In an expat’s eyes: Sa Pa almost unrecognizable after 25 years

By Ngan Duong    February 17, 2021 | 02:03 pm GMT+7
In an expat’s eyes: Sa Pa almost unrecognizable after 25 years
The Sa Pa product display center has many visitors shopping for agricultural and brocade products. Photo by VnExpress/Ngan Duong.
Surprised by the sprawling hotels and resorts in Sa Pa now, Bulgarian Kiril Grudin reminisces about its untouched beauty two and a half decades ago.

Grudin, 55, has been working in Vietnam for 30 years. In 1995, when he was studying literature at the Hanoi University of Social Sciences and Humanities, he had visited Sa Pa in Lao Cai Province to research the H’mong ethnic group's language.

In January 2021 he returned to the town for the first time while on a 22-day trip from Ho Chi Minh City to the northeastern region.

"The magnificent scenery, ancient houses and diverse ethnicity of Sa Pa still remain in my memory. I am happy to be back here but surprised by the changes," he said.

Grudin remembered that lamp posts were rare 25 years ago unlike now.

The market basically used to be a place for ethnic people to exchange goods but now "it is commercialized and filled with eateries and restaurants along the road to Cat Cat Village."

Though aware change was inevitable, he could not help feel sad about the less clean air and obstruction of views by big hotels that have come up in the town center.

Kiril Grudin at a food vendor’s in Sa Pa. Photo courtesy of Kiril Grudin.

Kiril Grudin at a food vendor’s in Sa Pa. Photo courtesy of Kiril Grudin.

Grudin clearly remembers his trip to Sin Chai Village at the foot of Fansipan Mountain, known as the "Roof of Indochina", to gather information about the H’mong language.

"The only way to reach the mountain peak then was by foot on a narrow dirt road. There was a man who pointed at a boulder in a stream that looked like a turtle. Its head faces a small path indicating the way to Fansipan."

The trip to Fansipan has now become convenient with the installation of the cable system, but it has changed the landscape, he said.

Besides, easier access has made the peak a crowded tourist destination. Grudin had to wait for half an hour for his turn to take a photo by the milestone. He found the patriotism of many people who had brought flags up to the peak impressive.

Tourists pose with national flags on top of Fansipan. Photo courtesy of Kiril Grudin.

Tourists pose with national flags on top of Fansipan. Photo courtesy of Kiril Grudin.

While modernity does threaten Sa Pa’s rich greenery, Grudin said it still has its distinctive and ancient beauty, especially its villages.

"I notice things remain untouched just four or five kilometers away from the town center, with locals living in traditional wooden houses with log fires inside and stunning views of terraced rice fields and mountain ranges. It is always safe and remains a close-knit community."

During his recent trip Grudin found his way to the village he had been to in 1995, but did not manage to spot the turtle-shaped rock in the stream. He is not sure if he forgot its location or its disappearance is part of the changes Sa Pa has seen.

 
 
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