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Sensations of Sapa

September 2, 2016
Nong Khai Sarnelli House Clay
An Orphanage in Nong Khai
September 2, 2016
May 6, 2017

This is chapter 15 of the Graduate & Live 2016 Summer Tour of Asia, where three one traveling freelancers takes advantage of their freedom (Ryan had to head back to America for an emergency, so Aom decided to return to Chiang Mai). In this final installment, Ashley and Emiliano travel to Vietnam's mystical mountains.

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Emiliano Mainero


Sapa is elevated alongside fast-moving clouds, surrounded by a mountainous landscape. There are millions of trees working to release fresh, clean, natural air.

Vietnamese traffic is crazy. You will notice that already when driving up and down in the curvy road to reach Sapa, which is accessible through Lao Cai. The traffic is crazy, with no rules, yet somehow it seems that they’ve organized it in their own way.

When you arrive in the town, and even before you find your hotel, you will be approached by dozens of mountain women in traditional garb. They’ll offer you to come to visit their villages, in addition to trying to sell you their handmade purses, bracelets and other crafts. Mama Susu, a busty older woman with a gold tooth, claimed us as her own. She tied two bracelets around our wrists and told us to meet her the next morning.


In the midmorning of a rainy day, we headed to Mama Susu’s place. We were a small group of foreigners, some of which stayed overnight in the mountain village, and a couple of mountain women.

We were led by Mama Susu, a happy, intelligent veteran of the mountain. The other girls were quite young, carrying their stylish “backpacks” and selling crafts along the way. There are street markets full of people coming down from the mountains to sell their goods, and it seems like tourism is important to the economy.

We walked for about 4 to 6 hours, from the picturesque town of Sapa to the center of the mountain. In total, it was about 15 km. The people of Sapa have such a unique appearance, but they’re very used to tourists, so they don’t like being photographed.


As we crossed the town’s suburb, we were able to witness the transition into a more wild, sporadic vegetation. The area is dotted with various crops, including corn and tea. The tea plantations were owned and managed by the Vietnamese state, not directly by the communities living around them. Some plots were planted with Cannabis sativa, which is used as source of fiber for weaving fabric.

The first part of the trekking took 2 and 1/2 rain-soaked hours. We walked on slippery surfaces that led us through exciting tropical paths. We arrived at the first stop, which consisted of a couple of buildings used as restaurants to cater to tourism. Here many children were selling things, repeating “you buy from me,” almost in a choir. We had a really relaxing, long lunch with some inspirational talking with my new friends from Mexico, Holland and Albania.


For the second part of the trek, the weather was sunny and warm. We were walking in a more populated part of the mountain, with bigger areas for crops and animals like cows, chicken and buffaloes. Because the people here weren’t as used to tourists, they seemed to have a more natural relationship with us. We saw children working, making wood and herding buffaloes. They looked happy, like they were enjoying the activities. They smiled to us.


At the end of the trip, some people stay at Mama Susu’s place. When we first met her, she had shown us a worn book of people recommending her home from all over the world. The book included comments written in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, German and so on. We had arrangements for the next day, so a taxi was waiting to take us down to the town. Before leaving, we had a friendly goodbye with Mama Susu. Though she was a traditional woman, she pulled her cell phone and exchanged Facebook contacts, with a friendly “see you next time.”


One piece of advice: When you visit Sapa, be sure to get a room with a view.

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