Established by the French as a Hill Station in 1922, Sa Pa today is the tourist centre of the Northwest. Sa Pa District is in Lao Cai Province, 380km northwest of Hanoi, close to the border with China. The Hoang Lien Son range of mountains dominates the district which is at the eastern extremity of the Himalayas. The range includes Fan Si Pan, Vietnam’s highest mountain at a height of 3143m above sea level, which we first saw yesterday, albeit in the distance.
Sa Pa is quiet mountain town and home to a great diversity of ethnic minority peoples. Most of whom work their land on sloping terraces since the vast majority of the land is mountainous. Their staple foods are rice and corn, rice by its very nature of being a labour-intensive crop, makes the daily fight for survival paramount.
With a rest day in Sa Pa our group divided roughly into two directions; one group to experience the gondola lift to the top of Mt. Fansipan and the other to explore the rice paddies.
The gondola system is the longest non-stop three rope cable in the world at 6293 meters with an altitude change of 1410 meters making it twice into the Guiness book of records for such statistics. Opened in 2003, the system is impressively new and the buildings supporting it massive in scale.
Most of the travellers were young Vietnamese waving the red flag with a gold star of their nation. Great to see such patriotism.
At the top of the gondola it soon transpires that it is not the top of the mountain at 3143 Meters, the highest in Indochina and the last vestiges of the eastern Himalayas.
The top is reached by 600 steps, cunningly designed in 20 flights that lull you into a false sense that you can get there, which all did, but for the faint hearted there is a funicular railcar that runs almost to the top.
At one point on the mountain it was us that became the tourist attraction. And seeing the Vietnamese youth on the summit so enthusiastic was uplifting
The view is reputedly stunning but, as is the norm at this time of year, cloud was mostly what we saw. And a lot of people.
Oh, and a giant Buddha of impressive proportions. The 21.5 meter Buddha is made from tens of thousands of 5mm bronze flat bars and dominates the platform.
The walk down was easier than the walk up, natch, and the ride down in the gondola just as cloudy as the ride up.
As it’s the dry season the rice fields were brown so it was difficult to discern much about rice growing.
The ethnic village was difficult because so many tourist had been before that they only wanted our money.
The walk was good and the ‘Homestay’ (B&B) visit was interesting, but confusion reigned when we were promised ‘fruit bats’.
Everyone heard the offer of fruit bats but in fact the offer was a ‘foot bath’. This involved feet dunked in hot water with a view of the rice fields.
All in all it seems rather contrived as a visitor attraction but the walk was nice
An afternoon at leisure, for some, and some fettle time for others, completed the welcome day off.