Zao.jpg (17711 bytes)Located up against the northern border with China, Sapa is a day's travel by car or a night's travel by train from Hanoi. There are two trains you can take; the comfortable Victoria Train which runs two days a week, or the hard sleeper which runs nightly. The term 'hard sleeper' is really a kind way of saying the trip from hell. This train departs from the Hanoi station at 8:00p.m. and arrives at Lao Chai at 10:00 in the morning. The berths are small compartments that 'sleep' six on bunks made of Formica (no pads, just Formica). This train makes a Pacific hop on a troop ship seem like a luxury cruise. The Victoria Train is supposed to be much more comfortable but I have never ridden on it. You must be a registered guest at the expensive Victoria Hotel to purchase a ticket.
Indigo-girls.jpg (11014 bytes)But no matter how grueling the trip, Sapa is worth the pain in getting there. The cool climate has made Sapa a vacation retreat for the wealthy Vietnamese for years. It even snows up here on occasion. The thing I like most about Sapa is the rich ethnic experience. The 'Lovers Market' is a big event held every Sunday where the local people come from miles around to create a huge open market. It is called the Lovers Market because it is a time where young people have a chance to gather with people from other villages. There are many different tribes of mountain people in the area and they still wear their traditional clothing, giving a wonderful blend of culture and color to the town.

The steep mountainsides have been terraced for rice farming and offer spectacular photo opportunities. Just be aware that many of the people expect some payment if you want to take their picture. The little ladies with their red headgear are also extremely persistent sales people, making it difficult to sit and quietly enjoy the surroundings.

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