"I disembarked in the provincial capital of Lao Cai, a stone's throw from China and the jumping-off place to the minority villages scattered like grains of sand across the nearby mountains and fertile valleys. Splashes of color in the busy marketplace confirmed the presence of the shy tribespeople in their incongruously vibrant headgear and embroidered skirts. I shouldered my pack and set off on the last leg, along the narrow feeder road that wound its way high into the mountains, to the tiny market town of Sapa."
Excerpt from Hitchhiking Vietnam
Take the overnight train to Lao Cai (if you wake up in China then you've gone too far). Everyone and his brother will sell you a ride up the mountain to Sapa.
THINGS TO LOOK FOR:
- The Weekend Market.
- The lovely embroideries sold by the minorities, especially the older ones
- The even more lovely embroidered clothes that they're wearing
- The food stalls.
- Hand-spinning hemp and traditional medicines.
- All the new gadgets on the traders' mats below the market.
- What the minorities bring to market to sell and what they buy.
- The kids - some of them are miles from home.
- The embroidered clothes that the tourists are buying have an unusual source. If they only knew..
- Sapa is a hilltop station (1,600 meters) built in 1922
- It is nestled in the Hoan Lien Mountains, nicknamed the Tonkinese Alps by the French.
- It's cold. The temperature can get down to 0 degrees C in the winter.
- It's wet, especially between June and January.
- Nearby Fansipan the highest mountain in Vietnam at 3,143 meters.
- For many years Sapa was a forgotten backwater town. And then came the tourists...