Back Travel » All by Myself in Sapa: How I Learnt That Traveling Alone Doesn't Have to Be Lonely

All by Myself in Sapa: How I Learnt That Traveling Alone Doesn't Have to Be Lonely

One item on my “bucket list” is a journey to discover an exciting new land on a solo trip. It’s not a simple aspiration so I didn’t think that I would get a chance to accomplish it any time soon, but right on my 19th birthday, Châu, my “big boss” and mentor at Urbanist Travel, surprised me with an unforgettable vacation to Sapa.

Not being shackled by a minute-by-minute itinerary or carefully curated plan, I took in the heart of Sapa like I would any other day in my routine — languid, indulgent, but still colored by distinctly Sapa experiences. I wanted to treat my time there as an occasion to take care of myself and live slowly, instead of creating yet another “work plan” to follow right during my time to unwind.

It was my first-ever time on the road on my own, so my mind couldn’t help but wonder “will I be okay during the next few days?” All these concerns gradually faded into the background as eagerness took over when the picturesque landscapes of Sapa started to unravel before my eyes. Materializing amidst films of soft clouds were hulks of mountains stretching to the distant horizon, layers of terraced rice fields ripening with aromas, and a sprinkle of rustic homesteads on the green grass — everything came together to signal a fantastic trip ahead. As the bus inched closer to our destination, the road became noticeably bumpier, more meandering, and at times as narrow as a one-lane alley. The treacherous track went on for an hour and then led me to one of the coziest resorts I’ve ever been to.

It was like I left my old life behind once I set foot into the guest room. There was no WiFi by design, as the lodge hopes to deliver a true-blue relaxing time for their guests. Thanks to that purposeful disconnection, I could spend time with a favorite book while relishing the warmth of a cup of tea and the frigid atmosphere of Sapa. Time passed by lazily without pressing deadlines or hurried work tasks. It took being alone in the middle of a forest for me to realize that perhaps this was what I had been looking for: a peaceful moment.

The dusk arrived before I knew it, and we prepared our dinner in the common space at the resort. A perk of dining alone is being able to order whatever you want without any qualms about what your companion might request. After the meal, when the night turned chilly, everybody gathered around the bonfire to grill tubers and watch a múa sạp performance.

The manager told me that usually the show was conducted by professional dancers, but because of the pandemic situation at the time, the limelight was shone on some really adorable young dancers — they were local children living in the vicinity. It was their refreshing slip-ups here and there that helped relax everyone and form a bond between us. And suddenly, a room full of strangers started doing the steps, sometimes terribly, laughing together, and telling one another life stories.

When I was by myself again in my room again, it dawned on me that happiness can be as easy as that. But sometimes we live too fast a life to pay attention to such simple but valuable little experiences. Sleep came quickly and I couldn’t wait to explore more of Sapa the next day.

I was already planning to get to know Sapa alone when I woke up that morning, but I managed to befriend a local photographer and gained a really compatible travel companion for my trek into town. Just 30 minutes drive from the resort, I was surprised by a very different Sapa with rows of tube houses and throngs of congested streets, which reflected the dizzying changes happening in Sapa and how much unsustainable tourism growth could impact a place.

Thankfully, it was not all doom and gloom in Sapa as there are tourism outfits that make conscious decisions to minimize environmental footprints and benefit their town. In talking to resort employees, I found out that nearly everyone grew up around the area, and some have worked for over 10 years there. They didn’t receive formal hospitality training, but their warmth and enthusiasm made me feel at home. The resort also reused glass bottles as construction materials, saying no to plastic, and contributing to education bursaries to help local students.

When I got home from the Sapa trip, I still couldn’t believe that I just got to experience such a dreamy voyage. Not only did the perfect remedy arrive at the right time, it also helped me to realize that a period of planned “downtime” didn’t hurt my work, but even helped me recharge to tackle whatever life throws at me. It was also a time to look inwards to get to know myself and my surroundings better.

A solo travel trip might sound scary, but it’s great for anyone wishing to find a bit of calm or live through new experiences. I can only hope that should one decide to embark on a journey, they pick the greenest, least damaging path to not only enjoy what a destination has to offer, but also respect and preserve its values.

Quỳnh Anh is currently a third-year Tourism Management student at Tôn Đức Thắng University and Urbanist Travel’s Marketing Executive.

To celebrate the 2nd anniversary of Urbanist Travel, we are excited to invite you to participate in Saigoneer’s first-ever writing competition, “2 Years of Memories,” to look back at the most historic years of Vietnam’s tourism industry during the pandemic and the following recovery period. Learn how to submit your essay here.

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