Sapa is a small town in the mountains of northern Vietnam, close to the border with China. It was a surprise to find a place with such an alpine feel here in the tropics. That’s certainly not the image I had of Vietnam before I came here.
While we were there, clouds and mist would roll into town then just as quickly roll out again before returning a few minutes later. Hiking into the mountains is the main tourist pastime here, including to the highest peak in Indochina, Fansipan Mountain. We chose to just do some of our own walking through the town and along the highway toward Lao Cai. There is lovely terraced agriculture in the area.
After the first couple of days in Hanoi I had given it a thumbs down. The difficulties associated with simply walking and crossing the street had turned me off the place. Add to that the constant honking of horns and it can drive you up the wall. Then one day I was up with jet lag and sat beside Hoan Kiem Lake in the early morning light. Many people were out exercising, dancing, stretching, or meditating in these peaceful surroundings. I gave myself a shake, thought, look where I am, and I began to warm to the city.
Part of the initial disappointment was that there wasn’t an instant sense of the exotic on arrival. The weather was very similar to that of San Francisco which is to say, about perfect. Also, we’d stayed in Chinatown in San Francisco so had become accustomed to the exotic there.
Hanoi does have lovely parks, including the one at the Temple of Literature. There is a sense of sophistication here with a great arts scene, colonial and older architecture, and a general sense of prosperity. Also, I’ve learned to cross the street. If there is any sort of break in traffic, even just in the closest lane, start to walk. Do not make any sudden changes in speed or trajectory so motorists (mostly on motor scooters) can judge whether to go behind or in front of you. It works surprisingly well. Another technique is to wait for a local and have them run interference for you as you cross with them.
So, it’s not a bad place all in all but it has potential for so much more. They really have to do something about the honking horns and the driving practices in general.