Sapa began life as a hilltop retreat for French colonists desperate to escape the searing heat of the Vietnamese plains. They chose the lofty cool of Fansipan’s surrounds, and it’s easy to see why- the humidity of Hanoi peels away as you ascend the mountain peaks skirted with sculptured, emerald-green rice terraces. Sapa and its surrounding provinces have a climate that is cool in summer months, verging on freezing cold in winter, with low hanging clouds often obsuring the surrounding mountaintops. Hill tribes are scattered all over the region and they continue to live a very basic existence that is partly economic and partly cultural. To them, a rice field, a garden, some cattle and a stilt house are all the prosperity they ever hoped for, going back countless generations. If you venture to the more remote hamlets, they offer fascinating glimpses of lifestyles seemingly stolen from history.
The local market at Coc Ly, Can Cau Tuesday market and Muong Hum Sunday market are another further wondrously chaotic snapshots into indigenous life in the region.
Whether its cycling Heaven’s Gate, enjoying a local home stay or tackling the ambitious ascent of Fansipan’s peak, guests are certain to be mesmerized by the sincerity and warmth of the locals they encounter as they venture deeper into a side of Vietnam untouched by big city politics or modernization.