day one hundred and thirty-four: february 10, 2016: sapa
Our next eight days were spent traveling around Northern Vietnam. The tour company we ended up going with was Mr. Linh's Adventures. Jonathan initially found Mr. Linh on Google after researching multi-day trips that included visiting Sapa, a place we had heard great things about. After further looking thru reviews and their trip options we ended up choosing Mr. Linh's 8 day/7 night "Off the Beaten Path" trip.
Our guide, Quang, and driver, Thanh, picked us up at our hotel at 8 AM and we hit the road toward Sapa. Recently, the government built a new highway between Hanoi and Sapa, making the drive much easier than the previous windy and narrow road. After we arrived in Sapa, we ate lunch and then quickly checked in to our hotel and headed down a windy road toward Ta Van village, which sits a little over 10 km below Sapa. Along the road we stopped at several viewpoints overlooking the valley. We had read online that it was not uncommon to be mobbed by Black H'mong (one of the local minority groups) children when walking around the Sapa area and that's exactly what happened as we got out to take a look at the view. Typically it's not encouraged to give money or candy to the children. So instead, Quang brought balloons from his side job to entertain the children. He made hearts and flowers for the girls and swords for the boys.
Batad and Banaue in the Philippines were incredible and our first time seeing extensive rice terraces built into steep hillsides. Seeing Sapa, it became ever so clear that the Igorots in the Philippines were not the only ones creating these amazing landscapes. The word "impressive" doesn't even begin to describe this area.
Thanh dropped us off at the edge of the village and we walked thru the village and its surrounding areas before getting picked up to head back to Sapa.
As we waited for Thanh to pick us up, we sat and watched a group of young boys playing a game of football (soccer), truly the world's sport.
After we were dropped off at our hotel for a break to rest, we walked around Sapa looking for a place to buy some authentic handicrafts. As we had walked around Ta Van and Sapa we had admired the intricate cross stitching and dye patterns on the clothing of the different ethnic minority groups. Luckily, we happened upon the store Indigo Cat, owned by a local Black H'mong woman and her Swiss husband. All the products they sold were designed by her and made by her, her family and other locals from surrounding villages. As we browsed thru blankets, she showed us comparisons between what other shops were selling and those in her store pointing out details that we would not have noticed with our own eyes. Some used backings that made it look like cross stitching, but was actually not. Printed materials were also used that were not truly dyed by hand. Finally we decided to buy a blanket, a few pillow cases, and several bags. Some of the larger items, like the blankets, she said take at least one year to complete due to the small details and everything being hand done.