Week 50: Exploring Northern Vietnam (Sapa and Hanoi)

With being sick all week, I wasn’t sure til the last minute if I would be able to join some fellow & former Remotes on a trip to Sapa for the weekend. In the end, I’m so happy I did.

After saying goodbye to my parents and Galya, I headed to the train station for our overnight train to Sapa. The train was old timey but comfortable, and we were giddy with the glamour of train travel for a couple of hours.

A bumpy/cold overnight ride later, we had arrived near Sapa. We met our adorable tour guide, Yao, who is a native of the Hmong tribe in the northern hills of Vietnam. She is married with two kids and is, like, 20.

Sapa is mostly a mountain trekking town near the border with China, and is reminiscent of the small towns in Patagonia. It’s touristy but retains some of the charm of having multiple tribes residing in the vicinity for generations. It feels like a place that’s going through change.

After a quick breakfast and checking into our hotel, we headed out for a walk through the wilderness. We waked to a waterfall while learning a bit about Sapa’s tribes: Black Hmong and Red Dzao, among others. Each has its own distinct garb, culture, and even language. Our guide told us that she speaks better English than Vietnamese, since her native tongue is Hmong.

Over the course of two days, we saw Sapa’s signature scene countless times: rice paddy terraces down mountains. Though we were there in dry season and it wasn’t as green as during the summer, it was still a sight to behold. The paddies also reminded me so much of the Sacred Valley in Peru, and I started wondering: is it really a coincidence that all these farming techniques in isolated parts of the world are almost identical, or was there more communication among ancient civilizations than we think?

A memorable highlight of the weekend was the old Hmong woman who walked with our group for hours, mostly helping me navigate the muddy hills after I fell within 5 minutes of starting our hike. As expected, she wanted us to buy goods from her after, and Arestia and I ended up buying matching bracelets as a memory of this weekend.

At night, we enjoyed wine and conversation at The Hill, a very Patagonia-esque wine and craft beer bar. We talked about ways we think we’ve most changed over the year. For me, I think I’m more confident in myself and have such an expanded worldview of what is possible. No travel destination seems off-limits because of fear anymore.

Fellow Remote Chino and I ended up staying in Sapa an extra night to have a place to work from the next day, and took an afternoon bus back to Hanoi. We got to see some incredible views going over the high passes in the mountains and work from a rest stop in rural Vietnam.

I had planned to only be in Hanoi for the night, flying back to Saigon the next day, but after arriving at the airport and realizing I had booked my ticket for the wrong month, it was back to Hanoi for me. (Ironically, I had been texting Angela in the car how much I wished I could stay longer… Wish fulfilled.)

I spent the rest of my time in Hanoi mostly working (checked out Xofa Café) and eating. I got more bun bo nam bo and finally got to try pork porridge, which our group was talking up the entire time we were in Sapa, and it was delightful (though it looks kinda gross). A random woman sells it from a street corner, and with a bit of pointing I was even able to order it to go.

After finally getting back to Saigon for the first time in 1.5 weeks, all I wanted to do was chill. I worked from a few of the cafes in our area (Au Parc, M2C, Brainergy are some faves), enjoyed how green, walkable (sidewalks!) and comfortable Saigon felt, and took it easy.

I also had some conversations to explore continuing to coach. The sessions we’ve been having for re:work with Remotes have been really successful – people have quit smoking, written scripts, sought out one-on-one coaching, and generally have been motivated to achieve – and I’m looking for ways to formalize the program and keep it going. Who knows, maybe this could turn into something someday…




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