Sapa is one of the most popular places in Vietnam. And it deserves this - breath taking nature views will surround you everywhere. Sapa this is not only rice fields, but also height mountains, beautiful waterfalls organized and no, national parks and of course ethnic groups of Vietnamese people. Somebody think that best time to visit Sapa is April – beginning of May and September. In spring there is not so much rain, but rice still haven’t grow, you’ll see rice fields full of water and working people. In autumn this rice fields take different yellow colours. In summer there are often rains but you can see green growing rice on the fields. Also in Sapa Mountains live and keep traditions about 10 ethnic groups of Vietnam and every group speaks own language. You will see girls and women in traditional costumes, souvenirs and other handmade things for sale.
How to get Sapa
Despite Sapa is only 380 km from Hanoi both train and bus travels take about 10 hours. Also from Sapa you can continue your way to China or Laos.
Sapa by train
Most of travellers prefer to visit Sapa by train. There are one morning train and few night trains. There are few types of train, start from cheapest sitting places and finish with luxury coupe as Victoria Express. Train tickets to Sapa cost 30-50$ for regular seats from touristic agencies and about 30$ from train station, sitting wood chair seat cost about 10$. Prices for expensive train can be till 100$. Tickets you can buy in every hotel or touristic agency, book in internet or buy directly on train station.
Hanoi railway station from where start trains to Sapa – Ga Hanoi, it is located only 2 km far from Hoan Kiem Lake. There are about 10 platforms on the station. Main entrance to train station located from the Le Duan street (this part of railway station called “Hanoi station A”), there is access to more far platforms also from the Tran Quy Cap Street (Hanoi station B).
Trains come to the town Lao Cai, there in centre you will need to take minibus to Sapa. Way will take about 40-60 minutes and ticket cost 3-5$.
Sapa by bus
Also you can get Sapa by bus. Some travellers don't like bus. But if you are smaller than 1,80 m (5,9 feet) - bus is cheap and comfortable option. There are one morning and few night buses. The most comfortable bus has Hai Van Express, bus start 8:30pm from My Dinh bus station (there are two lines of double chairs), backward bus start 6:00pm. Less comfortable Sao Viet, start 7:30pm from My Dinh (there are two lines of chairs: double and one).
Ticket cost 15$ in train station and 20-25$ from touristic agencies. Buses also go via Lao Cai, where you’ll change it to minibus to Sapa (without payment). Buses to Sapa start from My Dinh, Ga Giap Bat bus stations. From Noi Bai airport to My Dinh station you can come by minibus to supermarket Metro and then take motorbike taxi for 2$. Bus station in Sapa located near the lake, at the side of the city. Every day few buses at 6-7pm start to Hanoi.
Sapa by bike
Also you can get Sapa by bike. But notice that way all the time going up, so you will need some strong motorbike like “Minsk”. Also more close to Sapa town there is serpentine road and it’s impossible to drive fast.
In Sapa town you’ll find a lot of hotels and guest houses. Room with mountains view cost about 18$, without view but in the center 10-13$. From hotels we can recommend Cozy Hotel 2 (50 Thach Son, Sapa), it’s located in the center, cosy rooms decorated with wood, restaurant on the first floor with breakfast, good food and prices, cleaning every day, friendly stuff, room price 10-13$ (in Cozy Hotel opposite prices more height). Also from Family Guesthouse (028 Muong Hoa, Sapa) there is impressive view on the mountains, but prices more height.
What to do in Sapa
There are a lot of restaurants in the town, where except traditional dishes you can try local cuisine and beer Lao Cai. There are some restaurants with different barbeque. There are big market and shops here and there, but we suggest bargaining. You can find a lot of shops with trekking clothes and equipment. In the centre colourful Hmongs and Dao sell hand make clothes and souvenirs. Also some of them will offer you a trekking tour or shopping. Trekking with locals for about 4,5 hours with lunch will cost about 10$ from person. You can go for trekking for one, two or three days. In any hotel you can find excursions and services: motorbike or bicycle rent, ticket booking, excursions. You can rent a bike and make a ride around the city (further details), go in Bac Ha market, that is famous from great shopping and different ethnic groups selling things there. In evening you can enjoy walking in the town, around will be a lot of colourful lights, sometimes is holding some events on the scene, lake also is lighting.
Around sapa you can visit few villages where live ethnic minority of Vietnam. Some villages you can visit only by walk. You need to pay for the entrance 2$. You can go alone in trekking tour in mountains, but narrow paths not so easy to find. Or you can go with Hmong guides. If they didn’t find you themselves you can find them on the main square near church. Usually trekking starts at 9am. One of routes passes via village Cat Cat and waterfall. By straight road from Sapa it’s about 11km, so by walk through mountains much more, be ready. But if you will do this at the end waits you real Hmong lunch in their house and “happy water”, they call it rice wine. It has no any connection with rice wine from shop, it’s about 40 degrees strong.
Black Hmong know “what to do”, they will walk to exhaustion, then feed you with good food, drink with you rice wine and then… shopping! They sell handmade and nice decorated belts, bags, pillowcase, bracelets that make their husbands. Of course you can bargain but don’t forget that this is handmade. Back way to Sapa will be by motorbike.
Also notice that if is rain road will be slipper and best shoes are rain season – gumboots that you can take even for rent. You can make trekking also alone but with guides you’ll get much more. First is of course communication, girls perfectly speak English. You can learn a lot of interesting facts, name of valleys, plants, some words from local dialect. You can change your money for their sufficiency if buy souvenirs. They live very poor in hoses that build their own hands from bamboo. Best way to help – is to use their services and buy souvenirs.
There are some facts you can learn from Black Hmongs:
- English language they learn only from tourists.
- Vietnamese language very different from their languages. So most of them never go more far than Lao Cai because afraid to lose and they don’t understand language.
- They grow plant indigo specially to paint cloth for traditional dresses. Plucked stems they filled with water and insist two days. Depending on how long the tissue will be in solution is the color intensity.
- Cannabis which grows in the mountains they do not smoke, and weave the thread of it.
- Girls get merry quite early at 17-18. In market they meet with guys, communicate and then guy choose a wife. For future wife he needs to pay buyout.
- Newlyweds build house themselves.
- Mothers feed infants with milk till it stops.
- Husbands mostly work in rice fields. If girls don’t work with tourists they help them. Husbands also can clean house and cook.
- Most of them don’t sell rice and grow only for their families.
- Rice wine or happy water they make from rice. Need to boil simple rice and leave it for 2 months. Then add water again, boil and rice wine is ready.
- Girls also drink rice wine, sometimes more than men)
Around Sapa by motorbike
To rent motorbike in Sapa cost 5-7$ per day, in some places you can rent for half day. Rent of “Minsk” will cost about 10$. You will have 3 roads to drive motorbike, because in village you need to walk and to pay.
You can go in Lao Cai and walk in the city. But this road you also can see from bus. Other way lead to Silver Waterfall, entrance fee 0,5$. It is height beautiful waterfall with organized stairs and bridge. There is no place to swim even if to climb by stones up. Opposite there is quite big market. If to continue driving you come in park where you can stay with camping or start trekking to Fansipan peak that will take 2 days. There is located Love Waterfall – very beautiful and there you can swim in very refreshing water. Entrance fee in park 1,5$. If to continue this road you can enjoy mountains, other not organized waterfalls and rice fields down the mountains. Also on the way you’ll see river with few suspended bridges. On third road you can go up mountains, enjoy small waterfalls and visit nearest village where there is small simple cafe but with big windows from where you can see rice fields.