Exploring the Mountains of Sa Pa, Vietnam

Driving through Hanoi was a bit of a culture shock after being in Myanmar for almost a month.  It had been a while since we’d seen neon lights and clustered skyscrapers… Maybe that’s why I immediately fell in love with this city… Although I was traumatized by some of the meat selection at the local markets.

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Parts of Hanoi even reminded me of the Sunset District in San Francisco, where I lived during college; only with a whole lot more karaoke.  Literally, wherever you end up in Vietnam… Karaoke will be there.

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As you can see from the photos above, Hanoi is very busy urban area.  Beware of motorcycles here though, they’re all over the place, including sidewalks.  We actually saw a police officer get hit by a motorbike, but he popped back up as if it were something that happens all the time.

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My favorite part of the city was the park around Hoan Kiem Lake, near the French Quarter.  The brightly painted Huc Bridge (which leads to the Jade Island Temple) made for some good photos on the cloudy days we were there.

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Our next destination was Sa Pa, the land of many rice terraces, which made for some really great photos, even though they weren’t completely green.

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We stayed at the Sapa Dragon Hotel for five nights.  The staff was super friendly and helpful, they made sure we enjoyed our time spent in Sapa.  Our friend Tung, set us up with a great guide (at TOM Travel) who took us on perfectly picturesque walks through the mountains.

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Our first day was a little rainy and muddy, which got sort of difficult to hike in, but luckily some of the local minorities helped us out… and then tried to sell us their bags and charms, which probably weren’t actually made by them.  Our guide told us that a lot of them are so busy trying to sell these products that they have no time to actually make them, meaning they come from China- so, not very authentic.

RJ8A3411 Personally, my favorite part was seeing all the animals on the farm lands, happily running around wherever they pleased.  Of course some of them were more ill-fated than the others, but it was nice to know that, here, they live enjoyable, cage-free lives.

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Another favorite for us was the day we got to rent motorbikes (for $4) and ride them around the mountain trails.  It was my first time EVER riding my own, but I’m glad I decided to take the risk, because I had a blast!

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Well, once we got passed the really narrow roads on the side of a cliff, that is.  Our guide and Fabian’s dad were great teachers and made sure I was safe the whole time.

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Our last day in Sapa was spent on the top of Mount Fansipan, but we took the easy way out… We didn’t have to climb the full 3, 143 meters (over 10k feet) since they had just opened the cable car!

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Thanks to Tung, manager at the Sapa Dragon, we were able to get our own private car which was awesome and super spacious!  Each car can hold up to 30 people.

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Once we got off the car there were a few flights of steep steps to climb to get to the very top.  Fabes and I decided to do it with our guide, driver, and Tung (who I now should mention was the family’s guide on their first trip to Vietnam in 2012).

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So here I am with a bunch of Vietnamese guides who have actually climbed this entire mountain almost 100 times each… and I’m dying on the STAIRS after taking a CABLE CAR almost all of the way.  It was embarrassing, but the air was getting so thin and my head was hurting from the elevation that I had to pause a couple times.  Eventually… we made it!

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The view was amazing, getting to the top of Fansipan is a must do when in Sapa, no matter which way you choose to make it there.

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