While we were in the Galápagos Islands, a traveler friend recommended Sapa. I remember walking with this friend, and him making me repeat, “Sapa, Sapa, Sapa,” and guess what, I forgot. I knew it was a short word…but literally, could not remember Sapa.
Then, when we were in Cambodia, sitting in a bar, we met another traveler, and this traveler said the same thing, “go to Sapa!” The minute he said, “Sapa,” it clicked and I knew that this was the place we had to go.
Once we decided we were going to Sapa, we had to jump through hurdles to get there. Since it was high season, almost all the nice trains were booked. I had heard too many horror stories of people taking buses through Vietnam (i.e. AC breaking, jamming people into the bus, driver taking turns quickly!), so taking a bus was not an option. However, we did meet several travelers in Sapa that did take the bus and they said it was fine, so to each their own.
After scrambling, we did managed to find tickets on an over night train from Hanoi to Sapa. This was NOT a luxury train but it got us there. Once the train arrived at its final destination, Lao Cai, we were still not in Sapa and needed to take about an hour bus ride from the train to Sapa. Do not pay more than $2.50/person (50,000 dong) for this transfer.
The main reason to visit Sapa is to experience the beautiful northern mountainous highlands of Vietnam and the only way to properly see this is with a local guide. We had read fabulous reviews of different tour groups, but chose to go with Sapa Sisters, an ethnic minority of Hmong women because of their emphasis on supporting local women creating a sustainable income for themselves.
The tour was about $35/person while other groups offered as low as $7/person, but we felt the extra fee was a worthwhile cost in supporting the local community. Our guide was wonderful, and is such a hard working woman. For that matter, all the Hmong women work so hard working…annnnnd do not have the highest opinion of their “lazy husbands.”
One tip for a more enjoyable experience: local women (not your guide) will follow you on your trek and attempt to sell you things unless you express your disinterest early on. So if you want to keep your shopping separate from your trekking, just be polite but firm with them.
Sapa by far was one of the most beautiful spots we visited during our time in Vietnam. We loved the food, the people, the scenery and all the hiking options. If you go to Vietnam, make sure to add Sapa to your list!
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