Our first official day of our tour of Vietnam has us both very excited!
We’ve already spent a few days in Hanoi and are ready to go exploring. We check into the lovely Viet View Hotel and Spa in the centre of Old Hanoi, and we have an elegant and classically decorated room, complete with fresh fruits on arrival, plus the ensuite has a traditional wooden bath tub!
As we have the afternoon free, we enquire about purchasing a SIM card for both of our phones. The doorman at the hotel is so helpful, and offers to show us where to buy the correct SIM card.
We follow him for several blocks and he communicates with a little old lady selling cards on the street corner and for $7 AU each, we get a card with unlimited data – perfect for our social media needs on tour. I was so appreciative that he came along with us. Without him, we would have no idea what to buy, or where to buy it from.
We meet our Legend Travel Group tour coordinator that afternoon, and by the time we had finished discussing our agenda, we were both quite excited for the coming weeks ahead.
The next day started early with a 6:15 a.m. breakfast. We didn’t know who else would be traveling with us as the tour is tailor-made for each client. I remember looking around at breakfast wondering who we would be on tour with for the coming days as we head to the mountainous region of SaPa in the north.
Fortunately, our tour returns to this same hotel, so we store our large suitcases with this hotel, and are free to travel with small carry-on trolley bags.
The coach that takes us to SaPa is one of the nicest coaches we have ever been on. Blankets and pillows are all supplied, and the seats recline with leg and foot extendable rests. Each passenger also gets snacks and water.
Most seem to catch up on the sleep they missed out on this a.m. as we drive through the countryside carpeted either side with honey-coloured and bright green rice paddies.
Soon we are snaking our way up through the hills, and the terrain is replaced by beautiful terraced hills and rice paddies all around us. Cameras are madly clicking away, but we are informed it will be even more stunning in the SaPa area.
SaPa is a small but fast-growing town in the Hoàng Liên Son Mountains of north-western region of Vietnam quite near the China border. Hill tribes (such as the Hmong, Tay and Dao) can be seen along the side of the road, dressed traditionally as though time stood still.
We learn there are 54 minority ethnic groups in Vietnam.
Once we arrive in SaPa these ethnic ladies rush to meet us, eagerly keen to sell their wares. We are met by our guide, and six of us are lead to a local restaurant where our tour coordinator briefs us on the area and our coming agenda.
Separated only by the restaurant glass window, these local ladies smile back at us, and we are busy taking their photograph.
Little do I know over the 3 days here, three of these very ladies would become almost like friends!
We enjoy a reasonably priced lunch here with discount meals because we are on the tour, and then trolley our bags down to the Bamboo SaPa Hotel.
Our new local ‘friends’ chat to us as we walk, trying to entice us to buy from them, but we need to keep up with the others and decline graciously.
As we enter our room, we have are pleased it is spacious and with windows open we feel the cool mountain air waft in.
I am speechless at our million-dollar view, and we even have a small balcony! Now this is just breathtaking!
The town of SaPa is located in the Lao Cai province, with the terrain climbing 1600 meters above sea level.
Explorason doesn’t want to leave this misty mountainous view – he just wants to sit and stare out over the Muong Hoa valley across to the Fan Si Pan and Hoang Lien Son mountain ranges and valley. (Many hikers come here – the 3,143m-tall Phang Xi Pang peak being their goal.)
But in my true form, I want to go exploring SaPa town, and to take some photographs of the local indigenous people. My son and I make a deal so we both get some time each, and I am so pleased – as he needs ‘kid-time’ too.
The next two hours are like stepping into a National Geographic Magazine!
Most of the ladies are friendly and we ask if they agree to a photo. This is difficult, as I like natural shots, not posed. Old ladies sew and wait to sell their handicrafts whilst mothers with babies walk the streets. Young children play hide-and-seek behind umbrellas, and I spy a precious tired young lady asleep at her sewing machine. Later I discover they work long hours and shops often do not close until 9:00 or 10:00 p.m.
This has been one of my most favourite afternoons in my travelling life!
I could spend a week here photographing the locals. I am in heaven!
I find occasionally I get a headache when I ascend to higher altitude, and as the afternoon wore on, my niggling headache seemed to intensify slightly.
But with body massages from under $10 an hour here in SaPa, I found a petite young lady with not-so-petite hands (with the pressure of a muscle man). As I lay on the table she worked her magic.
