So, after the adventure of actually getting here, I was dropped off at the Sapa Lodge hotel, which looks fine, and was given a fairly terrible breakfast while they processed my check-in. At around 9AM, our guide arrived and we left on our first tour. It was raining heavily outside -more than when I arrived- so I had my umbrella out and my rain poncho on. I thought my sneakers would be all right in the rain, and perhaps they might have been, but what I wasn’t expecting were the torrential rivers pouring down every street, with no safe place to step on. There would be waves that splashed up to our ankles, so that our feet were fully soaked within minutes. (I had tried to get rainboats at a store but they didn’t have my size…) It got better later on, but of course by then we already had puddles inside our shoes.
The scenery really is beautiful. It speaks to the beauty of the place that I found some sights impressive even in the cold, rainy, foggy slosh of a walk that we took from Sapa to the village of Cat Cat. We saw rivers that roared with brown water, no doubt strengthened by the rain, lots of rice fields, and villages with stands selling souvenirs. I can only imagine how nice it must be to walk around this place when it’s not raining and you can take your time to admire the landscape and take pictures.
You definitely don’t need to be a trekker to enjoy some if these walks. We spent the entire trek stepping on cement or stone, we never had to walk on dirt or climb anything more than a flight of stairs. We visited a traditional H’mong house, where a family was having lunch around a fire, with a cat sitting right next to the flame for warmth, chickens ate corn and an adorable puppy kept running around the place. We saw a building that used to be a power plant when the French controlled Indochina.
Every few steps there would be H’mong women, with baskets or babies on their backs, sometimes trying to sell you braided bracelets, but today at least they weren’t as persistent as I’d been left to believe. Maybe the rain gets to them too! All in all we were outside for about two or three hours, then came back to the hotel for a surprisingly tasty lunch. Before that, however, I ran to my room and had a nice warm shower and a change of clothes -I feel like a man renewed! Now it rains less, so I’ll take the chance to walk around the town of Sapa, but I can’t catch a break, because the fog rolled down the mountains and now I can barely see the ground from the fifth floor:
So I did go out anyway! Sapa is a strange town, it’s a mountain town, but it’s also tourist central, with lots of stores selling The North Face knockoffs at every corner while H’mong women sell trinkets on the street. Inexplicably, like 60% of the restaurants here are Italian, and most claim to be authentic, so am I to believe that there’s an Italian diaspora in the Vietnamese mountains?
There’s also a Catholic church right next to the town square, in front of a colonial-style hotel:
Thanks to Lonely Planet I found Indigo Cat, the only store in Sapa that’s actually a coop with the H’mong, fair trade and locally sourced. They have really beautiful things there! A nice, if early end to the day. Here’s hoping it doesn’t rain tomorrow!