Participants of the recent Vietnam Mountain Marathon experienced the exhilarating beauty of Sa Pa’s terraced rice fields, blossoming cherry trees, and primitive forests.
More than 2,200 athletes participated in the race (VMM) from November 20 to 22 in Sa Pa, Lao Cai Province over five different distances: 10, 21, 42, 70, and 100 km.
Sa Pa, 300 kilometers from Hanoi, attracts tourists, especially nature lovers and hikers, throughout the year.
A gothic stone church in the center of the town built by French missionaries, Mount Fansipan and terraced fields are its top attractions. Fansipan, at a height of 3,143 m, is nicknamed “roof of Indochina”.
It is also home to the famous Saturday night “love market”, a colorful exhibition of local ethnic minority culture.
The 100 km distance started at 9 p.m. on November 20. Those who participated in this category got to enjoy a stunning ocean of clouds view in early morning.
On September 21, the 70, 42 and 21 km distances commenced, cutting through terraced rice fields and villages.
The ethnic groups in Sa Pa, which include H’mong, Tay, Giay, Dao Do (Red Dao), started carving rice terraces into the mountains centuries ago and use them until today.
“Locals are very hospitable, cheering us on along the way,” a Belgian participant recalled.
The route was lined with cherry tree blossoms covering O Long Sapa Tea Hill, only 10 km from downtown Sa Pa.
Cherry blossoms, best appreciated from O Quy Ho Pass, appear from the end of November to December.
Runners were often required to traverse slippery streams along the way.
The weather during this time of year is ideal, being neither too hot nor too cold, with mild sunshine and light winds during the day.
Finishing first in the 100 km category was Quang Tran in 13 hours, 1 minute and 11 seconds. Sharing second place was two French participants, Romain Berion and Gaetan Morizur.
Hosted for the first time in 2013, VMM has raised over $300,000 for charity.