Last updated: September 5, 2016
My trekking tour in Sapa was definitely one of the highlights for me in Vietnam, it was just so beautiful and far away from the chaos and concrete of Hanoi. The people were friendly (a lot friendlier than in Hanoi) and they smiled a lot.
That’s why I want you guys to discover Sapa, it’s not really a hidden gem anymore since tourism has caught up and found it’s way here. However, it still has some of the most beautiful landscapes in Vietnam, and should definitely not be missed out.
When I arrived in Hanoi, I had never heard about this place before. So if you haven’t heard of Sapa before, don’t worry, you’re not alone.
A lot of people travel to Hanoi to explore the wonderful Halong Bay, which is located around 4 hours car drive from Hanoi. And even if Halong Bay was indeed beautiful and didn’t disappoint in any way, I still find my trip to Sapa more rewarding and worth the price.
Sapa is located in the highlands of northern Vietnam, approximately a 6 hours train ride from Hanoi, and a 45 minutes car drive from the train station in Lào Cai. The highlands is made up of huge mountains with a beautiful and lush valley in between them.
The region is famous for its stunning scenery, treks, homestays, cultural diversity, the colorful dresses of the local hill tribe ethnic minorities, and unfortunately also for their quite annoying sales tactics.
If you ignore the ladies that tries to sell you stuff, Sapa is truly amazing and well worth a visit. The scenery is beyond beautiful and it’s almost like you’re in a movie or a fairy tale. Besides the scenery, you’ll also get an exciting trekking through the valley of Sapa and a chance to experience an unique culture.
Quite a few of them speaks English, and it’s possible to have a real conversation with many of them, especially tour guides. If you’re interested in their culture, just ask questions and try to be as humble and polite as possible. They will almost certainly embrace you and invite you into their daily life. Sapa is both a natural experience as well as a cultural experience. Even if the scenery was magical at many places, my best memories are from interacting with the locals and learning more about their culture and way of life.
How to get there
The easiest way to get there is to book a tour from Hanoi that will include everything. This is easy to do, and every tour company in Hanoi will offer packages to Sapa. This is the most convenient way to get to Sapa, but also the most expensive, you’ll probably pay half the price if you book everything on your own.
To do it by yourself, you need to buy a train ticket from Hanoi to Lào Cai, from Lào Cai it’s possible to get a transfer to Sapa. However, I would recommend you to book in advance via mail or Facebook with the same tour guide I had. Her name is Bau, and she’s a lovely girl who lives in Sapa valley. She’s only 18 years old, but speaks English very well and will offer you a much better price than if you book via a tour company in Hanoi.
I booked through a tour company in Hanoi and paid 2 500 000 dong for 2 days/3 nights (including transport). You can find cheaper in Hanoi, but since there’s a lot of fake companies it’s best to avoid the cheapest offers.
Im not sure about the total price you will pay if you book a tour with Bau, but you will pay much less than at a good tour company in Hanoi. You will also support her and give her a bit more in salary. (the tour company pay her around 10 %, and take about 70 % for themselves while she’s doing all of the work). When you book with Bau, everything except the train ride will be included.
The train ticket is easy to get, just go down to the railway station and buy it in advance. On the way back it’s possible to go by bus or train, I would opt for the bus, since it’s cheaper and departs around 3 pm.
Contact details to Bau:
- Mail: Bauthao1612@gmail.com
- Facebook: Bau Thao
While Sapa is a lovely place, it also has a downside like every other place in the world. For me, it wasn’t that big of a deal, but I think it’ll be more honest to mention both the good and the bad about places you recommend people to discover.
The only downside of Sapa
The lives of the ethnic groups aren’t always so easy, and the government isn’t making any efforts to make it better for them either. As a hill tribe member, you can’t even get a normal job without paying for an expensive working license (which could be withdrawn without notice).
With that said, one could easily understand why they are so eager to sell their handicrafts to tourists. While many of their handicrafts are really beautiful, one should never feel pressured to buy from them, because it encourages them to continue a bad behavior that will destroy the tourism in the long run.
When you go trekking in Sapa, you’ll be accompanied by different ladies from the tribes. They walk here almost every day, and will help you to choose the right path. The Ladies are very friendly, and it’s a pleasure to have them with you. The trekking is moderate, but could be a little dangerous if it’s muddy. This was the case when I did the trek (early December), and I probably wouldn’t have made it without the tribe members, since it was muddy and steep at some places.
However, you should be aware that they only do this to sell you handicrafts when you’re arriving at their village. I do encourage to buy from the ones who helped you, at least if you needed any help. Because without them it would be much more difficult to do the trekking. From the others though, I discourage you to buy anything, since their approach will destroy tourism in this region, and make their lives even harder.
In the beginning, you’ll probably want to buy everything, but as soon as you come longer inside the Sapa valley, you’ll be pretty much tired of seeing the sellers. The best way is simply to ignore them or ask them questions about other things instead.
Another god tip is to bring small notes in the local currency, since it’s way easier to get rid of the sellers if you simply show that you only have 50 000 dong, instead of showing your whole wallet, that’s filled with hundreds of thousands dong.
If you ignore the fact that you’ll encounter annoying sellers for a couple of minutes every day, Sapa is a lovely place and I would love to go back there during summer when the rice paddies shifts in color even more! The positive things about Sapa certainly outweigh the negative ones, and I would highly recommend everyone to visit the wonderful valley of Sapa. They even have solid Wi-Fi at the homestays!