Located in northern Vietnam, Sapa is becoming a popular destination among travellers. Known for its terrace rice fields, mountain views and villages, it's a beautiful place to visit.
Tours are advertised all over Hanoi start at around $45 USD which includes transport, accommodation, food and trekking. If you don't feel like being constricted on a tour, you can easily make your own way there. You can take a sleeper train (around 9 hours) to Lao Cai and then a bus to Sapa (around an hour). However, it might end up costing more than a tour.
We opted for the two day one night easy trekking tour since it was more convenient which cost us $45 USD. You're given the option of staying at a homestay or hotel. We would've chosen homestay, but it gets pretty cold in Sapa at night (4 degrees) in the winter time. They also don't have heating there, so it didn't seem worth it. You should ask which hotel they book you at, so you know what to expect.
We had a different schedule than the original one, since we needed to be back to catch a flight. So, we were picked up in the morning and dropped off at the bus station. We took a sleeper bus there which takes around five-six hours to get there, depending on road conditions. The sleeper bus itself was quite nice, unlike the one we took to get to Hanoi.
Once you get to Sapa, we were bombarded by people asking if you needed to a place to stay, a taxi ride or if we wanted to buy handmade crafts. We noticed that the village people are quite persistent with trying sell you things. They'll also follow you around and ask you questions about yourself.
A taxi picked us up and dropped us off at our hotel. We stayed at Grand View Hotel, which was not very great. Once you get there, you'll have lunch which is a mix of Vietnamese and Western food, similar to what we ate on our Ha Long Bay tour. You can check in after lunch and get ready for a short trek.
You'll get pick up by a local guide who will take you down to Cat Cat Village. Just keep in mind that a few village people will tag along on your trek, which can be helpful since they point out things along they way. Just note that when you reach your destination, they'll leave and try to sell you their crafts. Just be persistent with saying no if you're not interested.
Cat Cat village is really easy to get to. It's just down the winding paved road and it's well-marked. You'll pass by many different shops and a waterfall along with some scenic views. Afterwards, your guide will take you back to your hotel using a different path where you came down. It's mostly uphill on the way back, so remember to pack enough water.
Once you reach your hotel, you'll have dinner and free time for the rest of the night.
We had an early start since the trek started at 8:30 a.m. We had breakfast and then checked out of our room. Our guide picked up us from the hotel and once again, we had a number of village people follow us on our trek. This trek was much more difficult than the first one but well worth the effort. It takes around three hours to reach Lao Chai Village where you'll stop for lunch, and then another hour to reach the Ta Van Village where a bus will pick you up to take you back to Sapa.
The trek takes you uphill and downhill, through the rice paddies and valleys. Some parts can get muddy, so waterproof shoes are ideal. Keep in mind that the path can get pretty narrow with steep drops, so be careful at these parts. The village people are quite helpful and will help support you if you don't feel confident at any parts. Otherwise, if you have an average fitness, you should be fine.
The first two hours of the trek are more difficult, but the last hour isn't too bad since it's mostly level or downhill to Lao Chai Village. Once you reach the village, you'll be bombarded with people trying to sell you things. Lunch will be served at a restaurant, which is mostly vegetarian due to the resources they have at the village.
After lunch, you'll make you way to Ta Van Village. It's an easy walk and only 2.5 kilometres away. Here, you'll wait for your bus to take you back to the hotel. From the hotel, a bus will take you to the bus station. And then you'll take the sleeper bus back to Hanoi.
Once you reach Hanoi, you're on your own. You'll need to find your own transportation to your hotel or hostel.
- The sleeper bus drivers are not very considerate of Westerners. We kept overhearing how they wanted to push the Westerners to the back of the bus. Remember that you paid the same price as the locals, if not more. So, you can sit wherever you want.
- You'll need a sturdy pair of shoes for the hike.
- They sell trekking gear in Sapa, which offers more variety than Hanoi. Although, it can get pricy because they supposedly offer the "real deal."
- Buy water in Sapa because the villages can charge almost twice the amount.
- Grand View Hotel is advertised as a four star hotel, but we didn't really see it as that. There was a crack in our window, so it got cold at night. Luckily, they were able to give us extra blankets. There's no heating in the hotel, so the lobby gets chilly as well. They also offer a heater for $5 usd.
- Although, it wasn't explicitly noted we decided to tip our young guide $1 usd each.