Travel Vietnam: Sapa & Bac Ha

I was flicking through my travel journal yesterday. ‘Travel journal’ is probably being a bit generous; it privileges my notes with the romantic image of a dog-eared palimpsest bursting with hand-written ink-stained memories, weathered by experience and the intrepid wanderings of the author. My odyssey was a little less earthy, and a little more modern however; consisting of a vague word document entitled ‘Journal.docx’, kept on my friend’s 13” MacBook Pro for the eleven months of our journey.

Whilst at the time I put myself up there with the travel-writing giants of history, I fear the reality was less Captain Cook by candlelight, and more Megan Revell wrestles with ABC spellcheck. Whilst it meant I could write quicker, it did sap the romance out of the act of writing somewhat. Especially when I had to spend half an hour searching for a plug adaptor on a beach in the South Pacific, before I could commence with my carefully constructed observations of the indigenous environment I was inhabiting.

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However, it was pleasant to see that the less-than-dreamy vehicle of delivery had not affected the quality of my musings. Once I had gotten over the shock of hearing the voice of my eighteen-year old self (who had an over-enthusiastic penchant for words such as ‘legendary’), I was amused to see what my pubescent brain had picked up. Along with intellectual assessments of the culturally distant land of Australia (which I, at the time, equated to a remote Amazonian rainforest), my account was peppered with a lot of colourful characters and places along the backpacker trail. Sandwiched in-between my existential tête-à-têtes with a chubby Korean guy called Dennis, and some thoughts on the topographical features of the West Vietnamese coastline, there nestled a short entry on Sapa.

Sapa is a town in Northern Vietnam which we accessed via an overnight sleeper bus from Hanoi. Apparently established as a Hill Station by the French in 1922, the town does have an odd echo of an Alpine ski resort. Small bakeries will be interspersed with the Vietnamese stalls, and whilst every menu will offer rice wine you can also choose the less volatile Vin Chaud. Sapa is designed to show off the very best views of the surrounding rice fields and mountains, best accessed by hiring a cheap moped or motorbike and exploring the valleys and small villages that surround it, or by taking one of the excellent hiking tours that will take you around the terrain.

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However, it’s not just the views that make this area stand out. A visit to the Bac Ha Market in the neighbouring town will reveal that the residents certainly dress to impress…

Whilst a bit of a tourist trap, Sapa is still worth a detour to visit if anyone is in the Northern Vietnam/ Northern Laos area.



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