For our last destination in Vietnam we continued to head North, stopping close to the border of China in a village called Sa Pa. After leaving the hustle of Hanoi and travelling 14 hours on an overnight bus – air conditioned to a temperature suitable for keeping ice cream – we arrived a little dishevelled and disorientated.
Sa Pa feels like a new country; the people look refreshingly different, wearing intricate traditional clothes, and the weather is close to zero. Which makes me wonder. Why are we heading to China during Winter with only one set of warm clothes again?
The area is known for it’s steeply terraced rice fields, which are unfortunately obliterated from view by heavy Winter fog. The hiking trails are awash with slippery mud and the home stay options available are only suitable for those packing enough arctic equipment to combat the complete lack of heating.
Such is Sa Pa in the Winter low season. We opted for a non heated room, as are most places in the town, with functioning electric blankets and a hot shower. Ducking out wearing all our clothes only to eat steaming vegetarian noodles at the local market. The food here is different to other areas of Vietnam that we have scoffed our way through. Of course there is an absence of seafood, and what there is is expensive and a little sketchy looking. What is popular though, laid out raw on the tables of the market restaurants, is a whole lot of meat, internal organs and dried produce. Mushrooms are back with a vengeance and thank god, since we might be both going vegetarian again throughout China, there are a tonne of tofu options on most menus.
The really cool thing about Sa Pa though, is the people watching, especially since the region is home to several of Vietnam’s ethnic minorities, the faces and traditional textiles are all new to us. We’ve spent the rest of our time in Sa Pa clutching chunky ginger tea, staving off the cold by eating necessary calories and spending hours reading under a heavy cover and relishing the warmth of the electric blanket, because hell, you can’t see anything outside anyway!
Next stop: Kunming in China’s Yunnan Province , maybe it’ll be a white Christmas after all?