The best way to explore the province of Sapa, admire the landscapes and learn about their tribes, it is with the motorbike, although the roads are in poor condition and full of stones, potholes, buffalo, dogs and chickens. All this, however, makes the guide fun and allows you to reach more villages in a day.
Refueling in Sapa
Before starting the scooter riding, we went from our village to the town of Sapa, to fill up with petrol. But to reach it, we have taken so cold, drizzle and fog, and a path not so easy because of the many holes also. Arrived at the station, there was obviously a ragged line of scooters served in turn by a man and, with 30.000VND, I’ve had fully refilled my scooter.
Province of Ban Ho, rice fields, waterfalls and children
Finally, come out of the freezing cold and chaotic Sapa, our guide and now friend, Zi, has led us to Ban Ho, to discovery the Tay minorities. In addition to beautiful scenery covered with rice fields terraces, we treated ourselves to a short trek on foot along the river bed, to admire a small waterfall.
The most fun and exciting part, however, came when Zi took us to a couple of elementary schools. So we played with the kids, first shy, then friendly and overwhelming, drawn doodles on the blackboard, attended classes in mathematics and English. When I find myself in these situations, I am literally hypnotized by the eyes and the smiles of the children and I want to stay all the time with them.
Then, when it’s time to go away, they look at you deeply, with those big eyes, a little happy, a little sad, as if they’re trying to tell you “do not go, stay with us a little longer.”
In fact, I go always with a touch of melancholy and sadness, because I know I’ll never see them again, and I rather greedily stole their emotions to show them to the world.
Goodbye Sapa, goodbye Zi, with tears in my heart
It was tough to leave Sapa, even tougher greet the small and strong Zi, little mother of three children, but only 23 years. Zi, introduced us to Sapa, introduced and welcomed us into her family, took us around and told her country in a complicated English, almost cartoonish. Every day, at the end of the tour, she left us to our homestay, and then go home on foot, through the mountains, through a journey longer than an hour!
Before departure, she brought us yet to another school, one of her sons. It seemed to want us to see as much as possible in the last minute.
Zi, then, she come with us in Sapa, to accompany us to the bus to Lao Cai. Before taking the bus, we showed us where to eat something, like a grasshopper hopped on the steps or on the streets, preceding our slow, tired and melancholy steps.
Upon boarding the small local bus, surprisingly, with a tender shyness, she pulled out from her pocket, two small metal bracelets, hinting a few words and saying it was her gift to us. Her gesture has sunk me literally, I hugged her, feeling her body so small and seemingly fragile. I sat on the bus and she was still there, on the other side of the glass, to look and smile at us, like a mother, indeed.
A final farewell, the bus started, in the cold darkness of Sapa.
Thanks, great little Zi. I have stolen your smiles and those of your beautiful people, but in return you took our hearts. I know that we will never see each other again, but I wish you all the good of this world!
Back to Hanoi, within the King Express night train, VIP cabin
Arrived in Lao Cai, after a pleasant dinner with a nice Indian boy met on the bus, we got on the night train that would take us to Hanoi, arriving at 4:30 the next morning.
This time, out of curiosity, and to be able to rest without thoughts, I booked a private VIPcabin for two on King Express train. Certainly more touristy and expensive solution, but sometimes It is fun to try. The King Express, however, unlike the excellent Fanxipan, turned out to be a real disappointment: bad and very poor service!
About my photography
This has been a day of outdoor portraits, especially of children. To catch it while making lesson or as they played, I used the Leica 28mm f2 Summicron, while to photograph their faces, I mainly used the Leica Elmarit 90mm with an aperture between 2 and 2.8, in order to detach them from the background.
I hope I’ve been able to capture all the emotions I felt in this busy day.
- Repairing a flat tire costs only 10.000VND ( happened to us too!)
- From Sapa to Lao Cai, take the local bus, yellow and red, from the main square, near the church: it costs only 28,000 VND! Runs every hour with last run at 18:30
- Night train to Hanoi: avoid the King Express, chose, if you can, thr Fanxipan!