This is the last one, I promise. Here are just some random pictures of the markets in Sa Pa – both the everyday one, and the one that only happens every weekend. The central market is in a two-story open building, with food and produce on the first floor, while clothes and fabric and other dry goods are upstairs. The weekend market is held in the square in front of the church.
What we loved the most about Sa Pa is that yes, everybody tries to sell you stuff, but they’re really nice about it, not pushy at all (most of the time.) And they always throw in a free friendship bracelet if you buy something.
And of course, being a cat lady, I have to conclude the Sa Pa posts with a picture of cat we saw in a restaurant:
On our second day in Sa Pa, we took a guided tour down to the terraced fields and the villages of the ethnic minority people around Sa Pa. We thought we were going to take a bus there, walk around a bit, get on the bus again for the next village (I should’ve paid closer attention to people at the hotel when they told me about the tour.) So when we followed our main guide (a very nice Hmong girl who speaks English) and the tour group out of town, we were a bit surprised – it looked like we were going to walk there all the way. At first it was great: we were walking on asphalt road, and it was a clear, balmy day. But then we turned into a dirt path leading down to the rice paddies, and I realized what we were in for. You see, it had been raining a lot the previous day or two, and all the paths were super slippery. And narrow. And steep. And then it started raining. Suffice to say, there was mud everywhere at the end of the day.
Still, it was fun, the view was gorgeous, and we all had strong, reliable local women to help us through the difficult paths. There was some falling down (Debbi later said, “I’ve always wanted to see a terraced field up close. I should’ve been more specific as to how close”), but the scariest part was when the woman helping me lost her balance and tumbled down a cliff. I just stood there with my hand over my mouth, feeling the panic rising inside of me. Luckily the cliff wasn’t very high, so she got up just fine and joined us five minutes later while all the other guides burst out laughing. You gotta love it when someone fell down a cliff and the reaction was laugh and “We’re just going to throw your shoes down to you.”
We did get picked up by a bus at the last village. And found out we’d walked about 10 miles that morning. I was so proud of myself.
Debbi and I began our Sa Pa adventure on the night train – it’s a 10-hour train ride (on the slow train, the fast train takes about 8 hours but it’s more expensive) from Hanoi. It says “Hard bed” on our tickets, and we were both expecting, frankly, a slab of wood. So imagine how excited we were to see mattresses (a little thin, but hey, it’s not the “medieval dungeon” vision we had in mind), pillows, and blankets! Such a pleasant surprise.
After the train arrived, it was an hour-long bus ride from Lào Cai through some gorgeous mountain passes to Sa Pa. We checked into the hotel, got some food, and headed out to Hàm Rồng (Dragon’s Jaws) Park. Here there are stairways going up the rocky mountain, with different gardens and beauty spots scattered along the way, so you can take a leisurely walk, stopping wherever you want and exploring whatever strikes your fancy. It’s exceptionally pretty, even in the fall when there aren’t a lot of flowers (I can only imagine what it’s like in the spring, with the orchids and peach blossoms in full bloom), and the thick fog and light rain we encountered only added to the atmosphere. Being the nerds that we are, we imagined that this must be what the Highgarden of House Tyrell looks like.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Debbi and Duc’s outing without some WTF moment, and here it came in the form of the Garden of the Twelve Chinese Zodiacs, where you’d find giant statues of Mickey Mouse, Tom from Tom and Jerry, and Scooby Doo. I mean, the mouse, cat, and dog are parts of the Chinese Zodiacs, but I doubt this was what they had in mind. Good thing our zodiacs (dragon for Debbi and tiger for me) are way classier.