Sapa is a highland town located 38km from Lao Cai City. There are now tourist buses from Hanoi on
the Hanoi – Lao Cai Highway, which take half the time, but I still prefer the train. After a good night’s sleep, I arrived in Sapa relaxed. Although I visit the town every year, Sapa always surprises me with different facets and impressions. The drizzle and gold-drenched terraced fields struck me, as did the surreal fog that blanketed the town. The stone church that had recently been bathed in sunlightseemed to play hide and seek, appearing in a fading gleam of sunlight through the mist. Cherry blossoms bloomed in the heart of the green jungle, sketching a youthful spring masterpiece in my eyes. I was mesmerised by Sapa.
Colourful peach blossoms and pure white plum blossoms jostled to bloom despite the frost. Lingering dew drops on budding branches added more charm. Spring, a season that heralds the rise of vitality, had come. There is nothing more fantastic than to admire flowering branches tearing the sky and listening to the mellow melodies of an ethnic lad and the sweet voice of a highland beauty on a spring morning. Although the love market has ceased, the sound of courting couples made me proud that these ethnic people have preserved their identity through many generations, particularly when Sapa is modernising.
Ethnic communities around Sapa receive visitors all year long. It’s normal to glimpse throngs of young ethnic minority girls selling little bags decorated with hand-embroidered patterns. Normally, these girls are finely attired in handmade clothes and silver jewellery. In the spring days preceding Tet, they don their finest and
most elaborately decorated clothes to greet the New Year. Spring comes to every hamlet, leaving unconcealed joy on the faces of the locals. Winters are chilly in the highlands. Sometimes it’s so cold that snow blankets every roof, paddy field and mountain peak. Anyone fortunate enough to visit Sapa in the snow is faced with a truly exotic sight.
To celebrate New Year in Sapa is both familiar and exotic. Familiar sight include terraced fields meandering around mountains, the imposing stone church right in the town’s central square, ethnic people with sparkling eyes, and steep, winding lanes that connect far-flung hamlets. It’s equally exotic because of new experiences in an old place, and the happiness of seeing nature awaken. Sapa is worth a return, even many returns.