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  • Writer's pictureFlora Le

The Road to Sa Pa

The night had succeeded in dissipating my worries. When I woke up, I felt ready to take on the challenge of the 250 km drive to Sa Pa. The village is one of the most visited places in Vietnam, especially because of its proximity to Mount Fansipan where many tourists go hiking. You can also see the H'mong ("Mong"), the indigenous people of northern Vietnam, up close.

And this cold was not going to stop me. Except for my bathing suit, I decided to wear all the clothes I had brought with me. I had two pairs of shirts under my jeans, two pairs of merino wool socks, six sweaters, my motorcycle jacket and my winter coat. Once I was dressed, I could hardly bend my arms, let alone bend over. But at least I was warm.

After a hearty lunch of beef and cabbage ramen soup, a typical lunch in the area, we prepared to hit the road. Trung hurried to take my bag to attach it to my motorcycle. I stopped him.

- I want to learn, I told him. Show me.

I had to learn how to be independent on this bike. And that was going to start with tying my bag myself with the rubber straps Anh had installed for me.

We set off again immediately. In a short time, we left all forms of urban life. In the distance, the rice terraces overlap as far as the eye can see on the mountain sides. The uneven curves of the rice fields give the landscape an air of impressionist painting. The view is breathtaking.

Along the way, we witness all kinds of rural life scenes. We see people. Some are working, others are carrying wood or fodder for the animals. We see mothers walking their babies, children walking to school or teenagers riding their bikes back. Then, as you go further into the mountains, the villages become more and more scarce.

We also saw a lot of animals. Groups of buffaloes walking in the middle of the road. Stray dogs looking for food. Chickens, who have the annoying habit of throwing themselves on the road when a vehicle approaches. Not to mention the ducks, pigs and wild boars that wander around peacefully as if they own the road.

The road through the mountains is winding but beautiful. It is not very busy and the driving is pleasant. The sharp curves force us to drive slowly. And we are lucky, the weather is perfect. It's sunny and clear.

So far, so good. But the last 50 km to Sa Pa would put my optimism to the test. We were then at an altitude of almost 2000 meters. The snow on the mountain sides was falling and accumulating on the sides of the road. The road was wet and slippery. We were driving in the fog and it was getting dark. In addition, my breath was completely fogging up the visor of my helmet because of the cold. In short, I couldn't see more than six feet in front of me.

With only two days of riding experience, I found these conditions to be quite dangerous. I gripped my handlebars tightly. Fatigue made me stare blankly, so I had to double my concentration to stay alert.

On a hill, we saw a gathering of people. A little higher up, a red motorcycle was lying on the ground, overturned on its side.

In spite of this sad sight, we continued on our way.

Then, at a bend in the road, a H'mong woman appeared, crouching on the side of the road. Trung signals me to stop. On her small fire, beef skewers marinated in lemongrass were grilling. Trung bought us two of them. They were simply delicious.

Needless to say, I was almost hypothermic when we arrived in Sapa. The temperature was close to freezing, which was practically freezing on the bike. I was exhausted and my buttocks were sore, but I was happy to have made this magnificent journey.

I had this amazing feeling that I had taken on quite a challenge.


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