Once we had safely descended, we followed the Muong Hoa River to Y Linh Ho village, home to the Black Hmong tribe. Here we watched on as the villagers demonstrated how they traditionally made rice and embroidered their clothing. After a short rest, we were back on our feet, criss-crossing the valley and the river as we made our way to Ta Van village, our resting point for the night. One final stomp up a steep and narrow pathway led us to our homestay with a local Zay family. Admittedly, this was one of our favourite parts of the trip. Despite not being able to speak a slither of English, the family were unbelievably friendly and welcoming, laying on a feast for us to chow down on. With the cold starting to set in once again, our group sat around the fire recounting the day’s events and watching our hosts expertly cook a mixture of spring rolls, rice, chicken and beef.
To say it was delicious would be an understatement. Several shots of ‘happy water’ (a potent rice wine) and a few hours later, the group started to wind down. Our accommodation for the night consisted of the building’s compact loft space, with multiple mats laid out next to each other and thick blankets littered around for warmth. It was basic, but it more than did the job. The following day we set out early and after a healthy dose of pancakes, we headed further down the valley winding our way over the river several times as we negotiated the varied terrain. The route took us past countless rice paddies, farms and water buffalo, as well as some bridges that wouldn’t look out of place in an Indiana Jones him. It was on this part of the journey that we were really able to get to know our guide, Na, and find out what it was like growing up in the hills around Sapa.
Before long, lunchtime arrived and marked the end of the day’s hiking. A minibus took us back to town via a crazy road that clung to the side of an incredibly steep incline. The rest of the day was spent exploring the colourful markets and backstreets of Sapa. That night we stayed in the Grand View Sapa Hotel and it would be no exaggeration to say that it very much resembled the hotel in The Shining. Eventually, morning broke and with it came the final few hours of our stay in Sapa. Despite having glimpses of some of the area’s fantastic scenery the previous day, we were yet to truly experience the astounding sights you regularly see in travel magazines. But as we opened the curtains of our hotel room we were greeted to one of the most amazing views we had seen in our three months in Asia.
At 1,500m, Sapa should be a perfect viewpoint for the sur rounding areas, and on that morning it proved that it was. The thick cloud that had been hounding us seemed to all but disappear, with only a layer of it covering the valley below. Above the blanket of cloud, we were greeted with brilliant blue skies and a series of towering mountains we never knew existed. A quaint building poked out of the clouds below and offered up an impressive demonstration of scale. Sapa had finally delivered all that it promised, and as we left to head back to Hanoi a content smile creeped across our faces.