Next thing I woke myself with a loud snore and shudder.
How embarrassing!!!! I had to laugh at myself – this woman was a miracle worker, and my headache was gone, and I was very, very relaxed.
The next day rolled around all too quickly.
SaPa is a very popular trekking base, as it overlooks the terraced rice fields of the Muong Hoa Valley. Eager to see this area, we booked an optional walking tour. It was 12 km, but we were both keen improve our fitness.
Escorted by a local Back and Red Hmong ladies, we set off from SaPa trekking. It had rained quite heavily in the night, and the roads were full of puddles and as we walked the muddy path, we started to slip and slide.
There seemed to be a lot of ladies walking with us, and we were only a small group. It appeared as though there were one or two ladies for each hiker. Explorason races ahead so I zoom on by other hikers to catch up with him, but suddenly the same two Hmong ladies seem to miraculously appear next to us. I’m so thankful they did!
As we descended, the terrain became quite extreme. But this seemed not to bother these sure-footed rubber-booted women one bit. They seemed to be very willing to assist us, and we watched as a few others slid and fell. Two ladies kept close to us, and I can say that without their assistance, I would have surely fallen. In fact, Explorason still fell two times and they raced to save him.
These ladies were a godsend!
As September is the season to harvest the golden rice grain, this is the best time we were told to visit SaPa. The colours of the terraced hills burst forth before us, becoming increasingly more and more beautiful with each turn.
We had only two stops, and we did find a lady who had set up a small shed selling drinks and ice-creams at about the 5 km mark.
I love the photo of Explorason gazing across the hills, and it was here I also took a photo of a young girl with her purple umbrella.
The men were just starting to harvest the rice, threshing it in wooden boxes as we walked by.
By the 8 km mark, Explorason was really tired, but I think he did remarkably well for an 11-year-old kid who really isn’t that physically active.
When an insect bit him, and he scratched at his leg, the older lady who had accompanied us pulled out a small vial of oil and rubbed it on his wound. Instantly the itchiness stopped. I thought this was so kind of her, and by the time we crossed the bridge to the village where lunch was I had seen a little of the heart of these beautiful tribal people.
This same older lady had some items for sale, and I wanted to find out if she made any of them. Most she had not, but one wall hanging she hand-stitched herself I was told.
This was the item I wanted.
Not only as a keepsake to remember this incredible day, but also to be able to give her a financial gift for helping me.
Sadly the other lady had nothing I wanted to purchase. I thought she was coming back with other items, but I misunderstood. I still feel bad as she really deserved to be blessed for helping us.
We dined for lunch in the Lao Chi Village at a traditional Vietnamese tiny roadside restaurant, and this was included in the tour.
What a great value tour this turned out to be!
We decided at this point to let the rest of our group finish the walk through Lao Chi village and we would wait for them at the third village called Ta Van.
Explorason loved the next part of our day.
For less than $3 Australian (50,000 Dong) we hopped on the back of a local motorbike. He thought this was brilliant! Perfect for any pre-teen tired boy.
After about an hour, the rest of the trekking group met us at Ta Van Village and we were collected by a lovely air conditioned van and escorted back through even more stunning golden rice terraces back to SaPa.
Returning to our hotel room, we both enjoyed a lovely steaming shower, and a cup of hot coffee was perfect for me as I sat by the window looking out across the valley.
I ended the day with another full-body massage. I sort out the same lady and my weary muscles thanked her.
That evening, the streets closed and a night market was set up for local merchandise and there seemed to be thousands of indigenous ladies and children all selling their wares. I don’t know how they survive financially.
We decided to perform one of our ‘random acts of kindness’.
We buy a local elderly lady dinner. We had grown very fond of these ladies, and it was lovely to see her share it with the other sellers and to watch the delight on her tired face.
Explorason finished the night hiring a hover-board in the town square. This is such a family-friendly town.
There is so much to see and do in SaPa for families catering for all ages of children and we would definitely recommend it.
I think SaPa is probably one of the greatest places a family could visit to experience the minority tribes of South East Asia before the western world infiltrates and their traditions fade away.
We see more of SaPa tomorrow when we visit the Cat Cat village and waterfall.
This is just the start of our Legend Travel Group tour and we are so impressed.
We’d definitely recommend them for your next family adventure.
Zero stress, and lots to see and do.
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