Perched atop a nearly 5,000 ft mountain the old French hill-station of Sapa in Vietnam’s far northern reaches can get a bit stuck in the clouds from time to time so a big cheer all round as we awoke on the morning of our projected one-day Sapa trek to this magnificent view. This was the breakfast vista from the restaurant of the delightful and aptly named, (well on that day at least), Sunny Mountain Hotel, looking across the valley from Sapa to Mount Fansipan, Indochina’s highest peak at over 10,000 ft or some 3,150 metres.
We’ve always done our day Sapa trek down the valley to Lao Chai and Ta Van villages southeast of Sapa but wonderful as the scenery is it’s getting popular these days so we changed to the Ta Phin Valley lying to the north. The starting point was a small Black Hmong settlement just out of town on the Lao Cai road from where we walked downhill into a stunning valley filled with scenic rice terraces and bordered by towering mountains.
As usual in these parts, our minivan had been met by a collection of local hill-tribe women waiting for a trekking group heading to their home village of Ta Phin. The deal being they’ll accompany you on the hike, point out various things of interest on the way, of course, pose for photos and on arrival attempt to sell you some of their embroideries in return. As we were hiking to their village it seemed a reasonable exchange and they proved fun and interesting company on route answering all our questions about their culture and lifestyle while showing us uses for the track-side plants such as indigo and hemp as well as identifying the various crops we came across.
As our destination, Ta Phin is a mixed village our trekking party correspondingly consisted of a group of spectacularly clad Red Dzao women with a couple of Black Hmong girls tagging along. Interestingly, though they shared the same home village, Dzao and Hmong languages are mutually unintelligible so they communicated with each other mainly in Vietnamese.
Our local guide had chosen an excellent route for our Sapa trek following a thankfully, mainly flat path winding its way through the valley with ever-changing vistas and several small villages to visit on route. Hiking time at a gentle pace with plenty of stops on the way was around 6 hours so we arrived in Ta Phin in time for a late lunch of grilled pork and noodles in the local village cafe.
As our transport met us in the village and we’d started hiking early this left us time for a drive down to Lao Chai – a Black Hmong village – where an old mate of ours is running the spectacularly situated Eco Palms House – an absolutely perfect spot for a few ‘apres trek’ cold ones!
A great day out which you’ll find featured on the Vietnam section of our Yunnan tour, South of the Clouds and our Vietnam and China itinerary, The Red River Valley, as well our northern Laos and Vietnam tour, Mountains and Hill-tribes and the Chiang Mai to Hanoi overland itinerary Unexplored, the Far North.