~ / Brian Norlander / travel /
Vietnam, Fall 2018

Visiting Hanoi, and Sapa from September 26 to October 02, 2018.

Just 12 hours after coming back from Guangzhou, a friend and I boarded a plane bound for Hanoi. We were in Vietnam for 6 days starting in the bustling capital of Hanoi and then exploring the mountains and valleys surrounding Sapa which is in the north near the border of China.


The capital, and 2nd largest city in Vietnam, Hanoi is located on the Red River and has been the most important city politically in the region for over 1000 years. First part of the Nguyen dynasty, Hanoi was conquered by the French in 1873. Since then it has been the administrative center of French Indochina until finally the Vietnamese people won their independence from colonial powers in 1945.

Our ride from the airport to the city center was wild. The driver ducked in and out of traffic on streets that didn't seem to have any speed limits while chuckling when we would react to his driving style.

The exchange rate was 1 USD to 23,500 Vietnamese Dong. After my first ATM withdrawal I was a multi-millionaire!
Train street - Trains pass through this narrow corridor daily while people live and go about their lives.
Left: Vietnamese drip coffee: Vietnam is the 2nd largest exporter of coffee in the world Right: Yogurt with avocado and mango with ice
The Hanoi Hilton was a prison first used by the French to house Vietnamese dissenters and then later used in the Vietnam War to house Americans. The famous American politician John McCain spent time here.

Ho Chi Minh, a key figure in the founding and independence wars of Vietnam, had an elaborate palace in Hanoi. His mausoleum was also near the city center.

Ho Chi Minh's palace
Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum
Meticulously maintained grounds surrounding Ho Chi Minh's palace and mausoleum
Inside a classical Buddhist temple
We saw a lot of foreigners with injuries caused by motorcycle accidents, it's not hard to imagine why.

And that's a wrap for Hanoi! At the place we stayed in Hanoi we met two other travelers who wanted to go to Sapa as well. We booked bus tickets with them and left bright and early the next morning.


Sapa is a frontier township in north-west Vietnam. It's infrastructure was built up by the French to serve as a resort and escape from the heat of lowland Vietnam. Historically it has been home to a multitude of minority groups in the region as well serving as a central market town.

Rice fields seen out the window of the bus ride up to Sapa
The bus on the 6 hour ride from Hanoi to Sapa
First glimpse of the many rice terraces

We arrived at our hostel and it was surreal. We had a view that overlooked the city with mountains shrouded in mist as a backdrop. In the lobby traditional Vietnamese music was playing and hot tea was served all day. This was the perfect spot to chill out and play cards, which is what we did.

View from the hostel. Wow.
Chilling in the lobby playing cards

The hostel was a capsule hostel, giving it a very futuristic look. I would definitely recommend a capsule hostel even though it looks very strange. You get privacy and quiet for a cheap price.

Sleeping arrangements
Lake in the middle of Sapa
Banh Mi: a hot sandwich with toasted bread, pork, fresh cucumbers, tomatoes and a spicy sauce.

After spending some time chilling at the hostel and exploring the city we ventured out and checked out some of the nearby valleys and villages.

Cat Cat Village
It felt like something out of Swiss Family Robinson
When the rice fields are yellow, it means that they haven't been harvested yet. Many of the fields I saw in the main valley had already been harvested a month or so before I was there.

Muong Hoa Valley

The next morning I took a guided tour with a local lady from a nearby village. When we started in the morning, the hills were covered in mist. After we ate lunch at a village community center, the sun started to peak through the clouds and we got some amazing views of the Muong Hoa Valley rice terraces.

There are four main minority groups in the Muong Hoa Valley, all of them have different cultures, customs, garments, and languages. The minority groups live so closely together that you can see more than one village at a time from the tops of the mountains. Historically, the villagers would meet in Sapa to trade with them each other.

Early morning mist covered mountains. Breathtaking
The flowers of Sapa
Center: I was told that this one tasted sweet but was highly poisonous.
Before lunch I couldn't see the tops of the mountains or the bottom of the valley
We ate lunch high in the mountains at a community center. The kids here were clearly very poor but were happy and enjoyed playing with us.
After lunch the clouds started to break up
Left: Mama Shu Shu Right: Traveling companions: Christian, Cerys, AJ and me

/ Travel