting in the hot bath helps with skin, bones & energy. It was a bit like sitting in a barrel of hot Lipton tea. I was a little concerned Ben wasn't going to fit in the actual tub, but we both managed to squeeze our way in.
It was very relaxing, a bit sauna-like & hey, if it works, maybe I’ve got a new bath regime for home.
Sa Pa Day 3:
Our last morning of our tour was spent racing up into the mountains on a motorbike tour. By now, the weather was changing quickly due to the impending typhoon & it was so cold up on the mountain tops. We were not properly dressed & shivered to the bone.
After a hike to the falls, we warmed ourselves by the open grill on the roadside…cafe/tent-like structure where another friend of Hong’s had grilled up some more BBQ for lunch. I stuck mostly to the sticky rice & grilled sweet potatoes (though I tried a bit of the meat to be polite); Ben was the adventurous one & dove in for the whole grilled swallow….
After just a few short days, we already felt like part of the family, Ben had even helped out with some math homework for the older girls the night before! It seemed as if we had known Hong & her family for years, not days & it was so sad to leave!
Sa Pa is truly a magical experience & one you cannot pass up if you really want to appreciate the beauty that Vietnam has to offer.