Sapa – Covered in Dust and Smiles

It was 5.30am when we arrived at Lao Cai Train Station. It would take another 45 minutes to an hour to get to town of Sapa. The minute you step out of the train, you’ll be greeted by a league of taxi drivers, pushing their way and their deal through to you. After plenty of negotiating (or haggling), we finally got into our 7-seater for 350,000 VND (approximately AUD $25).

Tip: Do plenty of research, or just ask friends and family how much they would have spent on transportation, accomodation or gifts. Our ride to Sapa started at 700,000 but was dropped down to half the price.

The views that greet you along the way are enough to make the journey worth it but it’s only the beginning. As we settled into Sapa, we began seeing a lot more of this mountainous town. We stayed at Dang Nguyen Hotel, a newly renovated space with amazing views. There were however, plenty of construction going on in the area, so you’d have to bear with the early morning pounding (no, not in the sexual way).

We did most of our bookings online, including transportation whenever possible. It feels secure to be guaranteed a spot to and from your destination, plus a bed to lay on when you get there. For the train from Hanoi to Lao Cai, and back, book here: Baolau. Accomodation is pretty easy with a quick Airbnb or Expedia search.

Sapa is perfect for roaming around and shopping for winter gear. Plenty of clothing for big brand names are made in Vietnam and most stores sell them. You can get two puffer jackets and two hiking / trail pants for under AUD 100. Now, that’s a steal! Again, don’t forget to get your bargain game on or be afraid to walk away.

Done shopping? Time for some exploring.

Cat Cat Village

Tip: There will be plenty of tours by companies and locals alike, offering to take you to Cat Cat but it’s really an easy find and equally easy walk to do on your own. At the entrance of the village, you’ll pay an entry fee of 50,000 VND (approximately AUD $2) and be given a map to travel with.

It’s mostly a downhill walk throughout and along the way, there’ll be souvenir shops lined up by your side, H’mong women and children playing, and maybe a few pigs. It’s such a contrasting lifestyle to what we have here in Sydney and it’s difficult to tell if they’re the ones missing out, or is it us.

The walk along the way is so beautifully colourful and astounding. The views and the people are unlike any other – it’s hard to take your eyes off everything but just remember to look where you’re headed.

At the end of the walk, as you descend more stairs and reach the end of Muong How Valley, you’ll be greeted by the sounds of a waterfall and the view of giant bamboos, lined up by your side, ready to greet and welcome you to a space unlike any other.

Cat Cat Village actually gained its current name in an odd way. No, it isn’t because there’s an abundance of cats – in fact, we only saw one because as we later found out, yes, they do use them for meat. The village was once colonised by the French who built their hydroelectric plants near the waterfall for electricity. They named the village ‘Cascade’ for the way the water rushed down the rocks. Over time, and due to language barriers, it eventually became what it is today: Cat Cat.

We were told this story and many more when we went on our rice field trek with a local guide – Mr.T and you can read more about that here.

As for Cascade, or Cat Cat as the locals call it, it is definitely worth discovering. Learn about the H’mong ethnicity, be blown away by the colours that surround you, accidentally step on some dung but live to tell about the little town with the biggest hearts.

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Pens&Lens was launched in October 2016 as part of a passion project by partners-in-crime, Mark and Lynette. Combining their love for travel, stories, people and places, they wanted to share the views of the world they see from behind their pens and lens.