Leaving Hạ Long Bay behind we bussed back to Hà Nội to catch the night train to Sa Pa, a scenic mountainous town located in northwestern Vietnam, close to the border of China. It is a popular destination for tourists due to the great diversity of ethnic minority peoples.
With the exception of Matt & Sylvie’s swanky Hội An beach hotel, we always stayed at small motels with very basic amenities. In Sa Pa, however, we lodged at the superb Victoria Sa Pa (a family friend works for the chain so I got the hookup)! The hotel is situated atop a hill overlooking the town of Sa Pa. We spent our first day walking around and just taking in the scenery.
We visited a small village outside of town named Cát Cát. The living condition there is very limited so I felt bad walking around like a snooty tourist. However, most of the villagers earn extra income from tourism (our entrance fees). The village is located along a steep windy hill. Going down was fine but as the afternoon wore on we decided to pay these motorbikes for hire to take us back up. No, we didn’t hire the bikes, we got a ride with them. Two of us were riding on the back of a motorbike behind the driver! It was a very treacherous and hair-raising ride as I was afraid we’d either fall off or the bike would break down trying to climb the sharp uphill.
Since Sa Pa is a small town, night time activities are quite lacking but we found a karaoke place and got a private room. We ended up singing ourselves silly for 5 hours and stumbling out of there at 1 am when Matt stepped in some buffalo poop in the road. (There is photographic evidence but I don’t think it’s very nice to post.)
We were all thinking how nice it would be to have some food now but everything was closed. Lo and behold, we found this lady on the side of the road selling grilled skewers of meats and we descended upon her like the pack of hungry and tipsy karaoke goers we were. She was very happy to see us as we bought probably half of her fares. I got to talk to her and her story was moving one. Her ex-husband had squandered their fortune on gambling and she lost parents’ house as a result. Unemployed and homeless, she had to stay with relatives while selling food at night (illegally too, since the local government refused to give her license to sell during the day). Her only consolation was her diligent and bright children doing well in school.