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[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he following imageries are synonymous with the highland city Sapa: cascading rice terraces, thickly-misted mountains, a dynamic trading market that carry everything from hand-crafted trinkets, leis of deliciously red and ripe chilli peppers, multi-coloured textiles made by the local H’mong people, to specialty rice wine and even rare lingzhi mushrooms. Add the innocent gazes of ethnic children and hospitable smiles of diligent elders to that long list of Sapa’s fascinating attributes.
Sapa is located at 1,500 meters above sea level and about eight hours on sleeper-train from the capital city Hanoi. The name Sapa originated from Mandarin, with the pronunciation meaning “a desert,” because at the time, Sapa was just a bed of sand where the locals gathered to trade. In 1922, the French chose Sapa as a hill station and established their presence there. Traces of French influence can still be found in colonial villas and inside the Sapa museum which showcases the rich history of the area during the 1920’s. Today, Sapa is Vietnam’s fastest growing tourist destination, with over 2 million visitors each year and this number is expected to reach 4 million by the year 2030.
When in Sapa, one can not help but feel utterly connected to the earth, natural surroundings, and the visible interweaving of mixed cultures. The beautiful valleys beckon a spiritual, refreshing trek while the Sapa Radio Tower claims the most spine-tingling, unobstructed view of the Chartreuse green terraced rice fields, while sanguine cherry blossom petals glide graciously on the milky layers of wind below.
Since it is a city of wonders and discoveries, tourists will be pleasantly surprised to know that even though very few here have the luxury of a formal education, many youngsters in Sapa speak decent English, French, as well as a few other popular languages. This will surely help bridge the language barrier for Westerners wishing to immerse themselves in the hypnotising culture.
Sapa’s 2015 Cultural Tourism Week – which runs from April 30 to May 1 – promises to present many exciting activities such as Sapa love market, the magnificent flower display along major roads, a majestic street festival, and a photo exhibition. There is no better time to visit Vietnam’s precious green grossular garnet of travel destination.