Arriving in the hotel on 20th December after the mammoth trip from Shagri-La, the first evening was spent getting clean, sorting laundry (ah, the joys of travel) and finding a bite to eat. The first thing I noticed about the town was the number of western tourists; this is quite a change from the last few weeks, when I was sometimes the only foreigner I saw in some towns.
Sa Pa old town is definitely set up for tourists, with nearly all of the businesses on the streets being one of hotel / restaurant, trekking shop, massage parlour or ethnic trade shop.
Waking refreshed on the 21st, I went for a wander to Cat Cat village; however, the walk down is really like wandering through a long, ethnic shopping mall! It didn't take too long to get to the village and, after leaving, I bumped into a very nice Spainish/Polish couple called Martin and Zofia and we continued to walk towards another village.
Along the way, Zofia handed out some pencils and books to some of the local children we came across in the very small and deprived village we arrived in. The living standards are really poor and it feels a bad that, just up the hill, is a wealthy town but the money doesn't seem to spread very far.
The second day was another trek to a couple of villages called Lao Chai and Ta Van with Martin and Zofia, and we were fortunate that the sun decided to shine, as it is often very cloudy here. We decided to go alone and it was quite the adventure; we weren't really sure of the route and had to re-trace our steps a couple of times. Along the way Martin bought some oranges from a little girl in one of the shops, which is one of the photos.
We actually managed to find ourselves off the main path and ending up right in the middle of a Hmong village, which was a little unsettling as there was no easy way out, but we did buy some more supplies on leaving the place.
We finally managed to reach Ta Van after some four hours of walking and had a late lunch. It was in this little restaurant that four young girls came up, offering some little ethnic goods for sale, but giggling a lot as they did it. Anyway, we all decided to buy a few things from them as the girls only wanted 10,000 Vietnamese Dong (about 30p); we included a photograph as part of the deal.
On returning to Sa Pa by taxi, Martin and Zofia were soon off to Hanoi and I decided to try to get to a small town nearby called Bac Ha the next day.