Sapa is an old French hill station, nestled among the Hoang Lien Son Mountains near the Chinese border. Because of its situation near the tallest mountain range in Vietnam, it is possibly the most scenic mountain location in Vietnam. The members of the Black Hmong ethnic minority are very present in town, and other ethnic minorities come for the weekly market
I've been to Vietnam three times now. Once in December to Hanoi and Halong Bay. On another tour Saigon was the endpoint and now I have returned to Hanoi to visit Sapa, a former French hill station to the North of the capital. I arrived at the international airport and was met by my guide who transported me to the train station and the night train to Sapa or actually to a town an hour or so down the mountain. From there it was to the Victoria hotel for a short break before our first visit to a local village of the Hmong tribe in the afternoon.
Cat Cat Village, is a local settlement of the Black Hmong who are not really black but a very dark indigo blue or at least their clothes are. This village is smack on the tourist trail. In fact if it were any more conveniently located we would have Asia's first drive through ethnic village. I didn't have the heart to ask my guide whether the village came first or the tourists. The second day we went into the valley to visit some more Hmong tribesman in Ta Van which seemed a lot more authentic. In either case expect to be bombarded by local women and children selling local crafts. You'll only meet women as the men areall working in the fields. I try to keep an open mind regarding these "vendors" as people need to make a living and the rice paddies attest to the fact that real farming is occurring here.
The trek though relatively
short was quite wonderful and we visited several villages. After six months in
Asia I had finally seen the Asian
countryside as I had imagined it with water buffaloes, rice paddies and all manner
of small livestock. The fact that it was only 15 km outside of Sapa and that the
local were "encouraged" by the government to maintain their traditional ways it was not
something I was much concerned about.
I was staying at the Victoria Hotel, which is arguably the best hotel in Sapa. At present, Victoria Hotels & Resorts has 5 hotels in Vietnam in operation: Victoria Phan Thiet Beach Resort & Spa, Victoria Sapa Resort, Victoria Can Tho Resort, Victoria Chau Doc Hotel and Victoria Hoi An Beach Resort & Spa. In addition, Victoria Angkor Resort & Spa located in the heart of Siem Reap, Cambodia is the 6th Victoria Hotels & Resorts property. The hotel in Sapa has a spa which of course I sampled plus an indoor swimming pool which is essential in the mountains as the weather can be very unpredictable. During my stay there the town was shrouded in mist.