Vietnam, Sa Pa: Marketplace and Rice Fields
When someone in Prague says “Sapa” everybody recalls the famous marketplace in Prague. However, once you dig into where the name originates you soon find the mysterious area of Sa Pa in Vietnam’s northwest (near the borderline with China).
I have longed to see Sa Pa for a long time. And because we were already in Hanoi, the country’s capital, it was really easy to just hop on the train and travel to famous Sa Pa.
We don’t know much about the natives there. They were replaced by what are minorities today in Vietnam. The most well-known is the Hmong minority (Người H'Mông in Vietnamese) and the Dao minority (Người Dao in Vietnamese). Towards the end of the 19th and 20th century, the French started to settle in the area. The architecture around here proofs this claim. The French believed, Sa Pa has a great potential thanks to its beauty and nature and great potential lies there. Sanatoriums were established for that reason.
Average high level of Sa Pa is 1 600 meters. We quickly felt that. Once you get at the train station you need to travel by bus and it is a ride of considerable length. Drivers who ride on serpentines try stomachs of the tourists. Thus, we gratefully get off the bus in square in front of the 1930-chuch (built by the French obviously).
Soon we acclimated ourselves and enjoyed the beautiful atmosphere. Unlike places we have visited so far in Vietnam, here the climate was truly mountainous. Many colorfully dressed women of of local minorities walked there. From the window of our hostel we saw mountain ranges seemingly at our grasps.
Our first steps led us to the local marketplace . Also to popular terraced rice fields. Local girls stopped us seldom and competed with one another to sell us things. However, more than all sorts of bracelets we enjoyed the view of buffalos eating grass with their calfs. The view over the landscape was something amazing.
After the first day off we decided to make a long trip. We rented a bike at a stand opposite to our hostel. The price was almost negligible. And we set off into the mountains. It is in Sa Pa where the highest peak of Vietnam lays and it is called Fan Si Panem (Phan Xi Păng in Vietnamese). Its height (3143 m) is also the reason for its nickname „the roof of Indochina “. The Silver Waterfall lured us (Thác Bạc in Vietnamese). Mostly it was Trầm Tôn gorge which was curious for us as it is the highest placed gorge in Vietnam. They say one his end is almost always sunny. The other sees often rains showers. We couldn’t believe it but soon we realized it on our own. Literally.
GPS: 22°20'18.2"N 103°50'30.2"E
Text and photos: Hana Bašová
I have always longed to see a large desert with sand dunes. However, neither in Europe nor in Southeast Asia (the places where I spend most of my time) is one. Once I first saw pictures of Mui Ne, Vietnam I knew for sure that I want to go there. Okay, it is not a desert per se but sand dunes there are huge.
The end of my stay in Vietnam was neigh. There was one more place to see, a must-see place. The Caodaistic temple. Caodaismus (Đạo Cao Đài) is a young, syncretic religion established by a bureaucrat from South Vietnam in the 1920s.
Da Nang (a city almost in the geographic center of Vietnam) is largely unknown. Which is unfortunate. An average tourist usually passes by there in a taxi on his way from the airport to his favorite Hoi An hotel…. I spent three weeks in Da Nang. And the city got on the list of my favorite places in Southeast Asia (right next to Chiang Mai). In Top Gear, Jeremy Clarkson called the old road to Hue as the “abandoned fragment of perfection.” I absolutely agree.
Omnipresent honking, grandmas pulling bikes with flowers, Vietnamese sitting on small chairs, food, bikes, wires, bikes, French cafes, bikes with food, bikes with chairs, bike transporting part of another bike… Welcome to Hanoi! It is a city crazy beyond believe. You either love it or you hate it eternally.
Vietnam is no destination where climbers would travel intentionally. Yet once you are there you should try its climbing areas. We travelled to Cat Ba island which I highly recommend to any climber.
There are many places how to travel in the country. I have prepared for you a small summary with some recommendations.
