Sa Pa

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.