Sapa is one of the most popular tourist destinations in North Vietnam. When my friends and I planned to go there for the weekend, I was told by numerous people that two days wouldn’t be enough, but we were determined to give it our best shot!
Our friends had recently got a sleeper bus to South Vietnam and couldn’t recommend it enough, so we looked into it for our trip to Sapa. For only £12 each, the bus took us from Hanoi to Sapa town and back again. Leaving Hanoi at 9.30pm, we arrived in Sapa town at 4.00am, but we were allowed to stay on the bus until 6.00am in order to get our full nights sleep. The seats on the bus were almost fully reclined, and we managed to get three in a row right at the back which had extra leg room. Not even an hour after departure, I was asleep and I did not wake again until 6.00am when the lights were turned on in order to get us up and out. The early start and the brisk cold morning air gave us the full day to explore, and surprisingly we were wide awake and raring to go.
Where to stay
When it came to deciding where to stay, there were a number of options: hostels, hotels or homestays. The majority of hostels and hotels were in Sapa town itself, and I had been told by a traveler friend of mine that it is much better to stay outside of the town. So we looked at homestays instead. We found one a twenty-minute drive from the town in a village called Ta Van, for just £4 a night including breakfast. Expecting very basic, we were pleasantly surprised when we got there to find a very large comfortable room with five double beds. The staff were very friendly, ensuring we had everything we needed, mosquito nets were also provided and the views from the terrace were breathtaking. We did not have one complaint. The location was perfect, as we were still within a little village so there were local shops and cafes nearby, but we were still far enough from the town to appreciate the quiet and peace of the countryside.
My friends decided to rent motorbikes for the day, however, one look at the gravelly roads and steep hills, I decided it wasn’t for me, so I decided to explore alone.
Finding somewhere to trek
Having been in Vietnam for three months already, I was thrilled at the opportunity to wear my walking boots and was determined to find a good trek. I used google maps at first which took me to a couple of tourist attractions nearby and ended with me stumbling upon a waterfall. From there I walked along the river for an hour or so, before stumbling upon a path leading up a mountain. Be warned: you will get lost without a guide! Google maps is not entirely accurate. But getting lost was part of the fun for me, as was being completely alone with the stunning views I discovered. After about four hours hiking, I headed back towards Ta Van, desperate for food.
Tip 1: take lots of water! I ran out on my way up the mountain and instantly regretted not thinking it through. Tip 2: Wear suncream! If you are as pasty as me, you will
get sunburnt even if it does feel cool. Tip 3: Local ladies will try and sell you things constantly, anything from bags to bracelets to tours. I was followed numerous times, and after making polite conversation, in the end, I had to tell them straight I was not interested in buying anything, and they left me alone. As a tourist alone, I was an easy target but after realizing their intentions, I quickly learned how to get them to stop. Tip 4: Be careful on the motorbikes! I was glad about my decision after regrouping with my friends later in the day. Two of them had fallen off in the mud and had to return to the homestay to get themselves cleaned up. Thankfully both were okay, but all of them said how rocky and unreliable the roads were there, especially for people with little experience.
What we missed
Despite giving it our best shot, we definitely missed a lot. Sapa is home to Fansipan Mountain, the highest peak in Indochina, which climbs to 3,143 meters high. The locals told us it takes five to seven days to climb to the peak and back down again. Not only did we not have time to do this, but I very much doubt we were in the best physical condition to do it in our current state (too much pho and rice). However, it has motivated me to get into shape, so that in a few months I can return and trek to the top.
For those who don’t want to trek it but don’t want to miss out on the incredible views, there is a cable car which takes you to the top. This was our initial plan until we realized it was way out of our price range at about £25 per person. After living in Vietnam for a few months and getting used to how much things cost, this price horrified us and not one of us considered for a minute paying it. We also missed out on Silver Waterfall (we had a few too many rice wines in the homestay on Saturday night). We did not have time as our sleeper bus back to Hanoi was at 3.30pm to get us back for 9.00pm. The waterfall is easily accessible by motorbike and taxi, and the pictures look stunning. Whilst I was disappointed on missing out on this, I see it as another reason to return to Sapa. I am also content with the fact that I found a waterfall on my own the previous day, and this was undoubtedly much less crowded with tourists than Silver Waterfall would have been. Overall, maybe others were right, and two days is not long enough in Sapa. For someone who lives in Vietnam, this is not a problem as I can return as and when I want, however, for someone who is simply traveling, I would recommend staying longer.