Posing with the rice terraces in the Sapa region of Vietnam
I spent my birthday doing an amazing 2 day trek with Sapa O’Chau in northern Vietnam. The area is known for its rice terraces and local minority people, including the Hmong and Red Dao groups. Their traditional clothing and cooking are a departure from what I had seen in the rest of Vietnam and I was really glad I took the overnight bus up from Hanoi to experience it.
With Sapa O’Chau I chose the Red Dao homestay trek, which took us north of Sapa Town about 14 km to the town of Ta Phin. The views reminded me a little bit of the Bolivian Yungas and the local Dao people were joyful hosts. We were incredibly lucky with the weather, which tends to be cold, cloudy and rainy this time of year. To top it all off, we ate amazing food that far surpassed my expectations. I’ll always look back on this birthday fondly, and it will be hard to top it next year!
A floating fishing village at Ha Long Bay
I was going to skip Ha Long Bay and Cat Ba since I had seen similar scenery in Tam Coc and also was spending more time and money in Vietnam that I had anticipated. However, I had spoken to several people who said that it was a sight not to be missed, so I booked a tour from Ninh Binh for two nights. Unfortunately, I got scammed. I was sold a mid-range tour and instead ended up on an extremely low-budget boat, had to share a room when I had booked a single, and was served inedible food. The people on my boat who had paid less than half what I did were not terribly upset, but as I realized what happened I got very frustrated. To make matters worse, the “guide” on my boat was extraordinarily unhelpful and unsympathetic.
Scams and bad tour experience aside, I did mostly enjoy visiting the Ha Long Bay area. It’s a UNESCO site and has some impressive limestone cliffs and caves, and hiking on Cat Ba was a fun morning. Unfortunately the site is not well taken care of and it’s highly polluted with tons of rubbish. The boats are very unsafe to boot. Hopefully UNESCO can step in and clean up the area before it’s too far gone.