The promise of a rail journey fills the heart with the true spirit of travel. Flying always feels like cheating. And so it was that full of the travelling spirit I departed on a sleeper train from Hanoi to Lao Cai, on the way to Sa Pa. A tribal hill station of travelling lore, Sa Pa’s mist-swept mountains are home to the Hmong. Diminutive, playful and relentlessly entrepreneurial, the Hmong people are great survivors of the world’s diminished tribal tapestry, balancing ancient ways of life with modern innovation, traditional clothes hiding buzzing smart-phones inside Technicolor folds.
After a bus from the station through a pitiless fog, we are greeted by a local delegation, a posse of luminous women, wearing punky leg warmers, black tonsure hats and smiles. Thus begins an association that will last through mud, wind, rain and fire. Well, not exactly fire, but firewater, a local rice wine of the most best, most vicious, variety, drunk from chemical vats during a homestay in the mountains.
Sa Pa has become a must-see of the tourist lap around Vietnam for a reason. It is wonderful place to visit, above all for the wit and banter of the locals.