Now that the summer weather is kicking in the temperature regularly exceeds 40 degrees in Hanoi. Within seconds of venturing outside the sun scolds your bare skin and wading through the thick, soupy air exhausts you in a matter of minutes. We were keen to escape the city heat and spend some of our final days in Vietnam up in the cool of the mountains in Sapa.
Visiting Sapa in Summer
It was a relief to arrive in Sapa, to throw open the doors of our hotel room and feel the rush of cool, alpine air fill the room. We last visited Sapa during winter, when the fields were brown and vacant; now they are a lush, vivid lime-green, full of rice ready to be harvested. Buffalos pull ploughs across the terraces and the cone-hats of farmers dot the countryside as they squat to pull crops from the ground.
Sapa town is now chock-full of Vietnamese tourists on summer breaks. At the weekends they descend upon the restaurants and cafes in large groups. In the evenings the open-air amphitheatre is swarming with children firing flashing rocket toys into the sky while teenagers stand in circles, kicking Caus (shuttle-cock-like objects) back and forth. Adults recline on the stone steps to watch local H’mong people perform traditional dances and songs on the stage.
During this visit to Sapa we were saddened to see far more children, some as young as three or four years old, working in the streets selling goods to tourists late into the night. One evening I watched in despair as a tiny, yawning girl carrying a sleeping baby on her back relentlessly paced the square, approaching tourists with her bags and bracelets. Rather than buy from child sellers we try to give back to the local community in a more sustainable way; on this visit we booked a private trek through Sapa O’Chau, a social enterprise which employs local people and puts money back into the community and local education.
Ta Phin Trek – In Pictures
As soon as we left the town we were alone in the mountains with our lovely guide, Lam, who lives in nearby Lao Chai village. Lam speaks excellent English and works as a tour guide several days a week, she also helps to farm the land and makes and sells handicrafts. Lam appears fiercely independent and ambitious; unlike many other 22-year old Vietnamese women she’s chosen not to marry or have children yet and focus instead on working and enjoying her freedom.
Lam took us on a trek to Ta Phin, one of the largest, most sprawling villages in Sapa which has over 2,000 residents, members of the Red Dao and H’Mong minority groups. In sharp contrast to our previous trek in Sapa, we walked in peace and quiet, coming across only a handful of other tourists. We weren’t approached by anyone selling their wares so we could focus instead on the scenery, chatting to Lam as we went.
We were awed by the views and the immense scale of the mountains and rice terraces spiralling off in waves of green, brown and yellow into the distance. Mere words don’t do justice to the spectacular views; so here are some of our best snapshots from our trek.