Surprising Sapa

Around every corner is something that you have never seen or maybe never experienced before.

To visit Sapa or the surrounding districts is to step into another world. Sometimes, it doesn’t even feel like you are still in Vietnam. Elevated, ethereal, energizing, exotic, Sapa took me by surprise.

I imagined some kind of French style, alpine town nestling on the wooded slopes of the Hoang Lien Son Mountains at the eastern extremity of the Himalayas. And, to some extent, that is exactly what it is. There are now dozens of small hotels competing for the best possible view of the mountains that soar above the valley. Cloud systems move through the landscape, above and below you, changing the weather from moment to moment. It’s very dramatic.

In the heart of the town is a colorful, traditional market with lots of foods and goods I had never seen before. Minority people from five different ethnicities come to sell their crops and fascinating antique textiles. It is a visual feast of all kinds of treasures. I was lucky enough to get a guided tour from chef Quyen Trinh, a charismatic young man who has risen from shoe shine boy to head chef and got his first job cooking in a small hotel right next to the Sapa market. He knows local produce inside and out.

Our first stop was a traditional herbalist where I discovered medicinal herbs, local dried mushrooms and fungi of every kind, local corn, rice and apple wines, deep red goji berries, medicinal dried apples and many other delights. The shopkeeper gave us some local ginseng to sample and we left with a bag of interesting ingredients to cook for dinner.

On our way across to the meat and fish vendors, we stopped to buy a bunch of lychees from the new harvest. These fluorescent fruits are the most colorful crop at this time of year and stalls are loaded with them.

In the meat stalls we found some black skinned chickens. The flesh is blue/black as if they have been dipped in indigo but apparently it is a special local breed! In the next stall, every part of the pig is for sale, laid out fresh and pink on scrubbed, black wooded chopping boards. Everywhere are baskets and bunches of vibrant green herbs and leaves, harvested at dawn and rushed to the market for sale. On a corner, a tiny charcuterie of French influence offers garlic sausage, delicate slices of pork in aspic and smoked meats. In the middle, a busy kitchen has smoke and steam rising from pots and grills as they prepare for a busy lunch hour.

The whole market is an intoxicating experience. Quyen is passionate about Sapa foods and is well-known for his fresh, colorful cuisine. That evening we had stir-fried chicken with goji berries and the dried apples served with local rice and steamed cho ko leaves – such delicious new flavors!

Bridget March is a professional artist and author of A Week in Hoi An. Currently she is the artist in residence at Sapa Rooms Hotel and Art Cafe in Sapa. Bridget is working on a project called Art for Community that will provide a sustainable income for the school in the poorest district in Sapa. She is also offering art classes and sketching tours in her Sapa studio until mid September. For more of Bridget’s work including news of her upcoming book visit bridgetmarch.co.uk

Share this story, choose your platform!

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on tumblr
Share on google
Share on linkedin
Share on reddit
Share on vk
Share on email
About the author:

Leave a Comment

Top 5 Effective Ways to Promote a Video Production Company

When it comes to starting your own production company, it’s a lot harder than said, and finding the right customers and building a clientele is another mountain to climb on its own. In the past couple of years, we have seen a sudden growth in video marketing. The video format dominates the current digital landscape

Read More »

“Arts for Smiles” Painting & Exhibition Week in the South of Hoi An

Every year typically has a few defining moments, but the past nine months, affected by the coronavirus pandemic have contained so many world-changing, paradigm-shifting developments that it’s getting hard to believe we’re not in a simulation that’s running every possible scenario at once. With a pandemic still raging, waves of social change swelling around the

Read More »

CH House

The house is designed for three family generations who wanted to create a harmonious space in the hectic city (Hanoi) in order to enhance traditional  family life. The site of the house is a typical plot for long and narrow local tube houses; with CH house the dimensions are –  4,2 m  wide by 35

Read More »

#Photojournalism

From climate change protests to democratic uprisings against biased and violent authorities, it is clear that 2019 has been a pivotal year for citizens all over the world. It’s in this context that mobile app Agora launched its first#Photojournalism photo competition, with the objective to give photographers a way to shed light on specific issues. 

Read More »

Soweto

Soweto, deriving from South Western Township, was established in the 1930s to remove native people from the capital cities and neighboring areas. The first permanent housing erected in this area were the mining houses: long dormitory-style buildings where only men and mineworkers could live. The nearby goldmines are all but exhausted but the large yellow

Read More »

The Walking Machine

Local metalworker Ly Minh Tien builds a spider-like walking machine to raise awareness on environmental issues A riddle: what has 12 legs, six on either side, and is made of metal? It’s not a metal spider, but that guess isn’t far off. A fitting comparison: “You know the movie Wild Wild West?”, its builder and

Read More »