Update: 09:33 | 16/10/2017
Sadly, the ugly claw of urbanization has reached the mountain retreat; but luckily, parts of the town have held on to its original essence.
Ta Van Village. Photo by Tuan Dao.
Sa Pa is a small town in Vietnam's northern province of Lao Cai. Set in what has been dubbed "the Tonkinese Alps", the town boasts a cool climate and green scenery and is home to ethnic hill tribes who farm the lofty terraced rice fields.
For years Sa Pa has been one of the top tourist attractions in Vietnam, and just last year it was named among the best destinations for 2017 by TripAdvisor reviewers.
But that fame comes at a cost: More and more concrete buildings have gone up, replacing forests and paddy fields and stealing the town's wild side.
Some tourists who visited Sa Pa years ago can no longer recognize this once beautiful town now, saying the town in the clouds is more like a city these days.
Luckily, some parts of Sa Pa have escaped the tourism boom. One of them is Ta Van Village, some 10 kilometres (5 miles) from the centre of town.
This is how Sa Pa looks today. Photo by Tuan Dao.
There are no signs of high-rise buildings or hotels in Ta Van. All you can find are small wooden bungalows standing by bamboo groves and streams.
Many locals here have opened their doors to offer homestay services. It's from these houses that you can feel the true taste of Sa Pa; where you can sit back and relax on a bamboo bench next to wooden tables and breathe in the fresh cool air surrounded by wild trees and flowers.
In the early morning or late afternoon, you should stroll down to the biggest stream that flows through the village and enjoy sunrise or sunset there. Prepare to be impressed by how surreal the scenes can be.
Photo by Tuan Dao.
Even when you stay inside, the view is no less breathtaking, as pale beams of sunlight shine down through glass windows that look out onto a vast valley of terraced rice fields.
Though Ta Van is a small rural village, there are several restaurants serving local food, and you can also buy fresh food at grocery stores and cook at your homestay.
It’s not difficult to reach Ta Van. From Hanoi, you can travel by either coach or train to Lao Cai Province before taking another coach to Sa Pa.
From Sa Pa, hire a motorbike, which costs from VND80,000-100,000 ($3.5-4.4) per day, and drive to Ta Van. A motorbike trip is much better than calling a cab.