Close to the northwest border of Vietnam is Sapa, a small mountain market town surrounded by villages and endless tiers of rice fields. Katie and I had heard and seen pictures of this perfect place and were excited to experience it together. I will warn you, these pictures are nothing compared to the actual experience. I can't capture all that green with a camera. This place was incredible.
We took an overnight train via Livitrans. I highly recommend the highest class available, our second class tickets were less than semi-comfortable. Think waking up in a moving train from a fitful sleep in the heat.. like, at least 85 degrees. Oh, at five in the morning.
So we arrived at the station and met our tour guide, Tae. He told us a little about growing up in Sapa, and explained to us the growing tourist attraction that it was, this being his fifth year as a tour guide. The drive into the town was breathtaking, clouds surrounded us as our van climbed higher and higher. Tae explained a little history of Sapa, and pointed out that from the highest point, which is also the highest point in the country, you can see into China.
Our van stopped outside the garden entrance to the Panorama Hotel, where we were greeted by a group of hill-tribe women. These girls come to Sapa every day to meet and greet tourists. Their English is some of the clearest English I had heard since arriving in Vietnam, considering how much they were able to practice. We headed up to the hotel, showered and enjoyed a relaxing breakfast overlooking the town, then it was trek time. Before leaving the town, we wandered around a bit, the hill-tribe girls followed us everywhere. Essentially, they were a part of the tour. They follow you around and are, truly, as sweet as can be, but in the end, they're hoping you'll buy some of their handicrafts, beautiful and bright scarves, bracelets and bags. "I follow you, you buy from me."
Tae led us through the rice fields and a few villages. Several of these villages have become so used to tourists that all you see are the villagers who cater to those passing through. The scenery and the people were beautiful. We passed others on a larger tour, got to peak into a couple schools nestled among the mountains, and stared gaping at the majesty of creation. Definitely something I'll never forget.
After our trek we were able to freshen up again, grab a vietnamese coffee at Le Gecko, a little cafe next to the hotel. After dinner at our same spot overlooking the town, we boarded another overnight train to Hanoi to begin our flights back to Thailand.
While in Sapa we met several tourists who were dedicating much more time to Vietnam than we were, and hearing about the places they'd been just solidified our interest in coming back to Vietnam one day. Halong Bay, Ninh Binh, and more time in the cities. Our entire trip was a little stressful and exhausting but I'm looking forward to (possibly) going back. Trying to backpack an entire country in five days is definitely not long enough.