Sa Pa was a refreshing change after the heat of Hanoi. I loved the cool mountains, the spectacular terraced fields, and the gushing waterfalls. The photogenic local people with their gorgeous indigenous attire and smiling faces charmed me, and then there were the quintessential water buffalos wallowing mildly in mud pools. Flowers grew in abundance there, their hues and sizes of mindboggling variety and all day long a cool breeze blew in from the mountains. This was northern Vietnam’s premium trekking base and hill station and visitors both foreign and local flocked there. There are many things about Sa Pa which makes the travelers fall in love with the quaint hill station of Vietnam and it has been popular since the colonial days.
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What to expect from Sa Pa?
Established by the French in 1922 as a pleasant summer getaway, Sa Pa was created to make the most of its breathtaking location. On clear days, views of the verdant deep valleys are simply stunning and it is pretty even when a cottony mist rolls down from the peaks. There is always a lot of bustle going on at the town center and the local hill tribe people add gorgeous pops of colour. Having said all that, let it be known that Sa Pa is under no circumstance a tranquil alpine town. The city, being the nerve center of northern Vietnam’s tourism industry, modernization has resulted in haphazard mushrooming of ugly concrete constructions. Thick traffic (though under no circumstances as heavy as Hanoi or HCM) adds to the pollution and chaos rules there. One can find a wide variety of shops catering to various needs in the city center and most travelers get out of there, once their requirements are met.
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Terraced rice fields and blue peaks of Sa Pa
Beyond the urban sprawl, Sa Pa’s real beauty unfolds and just the sight of cascading rice terraces is enough to make you relax. Lush green rice terraces spread over gently rolling hills and a soothing landscape spreads as far as eyes can see. Often waterfalls splash merrily on the mountain roads and big wide rainbows span the horizon. Sa Pa is an extremely pretty place and its location makes it all the more alluring. Perched on the western edge of a high plateau, Sa Pa faces the blue peak of Fan Si Pan and many hill tribes call it home. The region is especially full of the very photogenic Red Dao and Black Hmong minorities and hill tribe trek is one of the most popular activities in Sa Pa.
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The colourful, smiling people
One of the best feelings of Sa Pa is that despite being ethnically Vietnamese, it has a distinct character of its own. The hill station serves as an antidote for the dusty plains of Vietnam and heals all emotional lacerations (if received) from Hanoi. The town’s center, markets, and shops cater mostly to the residents of the minority villages nearby and every day the colourful mountain folks flock these places like brilliant butterflies. Sa Pa’s minority ethnic communities women love to flaunt their traditional finery and the most striking among them are the Red Dao with their spectacular headdresses which are decorated with woolen tassels and silver jewelry. The larger population of Black Hmong are more sedately dressed and they are are the ones who peddle their embroidered indigo-blue waistcoats, bags, hats and heavy, silver jewelry to the tourists. They are smiling, photogenic, and commercial-minded, though their business sense comes with a friendly attitude. This was perhaps the best healing balm for me, one who had rushed out of Hanoi to escape its blatant commercialism. Sa Pa is healing and you just have to visit it once to understand why.
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