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Far from Saigon

15
September
2012
 

Although they are both part of the same country, Saigon and Sapa could not be further apart, geographically, climatically or culturally. While Saigon is situated far to the South in the steamy Mekong Delta as it flows into the South China Sea, Sapa is about as far north as you can get without being in China. While Saigon is at sea level, Sapa sits at 9,500 feet and while Saigon marks the end of the Mekong River, Sapa marks the end of the Himalayan region.

It is not surprising therefore that each offers a unique experience with neither being better than the other, just different. Saigon is hustle and bustle with heat and French influence. Sapa is home to minority tribes who are either indigenous to the area or migrated from China several centuries before. Rather than entrepreneurs the people of Sapa are primarily subsistence farmers and where Saigon is a melting pot, the tribes of Sapa stay in their own villages and mingle only at the many markets.

Assuming that you have had your fill of Saigon and wish to compare that experience with Sapa, your first step would be to fly from Saigon (nobody calls it Ho Chi Minh City with the exception of his descendants) to Hanoi. There are many things to do in this part of the North but in this hypothetical trip you meet one of our guides who will take you to the Press Club for dinner before taking you to the station where you board the Victoria Express train to Lao Cai, the closest station to Sapa. While the train has private facilities it does not have showers so your guide’s first task after greeting you is to take you to a local hotel where you can shower and have breakfast. Those chores completed you head off to Sapa.

Sapa came under French control at the end of the 19th Century in a deal with China. The French called it Chapa and like Dalat saw its potential as a recuperative area for soldiers and for sweltering diplomats. In the 1920’s it was a thriving town with a military garrison.

After the end of the Second World War fighting broke out between the Viet Minh and the French colonials ending in the French defeat and the creation of North and South Vietnam. Despite this upheaval the indigenous people kept on with their daily existence.

They are primarily made up of five ethnic groups with the largest being the Hmong and the second largest the Dao. Together they make up over 75% of the population. During your stay you would visit many of the villages and learn what makes a Flower Hmong different from a Black Hmong or a Red Dao and Black Dao. Regardless of the variations you will find all the people to be gracious, hospitable and industrious.

While you are in a different part of the world you can still enjoy creature comforts at the hotel which we reserve for our guests including a spa and an indoor pool. You don’t come to Sapa for the Spa, however, and you will find your days filled with trips to local villages guided by the indigenous people to be the highlight of your trip especially the opportunity to visit the markets where cows, buffaloes and pot-bellied pigs can be purchased. A far cry from Saigon but an experience not to be missed.