Tourist Mountain

Trip Start Nov 08, 2006
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Trip End Ongoing


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Flag of Vietnam  ,
Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Our guidebook suggests several day hikes around Sapa. There are villages scattered all around the area, and many of the paths are quite scenic. The book also mentions, as an aside, that if you have an extra hour you can hike up to the radio tower on a peak overlooking the town and get a nice view of the area. We decided to do this, but were glad we had more than an hour to spare. At the foot of the path there was a ticket booth that charged 20,000 VND ($1.25) to enter. It also informed us that we were paying to enter something called "The Tourist Mountain." The money wasn't an issue, but the name immediately made me want to turn around. It sounded like "Space Mountain," and I didn't want a cheap Disneyland experience in Vietnam. But we wanted to check out the view, so we bought our tickets and headed up.

It was a beautiful area. There was nothing especially touristy or cheesy about it. There were just a collection of marked paths that led by a few manicured garden areas, but they mostly just wandered over and around the mountains. Each path branched again and again, and we would go long stretches of time without seeing anyone else. The clouds rolled in, obscuring the landscape, then they would separate like a stage curtain, exposing some gorgeous scene of peaks and valleys, terraces and streams, or brightly colored flora.

The best part of the day was when we had drifted well of the path and were standing on the edge of the mountain, with more peaks in the distance and a lush green valley floor in between. We noticed a thatch door covering an entrance to a tiny cave in the face of the rock. We peaked in and saw that it was empty except for some straw lining the earthen floor. There was little sign that someone lived in this tiny space except for the small vegetable garden in front of the entrance, and the single toothbrush tucked into the door. We pondered what it must be like to live in such a humble space. It obviously lacked all modern conveniences and even the most basic items we would think are required to call a location home. It was exposed to much of the weather, and could provide little shelter from the chill that must exist up there almost year round. But whatever its shortcomings, it was home to someone. And while I'm sure they chose the spot exclusively by necessity, and not for aesthetics, they still rose each morning to one of the most incredible views I've seen in Southeast Asia. As we stood there, the clouds were rushing in and out of view, above, below, and around us. A wall of white would approach from our side, then cascade down the mountain like an avalanche, flooding the valley beneath us. I've never seen clouds look like such living things. They seemed to move with purpose, converging in one area, then splitting themselves around a jagged peak, just to join again on the other side. It was quite amazing. And as we were lost in the show in front of us, a hill-tribe woman in full traditional dress appeared on some unseen path. We thought for a moment that she may be the resident of this austere paradise. But as quickly as she appeared, she drifted into the clouds and made her way down the mountain. She was on her way home. And while it was not an easy path, her evening commute looked infinitely more pleasurable than a drive on any interstate in America.

We explored the various path until the light failed, and we headed back down to the city, back down to earth after a day in the clouds.

INFO:  I'll post the photos in sets.
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