We've just returned from a hectic few days in Sa Pa. It's right in the north west of the country and as we were picked up at the train station, the bus driver pointed to a mountain in the distance and that was China! Sa Pa is located high up in the mountains, so it was a very welcome break from the busy cities, and the intense heat as it was much cooler up there.
We arrived by night train on Thursday morning after a surprisingly comfortable sleep! Breakfast and a shower were awaiting us at the hotel - great but I still can't get my head around noodles in the morning. The first day in Sa Pa was a 12km trek through a couple of the local villages. Luckily it was downhill all the way! When we set off from our hotel about 6 of the local village ladies joined us, asking questions all the way and our guide warned us that at lunchtime they would try and sell us their crafts. They had learnt English through talking to tourists and everyday they walked the 3 hours to their village to the hotel and then back again with groups like us, just to sell one bag at lunchtime.
The scenery on the trek was amazing, rice paddies and corn took up all the available space on the land, with hundreds of terraces cut into the sides of the mountains. First we visited Lao Chai village where many ethnic tribes live and then the Ta Van village where we had lunch. The second day was less walking, and we visited the Cat Cat and Sin Chai villages. We got to see into one of the locals houses which was very interesting. The people live a very simple life, working the land in the summer. In winter our guide told us that the temperature gets very cold, around 1 or 2 degrees, so the men brew and drink lots of their own rice wine, known locally as 'happy water.' At an old hydroelectric plant we were treated to a local dance and music performance. Another (and our last of the trip) night train back to Hanoi this morning arrived at 4.45am. Naps are definitely required today.