After a bumpy overnight train from Hanoi to Sapa with hardly any sleep, we finally arrived in the northern area of Sapa, Vietnam (actually very close to the Chinese border!) A word of advice, be sure to confirm with your hotel that someone will meet you at the train station here to show your proof of pre-payment to the bus driver. Otherwise, you’ll be asked to pay around $20 USD out of your pocket to the driver for the 45-minute trip from Lo Cai to Sapa!!!! (Check out my trip advisor update here if you’re curious about the guesthouse that left us in this spot: http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g311304-d3935951-r265177622-Elysian_Sapa_Hotel-Sapa_Lao_Cai_Province.html ) If you’re looking for a good place to stay, just a 5-10 minute walk off the main strip, here’s a wonderful guesthouse we found on our last day that is very comfortable, reasonably priced, has a great view of the valley and is away from the craziness of the city! http://www.hmongsapahotel.com/
The view from the Hmong Sapa Hotel
The bus ride to Sapa is breathtaking. This is the first time I’ve seen terraced rice fields. The season was not very mature in March when we were there, so the fields were green instead of golden, but the sheer altitude of the harvest area and the ingenuity of the use of natural irrigation is truly something to see! Terraced Rice Fields
Downtown Sapa is a crazy, bustling, one-street affair, full of wonderful little shops and great food cooking! But the one thing you will need to know about Sapa – you will be constantly harangued by the Hmong women and girls selling their handicrafts in the street. At first, their sales act is cute: “buy from me now so I can go home”, “only buy from me”, “pinky swear you’ll buy from me later”. But after the first day, this becomes very tiring. If you pop into a shop, you’ll get a bit of relief as they are not allowed in the stores – but they will be waiting for you outside when you leave! We spent a day wandering up the hills and around the small town area. There’s a man-made lake in front of Dragon Mountain (named because of it’s unique shape) that seems to be an attraction, but its really nothing special – just a bunch of overpriced hotels. Walk, stop for a beer and internet connection – this is the best way to experience Sapa.
The last day in Sapa was spent on a 13km trek through the hilly step rice fields. The indigenous people of the hills, like the Red Dzao and the Black Hmong, work these fields for a living. There is a real mix of extreme poverty (you’ll see in some of the children’s clothing in the photos below) and some who earn a comfortable living (those running guesthouses and possibly the handicrafters who sell their wares in the town markets). It amazed me to see satellite dishes aside small huts way up in these hills, and most surprising … about halfway through our hike we stopped at a guesthouse with perfect free wifi reception! I’ll leave you with images of this day of trekking – definitely the highlight of the area! Next stop … India. Namaste!