Somewhere in northern Vietnam, at an inconceivable time in the morning, right before the sun was going to rise above the lush mountains and the early A.M. fog was about to disappear, I was jolted awake in my uncomfortable sleeper bus seat by the driver blaring his horn at what seemed to be a ghost on the road.
With my head still a bit clouded with sleep, I turned to find myself looking out onto the rolling hills and lush rice paddies of Sapa, Vietnam…
I don’t think I’ve ever seen something so breathtaking.
How is it possible that this many shades of green exist?
While still awe-ing over the incredible views, the bus pulled into the Sapa Market parking lot; we had finally arrived to our destination! Immediately after, we were bombarded with locals trying to sell us a multitude of trips to rural homestays and adventurous treks.
After grabbing our bags and curtly declining all their offers, we made our way towards the center of Sapa town to find some motorbikes to rent for our time here.
While strolling through the little town of Sapa, I was taken aback by all the French influence on the architecture. Although, I suppose it makes sense, as Sapa was established as a hill station by the French in 1922. It was just so odd to see such clearly French influenced buildings in the middle of northern Vietnam.
After walking around for a bit – tired, hungry, and slowing drowning in our own sweat from the combination of the weight our bags and the stifling humidity – we finally found a place that would rent us bikes without the need for our passports. The relief of not having to hand over my invaluable passport was immense, to say the least.
And while the lad who rented us the bikes was barely able to understand – let alone speak – any English, each of us were all set up with our own bikes to explore the area around on.
Whilst the guy brought up the motorbike to me, I must have been looking at it like it grew a head… I was completely overwhelmed with nervousness.
I’d never driven, let alone learned how to operate a motorbike yet.
After gathering up the nerve and putting on a brave face, I hesitantly hopped on. The weight of the bike was utterly surprising; it was so heavy! I almost tipped over trying to get it started but thank goodness the guy was there to keep me from falling on my face. He showed me what brakes were what, where the ignition was, started the bike for me… and I was off!
Admittedly, I was a bit wobbly at first and I gripped the handlebars like they were my lifeline but I caught onto it like wildfire!
It was exhilarating!
The wind blowing my hair and the open road ahead of me, just begging to be explored. There’s nothing like it.
To get to our homestay, we had to venture about 30 minutes from the Sapa town. The road was a bit treacherous for my first jaunt on a motorbike; the holes and bumps nearly threw me off, while the sharp curves and nonexistent guardrail threatened to toss me into the deep valley below.
Eventually, we made it to our accommodations for our time in Sapa: Miku Chill House. Even though it was too early to check in and we most likely looked a little like death, Miku and her family welcomed us with open arms. As it was around 9 in the morning, we had some time to kill before we could settle into our beds.
Thus, it was adventure time.
As Sapa is known as the trekking capital of northern Vietnam, we laced up our boots, filled up our water bottles, and left the homestay in search of a good looking hiking trail.
As we ventured into the countryside, with the sun blaring down and the almost unbearable humidity, I was sweating out gallons within the first five minutes. And that’s not the only thing…
We were being followed.
Four kids from a couple of the villages were trailing us. And while they didn’t speak the best English, they started showing us how to get to a nearby waterfall. We had our own little tour guides for the day! With their enormous grins and happy faces, my heart was bursting from adoration. 💕
The trek to and from the waterfall was filled with unbelievable views; friendly smiles from the locals, including a few curious eyes; various animals like baby pigs, cows, puppies, and the occasional snake; and every 20 minutes or so, one of the kids we were with would turn to me and genuinely ask, “you good?”
Seriously, how could they get any cuter?!
That night, I tucked into my bed on the floor, draped my protective mosquito net around me, and fell asleep with a huge grin on my face. How could I not after the day I’d just had? A beautiful waterfall, locals who always seem to have a smile on their face, a friendly family who has opened up their doors to travelers, and tour guides no older than 9 to show us around their home? Just after one day, my love for Sapa was sparking… soon to be a roaring wildfire.
