Where Heaven Meets Earth

Sapa is a region to the northwest of Hanoi, Vietnam. It’s an area dominated by mountains of lush and green, with creeks of moss and stones. Most of the mountains possess perfectly ridged rice terraces along it’s slopes, crafted by the villagers and farmers who live there. Sapa, also known as Heaven’s Gate, is an area of extraordinary beauty and mesmerizing landscapes that will forever bathe in the clouds’ mists. It’s the next and last stop on this Vietnam trip and a perfect way to cap off this underrated country.

As soon as Lucy and I were dropped off at the Ethnic travel agency from our more-than-amazing Halong Bay cruise, we immediately had a taxi waiting for us for departure to the nearby bus station. From there, we had to endure an 11 hour overnight bus ride to the Lao Cai province of Vietnam, where Sapa is located. We took a sleeper bus, and unlike the cozy sleeper bus we took to Mui Ne a few weeks earlier, this one, particularly for me, was a rough ride! Not only was it humid, either I’ve grown a few inches or this bus was a bit smaller. Sleeper buses are not made for tall people, and I don’t even consider myself that tall; barely six feet, if that. Lucy and I were placed all the way in the back where you had to share space with three other strangers. There was a local lady who slept next to Lucy who kept elbowing her in the back. There was some dude down below who kept playing the same annoying song on repeat for a straight hour. I learned the words by the time he turned it off. Yes, it wasn’t very cozy but that’s okay, it was cheap and we were able to sleep most of the trip and before you knew it, the next morning we were in Lao Cai! From there another taxi was waiting for us, that took us to our hostel in Sapa Town, where we could eat breakfast and shower up.

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There is where we reunited with Jurre and An, who took the overnight train instead of the sleeper bus. There, we also met other travelers from around the world who would make the hike through Sapa with us, including three guys from Catelonia, Spain and another couple from somewhere else in Spain, I forget! Lucy and I would only be doing a two-day trek, while the other would do three. But once we all got acquainted, our tour guide led us through town for the beginning of the long hike!

Sapa Town
Sapa Town
Sapa, the town where toddlers ride motorbikes as soon as they can walk...
Sapa, the town where toddlers ride motorbikes as soon as they can walk…

Along through town, a troupe of local women and girls garbed in black woven clothes with purple and white lace around the edges, began to follow us. Initially I thought they wanted to sell us things, which is usually the case when locals walk up to me, but instead they just wanted to make the hike with us and guide us along the way (Later on they would try to sell us things). These woman are called Black Monks and they are one of many different tribes that live here in Sapa. I guess it’s pretty common for the Black Monks to follow tourists around, to get a more authentic feel. Once we made it through the town, we eventually made it the start of the wild hike, where we witnessed a dreamlike view of the Sapa valley!

Sapa
Sapa

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Just thinking about it now, it seemed unreal. A valley filled with a rich green, as far as the eye could see, sheltered in a blanket of thick mist. During the morning, the sun shone brightly but as the day progressed, the sun’s rays individually punctured through the clouds. Each hour of the day produced a fantastic backdrop for our hike. Today’s hike was about five or six hours long that took us through the wide landscapes of the slopes. It wasn’t a difficult hike at all, as a matter of fact, it was very enjoyable because we saw the region from many different angles and saw plenty of different wildlife, including wild baby piglets scampering the fields and patches of dragonflys roaming about!

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An and Jurre with a handful of Black Monks
An and Jurre with a handful of Black Monks

After a few hours of a sweaty hike, we made it to a shop where we were served more rice and noodles, just like every other place in Vietnam. No matter, it always tasted delicious and it always got the job done. As we ate, the Black Monks patiently waited outside for us, as they enjoyed their own lunch.

This is one of the "main" Black Monks, looking into the distance as she enjoys her meal.
This is one of the “main” Black Monks, looking into the distance as she enjoys her meal.

