A tranquil hill-top village with stunning views of rice terraces and Vietnam’s highest peak, Fansipan, Sa Pa’s stretch of swank hotels and 5-star dining options is about as far from Vietnam-proper as Invercargill is from London. A mist hangs over the valley for much of the week, only occasionally clearing to reveal the rice terraces below. A constant throng of woman from local villages cluster together in small groups along the main street. In a swirl of brightly embroidered garments, they’re in town to sell local handicrafts, but we suspect the bigger business is taking visitors on tours to the villages. Hundreds of camera-toting tourists follow a parade of brightly clad villagers past our hotel pied-piper style every morning, leaving us envisaging their village destination as a vast factory of souvenir manufacturing.
We’re up early one morning to take advantage of an “all you can eat” breakfast buffet in town, and burn off the calories by hiking past Cat Cat village, which lies at the other end of Sa Pa. We’re quickly away from the well-maintained paths lined with souvenir stalls and find ourselves on a path which eventually leads to Fansipan peak. Taking a steep off-piste ‘short-cut’ back to the main path, I get a little too close to nature, resulting in three impressive leech bites, though we never saw the little blighters.
Arriving in Dien Bien Phu after a few days where our diet has been dominated by rice based products, we enjoy its slightly bigger town feel, staying for a couple of nights and stocking up on Vietnamese coffee.
Justin is cleaning bicycles in the courtyard when a couple of Austrian cycle tourists check in. Philipp and Valeska are also heading home after a long period away and we had a lot to talk about in our last evening in Vietnam. With a big climb ahead of us to the border it made sense to team up to cross into Laos.