Our journey continues immersed in the mountains, going west to Sapa, very popular touristy town in northern Vietnam.
We leave the beautiful province of Ha Giang late in the morning on a bus to Lao Cai, important junction on the Chinese border, where we arrive around 5.30 pm.
HOW TO REACH SAPA?
Most of backpackers reach Sapa from Hanoi, stopping over at the Chinese border city of Lao Cai. If you are not driving yourself by motorbike, you have 2 valid cheap alternatives:
- by train, preferably a sleeper train from Hanoi to Lao Cai, about 6-hour long, followed by a 1-hour bus ride to Sapa. You can easily book your train ticket on amt.12go.asia with any foreign credit card, print your ticket or just show it on your phone when you board the train;
- by bus, a straight little bit longer bus trip from Hanoi to Sapa, which normally takes between 6 and 8 hours, depending on traffic and delays. Many sellers in Hanoi will promote this solution by bus. More info on how to get your bus ticket to Sapa on amt.12go.asia
Coming from Ha Giang to Lao Cai, we had read about a more convenient local bus to Sapa, instead of private minivans; so we walk to Lao Cai train station with a Vietnamese couple who’s going back to Hanoi, they tell us to wait for the bus in front of the station. A man approaches and tries to convince us to get on his minivan, saying that the local bus will not show up. We resist and bus n.2 to SaPa finally arrives, we get the ticket for 30.000 vnd (instead of the 60.000 the harassing driver was asking us).
The city welcomes us in the dark and there’s a chilly air we haven’t felt for long time. The road from Lao Cai to Sapa should be panoramic but coming late at night we cannot see that much. One hour driving and we are at 1,500 m of altitude. We settle in our room in one of the many hotels in the town of Sapa.
The city centre strikes us immediately with its lake, the amphitheatre square and the steep streets full of restaurants and handicraft shops. It reminds us of the mountain villages back home, if it wasn’t for the H’mong women and children in colorful traditional dresses selling their products. In this area there are many ethnic groups that, isolated in the mountains, try to preserve their traditions and customs. The main tribes are the black H’mong (with black hats) and the red Dzao (whose women are used to shave off their hair from their forehead and wear red hats as standard of beauty). Considered the huge number of visitors in Sapa, these ethnic minorities live thanks to tourism, thus the city is crowded with women and mostly children trying to sell handicrafts and clothes.
The colours and textures of their clothes easily draw our eyes, we often stop to admire clothes, hats, and jewels, typical of their culture. Another thing that firstly shocks us is seeing 10-year-old children speaking a perfect English: we understand knowing the language is the only way to communicate with tourists and earn money to live, but after months in Vietnam where talking to locals in English was rare, it’s impressive doing it so easily in isolated villages up in the mountains.
CAT CAT VILLAGE
The following day we realize we’ve been lucky the first night here, cool but dry; the next two days in Sapa will be humid and very wet. Between a downpour and another, we manage to visit Cat Cat village, the closest one to town.
A steep 2-km road leads us to the entrance and from there we follow a loop running through a small village where it’s possible to enter inside typical H’mong houses, see some of their activities and buy small objects. The simplicity of their houses is disarming: sheds with a few naked rooms, bare soil pavement, a pot on a small fire, a fridge as only electrical appliace and some cots to sleep. And yet no embarrassment in their smiles, rather a lot of dignity!
We hike down the hill to a nice waterfall, close to an old hydroelectric plant with big windmills, then proceed up and back towards Sapa.
Unfortunately the weather doesn’t help us, we use these days here more as a break to recover from the long hours spent riding motorbikes and traveling on buses last week. At night Sapa town is very nice and offers plenty of restaurants, both local and western.
The next day we have a stroll under the rain and reach the market to get some last souvenirs before leaving Vietnam. We didn’t even manage to see Fang Si Pan mountain, the highest in Vietnam, since it was covered by fog all the time! We will have to come back one day.
Sick of the non-stop rain, at night we hop on a sleeper bus leading to Dien Bien Phu, from where we’ll catch another one to cross the border to Laos.
WHERE TO STAY:
- Little Sapa Homestay: good location, amazing typical Vietnamese hospitality;
- Ha Giang Backpackers Hostel: one of the first hostels to open in town, great hospitality and new interiors;
- you can pre book all your accommodation in Vietnam with free cancellation here.
HOW TO GET TO SAPA:
- Sleeper train Hanoi to Sapa, 8 hrs, from 150,000 VND.
|Train Hanoi - Sapa $ 19.31–170.93 5h 43m – 8h 5m|
- Bus Lao Cai – Sapa, 1 hour, from 50,000 VND (you’ll have to bargain this price).
- Bus Hanoi – Sapa, 7-8 hours.
- Book train&bus tickets in Southeast Asia on amt.12go.asia
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