A travel blog about one the most inspirational places you can visit, and definitely a top 10 experience in my life. Sa Pa, Vietnam.
Four years ago now I found myself as a volunteer in southern Vietnam, in a small fishing village along the coast. The name of the village is Mui Ne which means something like “hiding cape”, as it is located on a cape that through time has lent its protection to fishermen when the sea has been storming too viciously. I lived around this village and assisted in teaching at the English School of Mui Ne, a non-governmental organization, for about six months. Throughout these months the teachers and I plotted my month-long trip through their beautiful country. Them almost being more excited for it than I.
So I traveled.
From Mui Ne I went inland. The hills-and-valley country of Da Lat where the Easy Riders showed me the coffee plantation. Out towards the coast again to briefly experience the endless pristine paradise beach of Nha Trang, before moving upwards. The tailor city of Hoi An, once the home of the largest harbor in Southeast Asia, with street after street lined with fabrics and clothes and leather and restaurants. A quick stop in Hue. Met by ruins of old temples and tombs of great feudal lords long gone. Onwards, ever onwards on small buses with more than lacking in the leg-space department, finally to the capitol of Vietnam, Hanoi. Coffee shops and a detour to the stalactite cave-rich Ha Long Bay, gorgeous in its own gloomy, small-mountains-rising-through-water way.
When I finally arrived at Sa Pa it was by train, late during one particularly cold night. By small bus from the train station through the dark rises and falls. The modest Hotel I had booked via Tripadvisor was damp but comely, with a chill that ran through the whole structure like a perpetual shiver down its spine. That first night I was constantly freezing. The small electrical blanket I slept beneath didn’t give much comfort. I hadn’t known much about Sa Pa before I arrived, and the experience of that first night did not prepare me for what I would wake up to.
The view from my window gave a vicious tease of what this part of the trip would have in store.
When before my travel through Vietnam had centered heavily on culture and old architecture, Sa Pa gave me the most incredible landscape experience I’ve had so far in my life. Not yet overtaken by the tourism industry that is growing throughout Southeast Asia, it was secluded, peaceful, untouched so to speak. Sa Pa is still a home to many ethnic minorities. With a population just over 35 000, only 15 percent of these are of the Vietnamese majority ethnicity. The rest build their lives upon crafting and farming, some traveling miles to sell jewelry, clothing and other knick-knacks at the local market. I followed them on one of these treks that day. Some children were skilled and kind enough to converse with me in English. They asked what I did, about my camera, if I had been to other Vietnamese cities. I asked them about their days, the bracelets they made and about their families.
I stopped often. Waited. Composed. I felt engulfed by the mountainsthat towered over and before me, forcing me to battle them for height or succumb to the more pleasant path down into the valleys they held between them. Never before had I experienced such sheer might of nature, powerful and heavy-hitting and literally; breathtaking in its own enormousness.
When the clouds parted to let through the rays of morning light.
When they pulled out over the valley as gently and peacefully as a lake carrying a skiff with an infant babe from one shore to the other.
The manmade rice paddies caressing the landscape while at the same time harnessing and controlling it, never demanding living space by man but asked for and offered by the land. I went down, down into the valley. Stood at the bottom in awe of everything around me. This un-, semi-, subconscious thing that is the earth around us. The beauty of nature in and of itself and the peace it brings.
I have often backtracked in my mind, through my photo archives, to those two days. How it stayed with me. It’s definitely a point of inspiration in my life. Do you have any such points?