Posts tagged ‘Sapa’

Mt. Fansipan, Vietnam

I always enjoy a good climb so the prospect of summiting the highest mountain in Vietnam (and indeed all of Indochina) more than piqued my interest.  Mount Fansipan, or Phan Xi Păng in Vietnamese (we referred to it as “Fancy Pants”), is part of the Hoang Lien Son mountain range and the easternmost end of the Himalayas.

When I learned this I was sold — to stand at over 10,000 feet atop the last major Himalayan peak before the ocean proved too hard to resist.  And the weather was improving in the region so Mt. Fansipan, which was hidden in clouds earlier in the week, was now starting to show its face.

Objective: The top of Mt. Fansipan in Vietnam

I learned from local agents in Sapa that the climb is not extremely technical but is strenuous and steep so most trekkers opt for a 2- or 3-day ascent.  I was feeling strong from our rigorous valley walks so shopped around for a guide that would do the climb in a day which I was assured is reasonable if starting early.

Unfortunately there were no group 1-day trips leaving (which would have lowered the price) so I engaged a private guide for $65 which I thought was fine, especially given that the National Park entrance fee costs $20.  So $45 for a private guide, transport to/from the trail head, and all food/water I figured this was quite a deal.

I ate a hearty pasta dinner in preparation for the trek.  Just before bed, I glanced at Mt. Fansipan from my hotel terrace.  Its cloudless silhouette under a starry sky filled me with anticipation for tomorrow’s lofty challenge.

Continue reading ‘The Roof of Indochina: Atop Mount Fansipan (Phan Xi Păng) in Vietnam’ »

Sapa, Vietnam

After a long, restless night on a cramped “sleeper” bus from Hanoi, at 5 AM we pulled into Sapa, Vietnam as the rain poured down on us.  We drowsily slipped into a cafe to warm and caffeinate our bodies.  When the sky brightened for a moment we were off to find a hotel in the mist-ensconced mountain town tucked high in the northern highlands, not far from the Chinese border.

This was not the most ideal introduction to Sapa, but after a shower and quick nap we soon experienced the many wonders of this town.  It attracts tourists mostly for its rugged alpine landscapes with soaring mountains and for the many hill-tribe villages of H’Mong, Dzao and Tay ethnic minorities not far from town.

With less than a week remaining of Paul’s vacation we had wanted to get partway into Laos but the realities of time sank in and instead we opted for Sapa as our final destination together.  He would be just an overnight train ride away from Hanoi and could easily fly to Hong Kong for his return home.  Getting to and from Laos would be a much trickier (and rushed) matter.

And we were more than pleased with this choice: within a day the rain stopped and sunshine lit up the valley.  Our remaining days were filled with excellent and interesting walks, fine meals and relaxation in the friendly and outdoorsy town.  Restaurants offer delicious local specialties, such as H’Mong sticky rice (roasted in bamboo stalks), roasted vegetables from nearby farms, grilled fresh-water fish, and delicate soups and hearty stir fries brimming with indigenous mushrooms from the hills just outside of town.

And the climate is especially agreeable: days in the 70’s and low 80’s with dry air and afternoon valley breezes, and chilly nights (often requiring electric blankets).   Occasionally dark clouds would roll in and produce a gentle rain or downpour, usually not lasting an hour and soon sunshine would return.

This constant cycle of washing rain and dry mountain sunshine lends Sapa a cleansed, refreshing feel dissimilar to the hot, dusty feel of the lowlands.  I would soon journey to Laos and Cambodia where temperatures are hottest in April reaching 100°F with high humidity.  So I enjoyed the ideal Sapa weather of mild days and cool nights while I could.

The vibe of Sapa town is great – a healthy mix of travelers (lots of backpackers and outdoor enthusiasts) and good-natured locals.  And the plucky hill-tribe vendors from the valley villages ply the streets with their textiles, beautifully hand woven and embroidered in the style of their particular tribe.  For example, the H’Mong wear darker clothing with subtle yet colorful patterns that identify their specific tribal group: Black H’Mong, Red H’Mong, White H’Mong, etc.  Dzao women shave their heads above the forehead and the sinuous lower locks are tied around bright red hats.  Most younger hill-tribe men wear western clothing, while the older men still dress in the traditional long vestiments of their ethnic group.

Continue reading ‘Getting High on the Villages, Valleys and Views of Sapa, Vietnam’ »

On the saddle of a Honda 125 in Sapa, Vietnam

One of my goals in Vietnam is to learn how to ride a motorcycle.  Since rentals are so simple and cheap (no paperwork or license required, just hand over $8 for the day), I figured this is as good a spot to learn.  Most motorcycles are small (110-150 cc) and maneuverable and I had been riding a manual scooter for a few weeks so was familiar with the gears.  But best of all, I had Paul as a seasoned rider to help me along.

Picturesque valley of hill-tribe villages and terraced rice paddies

So our first day in beautiful Sapa in the northern highlands of Vietnam on the Chinese border, I was off and running (after a few stalled attempts!) with my Honda 125 cruising down Highway 152 to the valley from the hilltop town of Sapa.

The landscape was stunning since Sapa is perched high in the mountains just beneath Mount Fansipan (Phan Xi Păng), the highest point not only in Vietnam but of Indochina as well.  The valley is sprinkled with terraced rice paddies and hill-tribe villages of the colorfully attired H’Mong, Dzao and Tay peoples.

Continue reading ‘Easy Rider in the Northern Highlands of Vietnam’ »