Leaving Dien Bien Phu behind us, the next station on our journey is located 1600m above sea level: the beautiful town of Sa Pa.

Driving north on endless mountain passes

on bridge Cầu Hang Tôm between Điện Biên and Lai Châu province

The first day was all about getting there. Sa Pa lays near the Fansipan mountain in the north of Vietnam, around 300km away from Dien Bien Phu. So we packed our things and started our seven hour drive through a cloudy but nice landscape. Stopping for a lunch in a smaller town about half the way we got some Vietnamese rice dishes and tea.

In the early afternoon, roads started to get steeper and fog made us see only about a hundred meters ahead – we were near Sa Pa.

Notre Dame Cathedral Nhà thờ Đá Sapa

The lovely town has been founded in the end of the 19th century by the French colonialists. Full of small alleys and only around 15° C warm, you might start to feel like in a town in the Alps, but not like you’re in Vietnam. The mixture of French and Vietnamese styled houses and some more unusual buildings in South East Asia like a small Christian church add to the unique atmosphere.

After the sun set and we experienced some major power failures, we walked around a little bit taking some photos and enjoying a dinner, warming ourselves in a nice pizza restaurant.

More “Europe” in Vietnam

“European hills”

Pine and Spruce trees in Vietnam? Yes, we couldn’t believe our eyes too. Growing next to banana and pineapple plantations on our way to Bac Ha, about two-and-a-half hours away from Sa Pa. We were surprised, until our guide told us that it’s the French who are responsible for this. As you could’ve read in our previous post, they colonialized Vietnam in the 19th century and brought some saplings with them. Vietnam should look a bit like  France one day, that’s been their intention…

people at Bắc Hà market

In Bac Ha, every Sunday people from all of the ethnic minorities living around here come and meet for a market. A huge variety of people sell fruits, vegetables, meat (dead and living), snacks, souvenirs, noodle soup and a lot more. Some even put on their traditional clothes, others tend to look more reputable when trading water buffalos for around 2,000 $ per animal. It’s like a festival of culture and definitely worth a visit.

Bắc Hà animal market

Behind the market, we saw them again: Spruce woods. The landscape looks definitely European, doesn’t it? Of course, architecture, language and people are different, I admit.

traditional house converted

Sadly, the planned boat trip had to be cancelled due to the low water level, it’s dry season. Instead, we visited a village to get an impression of Vietnamese country life. Our fellow readers can instantly see the difference to Lao villages: solid houses. Everything looks more modern, technology adds to traditional agriculture using buffalos and concrete roads make them look like a town in Laos. The traditional houses built on stilts have changed in the last years, before the owned animals lived under the houses. That made it quite easy for Malaria to spread, so the people decided to build a concrete wall around the bottom floor. This is now used as the main living area, while the second floor is mainly used for storage and the animals live in their own places.

Foggy mountain town

Sa Pa disappears in the fog

The next day we made a small tour through Sa Pa, enjoying the beautiful landscapes – at least while possible. The visibility distance changed rapidly every few minutes due to the clouds and the fog. We passed the small church and even walked a bit outside of the town. Sadly, taking pictures wasn’t so easy due to the weather but we did what we could. The low temperatures then led us to decide to go inside a Café and enjoy some tea while waiting for a clearer view on the valley. However, that did not happen anymore, but the tea was delicious…

Delicious tea

In the evening, we drove once again to Lao Cai, this time taking our stuff with us. Moving on to the last station of our trip, on rails again…