As we continued out trek, we passed through a village with a dozen kids just playing about, minding their own business. I had a sack of snacks in my bag for the hike, so I thought I would give it to the youngsters instead. They loved it! An gave them balloons she had on her. They loved those too!

Lucy and I with the kiddos.
Lucy and I with the kiddos.

Soon after they ran about to show their parents the gifts they just received from a bunch of strangers.

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After a little more hiking, we reached our tour guides house and stayed there for the night. She actually lives in the village and does treks almost everyday as part of her job. We were all extremely dirty, so instead of the shower, I opted to take a bath in the river. On the way I saw some locals soaping up in the creek and the water looked fresh enough, so I thought I would give it a try. It was cold but it felt great! I made it back in time for a feast at the house where one of the cooks there gave us “Happy Wine”, which is just another name for a certain kind of Vietnamese booze! We called it a night. The next day we would begin another trek through this dreamlike country.

The house we stayed at for the night.
The house we stayed at for the night.
We watched this spider trap and eat so many pesky bugs during our dinner. Thanks for protecting us from those nasty mosquitos!
We watched this spider trap and eat so many pesky bugs during our dinner. Thanks for protecting us from those nasty mosquitos!

We started off in the morning, and continued our long, muddy hike forward through the valley where I was able to nab more photos.

Rice fields.
Rice fields.

20130726-182627.jpgIt started to rain pretty heavily. At one point I accidentally split up from my group…or should I say, they split up from me! What happened was, there was this muddy, slippery slope we came to that we had to get down. I say it was about 50 feet long and a bit steep. I was always at the front of the pack and went down the hill first. The tour guide decided it was too dangerous, AFTER I had already went down, and decided to lead the group on an alternate route. So now what? I just continued on further on my lonesome. Well not totally alone, one of the Black Monks joined me and came with me to make sure I didn’t get lost. I think this was also a good thing to happen because eventually I caught up with two elderly woman who were struggling once we were in the ridiculously muddy bamboo forest. I was able to help them most of the way. After about a half hour or so, An and Jurre who were also split up, merged with me and we hiked to the waterfalls where the Black Monk told us to wait for the rest of my group. We all rejoined and continued.

I have a faster than average walking pace and always found myself at the far front of the group. Instead of constantly waiting for them to catch up, I decided to go forth and take shots of them from afar.

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My pace was so fast that I eventually lost them, AGAIN, and made it to another village where I waited for them for lunch. Here I was bombarded by a different tribe of women called the “Red Dao”. These ladies shave their eyebrows and most of their hair and wear big red hats that look like pillows and garments with red decorations in them. As soon as the Red Dao seen me walking towards their village, they surrounded me and tried to sell me things I don’t want. I had to chit chat with them for awhile since I was alone and had no idea where to hide. It got to the point where I had to throw my fellow hiking buddies under the bus. “I have no money but my friends who are coming are very rich! You can ask them!” I said. The plan worked as I saw my group coming along and the Dao ladies waltzed right to them! Mwahahaha!

Lucy and I enjoyed one last lunch with the group before she and I set off to say goodbye and leave Sapa.

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Jurre, An, and all the rest of them would continue they’re hike to another village for the night. Lucy and I headed back to the hotel in Sapa Town where we took a sleeper bus back to Hanoi. This bus was worse than the other but whatever, it was stupid cheap! I just could never get cozy.

Once we got back to Hanoi in the middle of the night, we kind of struggled to find a hostel (most hostels aren’t open at five in the morning) but we eventually found one and passed out. Earlier in the week, before we went to Halong Bay, we decided where we would go once we got back in Hanoi.

We booked a plane for the next day, to a landlocked country that neighbors Vietnam called Laos. We have nothing booked or planned for the country, as we decided to go there on the whim. We’ll see how it all pans out!

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Author: Adventure Born

I'm Daniel. A cereal lovin', traveling machine from Michigan on a solo journey around the world, documenting and sharing my unexpected tales from abroad. My aim is to inspire people like YOU to discover your very own adventures. The world is truly too big not to explore it!

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