A visit to the "Silver Waterfall" and the ethnic markets outside Sa Pa offers a glimpse of life in the northern mountains
West of Sa Pa about 12 kilometers the waters of Muong Hoa Creek run cold over jagged and rocky terrain.
The tortuous creek eventually runs in to Bac Waterfall (Silver Waterfall), one of the lesser-known sites around the town of Sa Pa, a former French hill station in the mountains of Lao Cai Province, northwest Vietnam.
The waterfall can only be reached by walking across steep paths on slippery slopes through the mountainous jungle. The waterfall is particularly cold in the morning as the fog rolls in over the peaks.
A dip in the cold current is more than refreshing and relaxing in the shade of forest trees. A swim is the perfect way to forget everyday concerns and nap-away the fatigue of your long journey.
The only way to Sa Pa is by an overnight train from Hanoi to the provincial capital of Son La. From there, it's around an hour by car to Sa Pa or about 40 minutes to the trailhead leading to Bac Waterfall.
On both sides of falls, H'Mong women sell home-made crafts and fabrics, often out of baskets on their backs. Many also carry their children. Women of the Dao Do community can be recognized by their bright red clothes.
The surrounding area's markets offer a cornucopia of local goods including brocade, hats, purses, embroidered neckerchiefs, wine, and medicinal herbs from Hoang Lien Son Mountain Range. You can also find Hoang Lien specialties such as thang co (horse meat and entrails soup). But if your stomach isn't too adventurous, try some of the chicken or pork specialties, of which there are plenty. Sit in the shade of trees at small outdoor restaurants to eat fresh sweet potatoes, corn or eggs - all cooked on red-hot coal stoves - and drink locally-made rice wine.
One of the best local dishes around Sa Pa is com lam (rice cooked in a bamboo shoot), accompanied by grilled sparrow, grilled frog or grilled pork.
You can ask a local tour guide to show you local villages and even arrange a home stay. Most guides around Sa Pa's ethnic communities can speak Vietnamese, English, French and a local language or two.
In Sa Pa, local xe om (motorbike taxi) drivers can guide you around town and the outskirts for about VND150,000 (US$8) per day.