Touring Sa Pa in a 4x4
Lào Cai, Lao Cai, Vietnam
On the Road in Northwest VietnamAfter spending 1 night in Ha Noi upon arrival in Vietnam for a 40 day SE Asia adventure, we embarked on a 6-day 1,100 kilometer 4x4 vehicle tour of NW Vietnam with Vietnam Golden Holidays’ NW Loop Excursion with our guide & driver, privy to water buffaloes wallowing in muddy rice paddies and daily drying of corn, rice, peppers and plywood alongside our road,the omnipresent motor bikes carrying anything from bundles of rice stalks to large pigs laid across the back. Driving was one-handed, the other holding a cell phone or umbrella.
We overnighted in Son La and Diem Bien Phu, both important relative to French occupation. Woke up at 5:00 am to roosters and blaring music and messaging over loudspeakers attached to government buildings, then immersed ourselves in the museums, cemeteries and former prisons.
The highest elevation we reached was 1,900 meters at Tram Ton pass, nearing the touristy hamlet of Sapa, staying 2 nights after traveling at 8-28 mph due to ruts, commercial truck traffic and road work in the mountains.
We stopped at roadside family businesses so we could witness distilling of rice wine, making of arrowroot noodles, and creation of flour from pounding rice kernels.
We “homestayed” our last night with a Black Dzao family on Thac Ba lake, sharing dinner and many banana rice wine toasts.
The beauty of NW Vietnam can be summed up in words, but better in photos, like this one of architecturally-designed tiers of rice that are everywhere.