On the morning of our second day in Sapa, I woke to the relaxing sound of the stream behind the house and to the bustle of Miku’s family below. My late start to the day consisted of sipping on some fresh ginger tea while hanging out in a hammock and admiring the views from the homestay. It was bliss; not having anything to worry about, just living in the moment.
After finishing my sweet ginger tea, I decided it was time for a motorbike adventure. Once again, I had to gather up the nerve to actually hop on the motorbike and get going but after the initial starting process, the ride was almost effortless. It’s like I was born to do this! Riding a motorbike was nothing like driving a car… it was so much more fun. And with the views I had? Sapa was just getting better and better. Except for the roads that is… they were still terrible. At one point, I thought I’d actually broken my motorbike because I may or may not have been going a little too fast. Oops. It all turned out all right though, no harm done.
My venture out into the countryside of Sapa turned out to be one of the best days I had in Vietnam.
The rolling hills and rice terraces; the lush mountains towering above; and the roaring river running through the valley was breathtaking. I’ve never seen anything like it. I pulled my motorbike over to the side of the road about every 10 seconds to snap some pictures, yet no photo could do the views justice.
About half way through my motorbike jaunt, I came across a stunning view of some impressive rice terraces, so naturally I had to get off my bike to take some pictures. As I was standing there with my camera, at the side of a sharp cliff, I noticed a young boy ferociously running towards me. I’m sure I looked a little alarmed at first but I just thought he maybe wants to try sell me something. Then things turned a little strange…
As he got closer and closer, he abruptly stopped about 5 feet away from me… and stared; said nothing, didn’t move, just stared at me like I had grown a second limb or something. I think we both were a little more than startled. After about 30 seconds, I slowly smiled at him. He still looked like the most confused person in the world but gave me a hint of a smile. I think I may have been the first blonde caucasian he’s ever seen in his life. It was strange but amazing at the same time. When our staring contest finally ceased, I asked him to take a photo with me.
It was one of the best experiences I had in Sapa.
After that strange but amazing encounter, it was time to make my way back towards Miku’s homestay. It was about half past four when I finally arrived back; I had about two hours before we had our meal with the family. So, I took up my spot in one of the lazy hammocks and ordered another refreshing ginger tea.
At about 7 pm, family dinner was ready. There were about 12 of us around the table, which was completely covered with an array of traditional and non-traditional Vietnamese dishes. Whilst Miku and her family continued to bring out more food, I think the majority of us were salivating in our tiny little empty food bowls.
When we finally had the go ahead to load up our dish, I went for the steamed rice, fried tofu in tomato sauce, morning glory, and sautéed spinach. It was glorious, all of it. Every single bite I took had my tastebuds doing a little happy dance. By the end of dinner, my food baby was rapidly growing but all I wanted to do was eat, eat, and eat more. Since I was completely unable to fit anymore food into my stomach – which seemed to be the case with everyone else at the table as well – we started cleaning up the table, bringing our dirty dishes into the kitchen.
After clearing the table and helping the family clean up, we all sat down to relax, play a few games of cards, and toss back a couple beers. Once I was finished with kicking everyone’s butts in a couple games of bullshit, it was time for me to head to bed. I needed to get my rest in for our upcoming travels, as we headed back to Hanoi the following day.
As I woke up the following day, my heart filled with a little bit of sadness; it was our last day in Sapa.
Although, as I made my way down the ladder to the living areas, I was met with radiating smiles and warmth from Miku and her family. I was seriously going to miss this; it was like being part of a family even if just for a short while. As I sat there drinking my fresh ginger tea, I admired the view from Miku’s place one last time. Eventually, the time passed – and my ginger tea was gone – so it was time to leave.
We said our goodbyes to Miku and her family, took a few pictures, and made our way to our motorbikes. One of the hardest goodbyes yet. As we made our way back to the tiny town of Sapa, I reflected on the past two days, grateful that I had the opportunity to experience such an amazing time.
So, after experiencing family life with Miku, exploring the countryside on a motorbike, and waking up to the most amazing views, it’s easy to say that I’d fallen in love with Sapa. No doubt, I’ll be back sometime in the future to find the little piece of my heart I left there.