Sa Pa is a breathtakingly beautiful hill town in Northern Vietnam. A nine hour overnight train from Hanoi will drop you in Lo Cai, where you can board a mini van and travel another 1 1/2 hours up to the main town of Sa Pa. The bus journey up is a highlight. To the left are terraced rice paddies that drop all the way down to rocky rivers below, and to the right, more rice paddies disappear into the clouds. The temperature is about 20 degrees cooler than Hanoi, and the air is cool and crisp. I found myself in Sa Pa at the peak of harvest season. The rice paddies glowed green against the backdrop of a bright blue sky.
Entire families were tending the land, but they were still eager to stop and talk as we passed by. We befriended two ladies from the Hmong tribe, Mai and Gia, who welcomed us to have lunch with them. After a three-hour trek, we arrived at their home. Gia's husband had just arrived home from the fields, and lunch was almost ready. We pulled plastic chairs around a small wooden table and dined with near strangers who already felt like good friends. The meal consisted of fresh rice (picked within a day of being served) bamboo chicken and shou shou (which is like steamed cucumber). After our meal, Gia disappeared upstairs and retrieved some fermented apples and prepared rice wine for us. This was hands down one of the best meals I had in Vietnam and by far a favorite experience.