Sapa is a colourful and charming mountain village in northern Vietnam, close to the boarder with China. The village lies in a valley about 1500 meters over sea level and is surrounded by the The Hoàng Liên Son mountain range, which includes Indochina’s highest mountain, Fan Si Pan. We decided to take a four-day trip from Hanoi to explore the village and to hike up to the peak of Fan Si Pan.
Getting to Sa Pa involved a 6-hour sleeper-bus ride (a bus with seats that recline back almost to a full horizontal position and if you are under 170cm you might be able to stretch your legs out too) As we arrived in the centre of Sa Pa, we were greeted by six or so tiny women, all dressed in traditional Vietnamese clothes. The women were black Hmong people, one of the local ethnic groups in Northern Vietnam and were, like most other days, in town to sell souvenirs and village homestays to all tourists. They all tried very hard to sell us what they could but after a few hundred ‘no, thank you’s’, most accepted defeat and left with a smile. As soon as we arrived to the hotel we got our room and we fell asleep on the biggest bed ever! Only joking, the hotel we booked didn’t even exist anymore so after a few SOS-calls to Frida’s dad, we got money back from the company that sold us the no-longer-existing-hotel-room and started walking the streets again in search of a new place to stay. We found a new place very quickly and after a shorter power nap we started to explore the village properly. Jack said it felt just like being in a village in the Swiss Alps, but with lots of Vietnamese people chasing after tourists trying to sell them things. To cut the short story even shorter, we really enjoyed the village. It was a beautiful place and all the locals dressed in traditional garments light up the streets with all the colours they were wearing. Add to that, the surrounding mountain views and the fresh air (something we have really missed living in Hanoi) created a lovely atmosphere. We were also very lucky with the weather and had sun for three out of four days (this place is known for being very foggy and rainy).
(To read about our Fansipan adventure, scroll further down)
Fan Si Pan – “The roof of Indochina”
At some point when researching about hiking up Fan Si Pan we read that people have died up there when hiking by themselves so we decided to pay a little bit extra for a guide to bring us up (and down) safely. The whole package cost about 50 Euros per person and included all the food and sleeping equipment for the overnight stay at the camp 2800 meters up the mountain. We were picked up from our hotel on motorbikes and were then driven up to the starting point of the hike. The walk during the first day was split in to two parts; “Walk to Lunch” and “Walk to Sleeping” as our guide chose to explain it with his very basic level of English. The best part of day one was definitely when our guide cooked dinner for us. We were cold, hungry and very tired so when he appeared from the kitchen/dirty tent with hot food and enough for five people we felt like we really were in heaven for a brief moment. It tasted delicious too. Unfortunately, the sleep we had was not so good, but we thankfully brought our own sleeping bags so we at least didn’t have to freeze like all the other hikes did. The alarm was set to 4am the next morning and the breakfast arrived at 4:30. At 5 o’clock, and in complete darkness, we started the last climb of 343 vertical meters up to the summit with head torchers. A very exciting and adrenalin pumping experience, climbing rocky walls and ladders in high winds without knowing what was around us, at least not more than 1m visibility we had. At 6 o’clock, after an hour of pushing ourselves at a very good tempo, we finally reached the summit of Fan Si Pan, 3143 meters. We’re sure there was a sun rise but unfortunately the weather wasn’t on our side so the amazing views that we were supposed to be rewarded with ended up being a thick grey wall all around us. And as everyone knows, everything that goes up, must eventually come back down. So we started our 6 hour walk back to the starting point, where in arrival, we were congratulated by our guide and were given a certificate and a medal for finishing the two-day hike. Already looking forward to our next mountain experience!