Sapa is in Northern Vietnam. The most popular way to get there from Hanoi is by overnight train. I was really excited because I hadn't been on too many trains before, let alone an overnight one. We left Hanoi around 10 p.m. at night and settled into our bunks on the train. It was a pretty small space but being with my mom and my best friend was comforting. We had one stranger in with us who was a Chinese man. He was nice and would break out into American songs from time to time to try to communicate with us which was a good laugh. We arrived early in the morning at 6:30 a.m. and quickly realized that our hotel was actually a 45 minute drive from the train station. 45 minutes in a cramped van on a windy road later, we finally reached our destination and checked into our hotel. We lucked out with our room! It was on the third floor and had a balcony that overlooked the town. Unfortunately, it was the foggy season and the visibility was pretty terrible. The first afternoon there we bundled up and took a stroll down the hill into town to look around. A couple of women started walking alongside us. They were dressed in traditional northern vietnamese clothing with colorful skirts and head ware. They started talking to us and asking lots of questions about where we were from and so forth. They walked with us all the way into town to the market center. It turns out, they were selling handmade goods and wanted us to buy them. It was alright because we were planning on buying some souvenirs anyways, and they were pretty nice ladies, but I could see how other people might feel a bit heckled in other situations. After looking around the center we made our way to the outdoor food market. Though it was small, there were some crazy things I had never seen before. The most incredible thing I saw was the huge fish still flopping around after being cut in half. I know it sounds gruesome, and it was pretty off-putting, but at the same time it was really interesting to see that part of the local culture.
The next day was another early morning because we had a full day of trekking planned! Trekking is very popular in Sapa because there is amazing backcountry as well as incredible views of hills filled with rice paddies. Many people travel up to Northern Vietnam just for this and I was really excited to get out and do some exploring. It started out very cold and I had put on a lot of layers in anticipation of the same rainy weather we had experienced the day before. We met our guide, Bitsy, and started off on a road out of town. Right away we saw a (very pregnant) sow digging for roots and tubers. We continued up a (longish) hill before coming to a ridge that looked out over the valley of tiered rice fields. Luckily the visibility had cleared up, but it was incredibly muddy and the next hour was spend meandering down the mountain, trying not to slip and fall into the muck.
It was a long day of trekking but we saw so many amazing things that it was all worth it. I definitely credit our guide with making the experience so wonderful as she was kind, knowledgeable, and held our hands down every slippery muddy spot. We arrived back at our hotel around 5 p.m. and took a dip in the pool before getting ready for the night. It was New Years Eve and the hotel was putting on a banquet for all the guests. It was lovely to get dressed up (by our own backpacking standards that is) and meet people from different parts of the world. We met a German couple that night that we ended up running into on the streets of Hanoi a few days later-small world! The dinner itself was incredible and had just about everything you could imagine. There was also a traditional dance performance that was so beautiful. The women twirled around with parasols and their performances told stories through their dancing. It was a very special evening and I was happy to share it with some of my favorite people. After that, I was in bed well before midnight struck. I know, not a very crazy new years, but I wouldn´t have wanted it to go any other way.