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Journey to Sapa

By October 30, 2016 , , ,

Sapa is located in northern Vietnam, a hippy-dippy town nestled between mountain tops and low-hanging clouds. The gorgeous vistas here take your breath away! If you’re looking for cultural immersion and a leisurely pace of travel, you could choose to explore Sapa over several days. But from a things-to-do perspective, 2-4 days is a sufficient amount of time in this sleepy little town.

Journey to Sapa
Getting to Sapa is a bit of an adventure in itself! You can choose to take either a 5-hour bus ride or a 7-hour overnight train journey from Hanoi to Lao Cai (sorry, there are no daytime train rides). After much deliberation, we opted for the train ride. The main reason was to maintain a manageable pace of travel with a young child in tow. But it was also a good way to optimize our time. You may as well travel while you sleep, right? We quite enjoyed our private, cozy cabin in the train which included clean bedding and complimentary water and snacks. It was a comfortable sleep with the gentle rocking of the train. Once we reached Lao Cai, it was another hour long car ride to the top of the mountain where Sapa is located. Along the way, we were treated to a dreamy landscape of lush green rice terraces against the cool morning fog.

Things to do in Sapa
We were charmed by the easy smiles of the locals, the rustic setting of the town, and the authenticity of Sapa. No chain restaurants or touristy, man-made attractions staring you in the face. The town is simplistic, offering only the beauty of nature for you to admire. The rice terraces of Sapa are a must-visit! Unlike southern Vietnam which produces rice for export, Sapa’s bread and butter is rice production for the surrounding region. August is a great time to visit because that is when the rice fields are ripe for harvesting and resplendent with shades of yellow and gold. By the time we had arrived, harvesting season was just over. But the sight of the rice terraces was still beautiful.

You can also check out the villages inhabited by ethnic minorities. We took a walking tour through some of these local villages where we got to see how the different tribes live. They were all so friendly and welcoming to us! I loved seeing the local hand-woven clothes of the Black Hmong, Red Dao, and Giay tribes, each with its own unique features and trademark colors. For example, the Black Hmong wear dark blue clothing dyed in indigo while the Giay tribes wear pink tartan headscarves. These are all farming communities with very basic modes of living. I couldn’t help but imagine what they would think of the highly urbanized, fast-paced lifestyle we live in.

Lastly, take time out to do some hiking and nature walks to the waterfalls. We did quite the trek up some hills to visit Silver Waterfall and Love Waterfall. With a 3-year old, it was no easy task. There was quite a lot of walking and climbing of steps involved. If you have to pick between the two, I would recommend skipping Love Waterfall and visiting Silver Waterfall only because it has a better view.

· Some recommended private sleeper trains from Hanoi to Lao Cai are Fanxipan Express (this is the one we took) and Orient Express (tickets are about USD $74-86). They are of similar quality and have similar arrival and departure schedules.

· The drive from Lao Cai to Sapa is quite steep and uphill. If you’re prone to car sickness, be sure to take some medication with you.

· The hotels are nice but don’t expect any 5-star hotels as Sapa itself is quite rustic. We stayed at the Paradise View Hotel which was rated well on TripAdvisor. We had a very comfortable stay there and the staff provided excellent service. Topas EcoLodge is another recommended place to stay.

· Sapa starts to get chilly from September onwards so be sure to check the weather and bring appropriate clothing.

· The timing of the trip was centered around a race I had wanted to participate in for a long time. This race, the Vietnam Mountain Marathon, takes place in Sapa every year in September (read about my incredible race experience here!).

A local Hmong villager selling her wares in central Sapa town
During this time of year with cooler weather, low hanging clouds and fog obscures what would otherwise be a spectacular view at this elevation!
Having a little bit of goofy fun with my kiddo at Love Waterfall
Taking a dip in the icy waters of Silver Waterfall - it was a bit of trek through numerous stone steps to get to this place
The little poser on our way to Silver Waterfall
During our visit to the local ethnic villages, we came upon this sweet lady who was making these animal figures. She couldn't speak much English but the warm and gentle smile on her face was so charming that I had to ask her for a photo together

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