Immediately after arriving at Sa Pa, stay and do not waste your time. With clear visibility, the best choice is to arrange a lift to Phan Xi Pang. It is the longest cableway in the world that uses a three-lane system. Its length is about 6 km and was opened in 2016. It is still being built here. True, for tourists who enjoy the virgin nature with a mountain cottage, it probably will not. Several pagodas, sanctuaries, even a train have been built on top, which will take you to the highest point. The prospects are really good, and the landscape here is on your palm.
One day trip to the Bach Ma National Park, approximately 40 kilometers from Hue, was one of our best days in Vietnam. The park was founded in 1991 and its name means a white horse. It covers an area of 220 square kilometers.
Nha Trang is practically the most famous tourist resort in Vietnam, not so much for some landmarks, this coastal city of Khanh Hoa province is famous for its seven kilometers long sandy beach with adjacent islands. The city of approximately 392,000 inhabitants and this number is growing steadily.
In the region of Sa Pa, northwestern Vietnam, the best means of transport is a bike. You don’t have to worry about missing your bus, of taxi not coming, or that your taxi cab driver would be someone who drives illegally. Therefore, we rented us a bike in Sa Pa. It cost only a few crowns. Then we planned our trip.
As much as I hate to travel by bus, I would repeat the ride from Nha Trang and Da Lat. The former is the city of two hundred thousand. It is the most popular spot to spend honeymoon at in Vietnam. It is situated at 1500 meters in the Central Highlands. You can enjoy a number of great views while on the road. And it gets even better on bike …
Upon an hour of waiting for a visa I was free to explore the capital of the country I really looked forward to exploring. First of all, I somehow let a cab driver to make a 300 crown rip off. Sometimes things like this happen. But honestly – this happens in Prague as well. Aboard the airplane I could see streets where millions of bikes stream in all directions. And “down” here the traffic is even more crazy. If I compare Ho Chi Minh city to Bangkok, a city of comparable size, in the former there are much less traffic jams. One must add that there is no subway, or rail that would go above the ground. It seems that high taxes on car is working.
Someone loves it. Someone swears to not to come again. There is nothing in between. I am with the first group. From the first day on in Saigon, a hectic city, and I turned into a side street. We are about to introduce you to a new series where we tell you about interesting places in the city and the country. First of all, let’s talk some important facts about the country.
We reached Hanoi (Hà Nội in Vietnamese) by train, again. Friends had been waiting for us at the train station already. Hospitable as they were they took us on their bikes to their place. Founded in the 11th century, Hanoi’s original name was Thăng Long – Soaring Dragon. The legend says the emperor saw a dragon soaring at this place so he founded the city there.
The last day was before us in Hue, the picturesque imperial city. In the early morning we hit the streets and just roamed around in the city. Indeed, we saw one of the most distinctive sights in the city - the Trường Tiền bridge across the Perfume River.
Even though the title suggest some offensive connotations we were did not intend to disgrace royal tombs as if we were in an action movie. A rented bike, however, solved our problems. The tombs around Hue are scattered along vast area. Before relying on public transportation it is better to pay couple of crowns to rent a bike.
Our journey continued to Hue (Huế), the former capital of Vietnamese emperors situated in the central Vietnam.
On the following day we set off to Hoi An (Hội An . It was during the daylight and also it didn’t rain. The sun was pleasantly shining and warm. We reached the historical center by foot and were ready for some great sightseeing (even the one in the night had its atmosphere).
I was feeling like travelling in China when I was on my way to Hoi An – “there is going to be this yellow bus. It will take you there“.
Every time I have the feeling I know something more about something I come to realization which tells me the opposite. I spent one year of studying and travelling in China. Bit arrogantly I had felt Asia couldn’t surprise me much more. Fortunately, I hadn’t boarded a plane to the Czech Republic, instead I boarded a plane to Vietnam.
Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) is often regarded economic heart of Vietnam. It is not as hold as Hanoi (Hà Nội) but still it has some magic.
Upon we explore Hanoi a bit we planned to see other places which are must see in the capital. The first one was the Ho Chi Minh Museum (Lăng Chủ tịch Hồ Chí Minh).
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