The only way to get to Sapa is by train to Lao Cai and then bus or taxi from there to Sapa. Or of course car or motorbike but we chose the train. We booked the overnight train from Hanoi that left about 9pm and arrived in Sapa at around 6am. We arrived at the train station in Hanoi to chaos. We had no idea where we were supposed to go with our vouchers. We had bought tickets in the Orient Express sleeper train. We went to the main ticket booth and they told us to go outside but we still didn’t see where we were supposed to go. Thank goodness some guy selling snacks pointed us in the right direction. We got sorted with our tickets and then still didn’t know what to do. Were we supposed to wait in the station or go straight to the train? We ended up deciding to go straight to the train and if we weren’t supposed to someone would say something but they let us go through. Immediately our luggage was hijacked by some kid who I tried to grab my bags from but he wouldn’t let me. I knew this was going to cost us but I was too tired to care. So he walked us over about 5 different train tracks to our train. Felt a little unsafe just walking blindly over all these tracks but he did get us to the right train and right into our soft sleeper bed berths. Cost was only 50,000 dong which is about $2.50. I was fine with that. We were on the train and that was all that mattered. We were sharing out berth with a couple from South Africa, Chris and Crystal. Really nice kids who were on a guided tour throughout Vietnam. The train left on time and off we went. There was no way I was going to be able to sleep so I took half a sleeping pill and nighty night it was. It was odd sleeping on a train. You get moved around a lot. Just felt strange to me. But I was glad to have slept a little bit at least.
We arrived in Lao Cai on time. As we came out of the train, we saw our names on a sign. We had arrnaged with our hotel for the shuttle to take us to Sapa. We piled into the van and off we were. Scariest drive ever. It was very foggy out and the road is essentially all up hill with a cliff on the side. Our driver insisted on passing everyone and sometime coming close to drivers coming the other way. I was petrified!! But we arrived safe and sound at our hotel. Sapa Eden Hotel. I highly recommend this hotel to anyone who is visiting Sapa. From management, to the hotel rooms to the breakfasts. Everything was fantastic!
We wanted to book a private trek for the day but there was no guides available so we ended up joining another guided tour. But first we needed more clothes as it was so cold in Sapa. We walked up the hill to the market and bought a North Face jacket, gloves and warm socks. Clearly we were not prepared for the weather being as cold as it was. Having bundled up we were ready for our hike. We met up with Kay and Tony who were on the same shuttle with us from Lao Cai. Such a nice British couple.
It was very foggy out. Basically could only see right in front of us.
As we hiked lower though, we finally got a better view of some of the rice fields. Simply stunning. Apparently they only have one rice harvest a year here in Sapa. They have to make that rice last as long as they can.
The one thing about Sapa is that the women of the various hill tribes follow you on your treks. They want you to buy something from them at the end so they will try and create a relationship with you on the walks so that you will buy from them. They ask you your name and where you are from. They speak very good english. Our guide was saying that because as babies they are carried on their moms backs as they trek with all the visitors, they pick up english very early on in life. The kids do go to school but if the family is struggling for food, they will stop school in order to help their family out by selling their trinkets etc. The image below shows, the women as they walk with us on our trek.
As we got closer to the village of the H’Mong we saw how much they rely on rice. The rice fields blanketed the hillside.
And a picture of Sue and I.
Some pictures that I took when we were in the H’mong village.
The women surround visitors as they come into the village. As I said, they want you to buy from them. I didn’t need anything that they were selling so I just gave the girl the equivalent of $5 and she ran off. I am assuming to take the money home. As much as they hound you, I understand that this is how they feed their families so I can fault them for it. The women are the only ones who wear the tribe dress that is unique to each tribe. The men wear regular clothes.
It was so interesting walking through the villages. Their homes are open, bare and cold. There are chickens, dogs, pigs, ducks and buffalo roaming around everywhere. It makes you think about how we live. With hot water, beds and heat. Is that better though? They live simple lives but I don’t think the complications that happen with living the life I do is better at all. Just different.
Some other pictures from our trek that day.
After a day of trekking, we couldn’t wait to have hot showers and have a little nap. Love Sapa Eden hotel for having heated blankets. It made my day!
We went to a little place called Natures Bar and Grill for dinner. It is on the main road (Cau May). We were the only ones in the restaurant as we were eating quite late. We sat next to the indoor firepit. So enjoyable and so cozy and the food was once again fantastic! It was February 14th so Happy Valentines Day!!!
Day 2 on Sapa was more trekking. Again, Tony and Kay joined us. This was their last day in Sapa. For this trek we went to Cat Cat village which is just a short trek from our hotel. Another foggy day so as we walked along our guide would stop and say this is the view of and tell us how great it was. We would laugh and play along.
A great example of how thick the fog was.
We walked slowly through the village. I took lots of pictures along the way and tried to capture a little bit of village life.
We were lucky enough to go inside one of the village houses and see how they live. As I have said before, they live simply. They are not unhappy people though. This is just the way it is for them.
This is the woman who’s house we visited and her cute little baby! They have a clinic set up in Cat Cat village that has been teaching them about birth control and how it would be better for them to only have one or two children. They are just not able to feed more than that.
We walked through Cat Cat down a ton of steps to the waterfall. A picture of Sue, Kay and Tony.
Instead of walking to the next village our guide asked if we wanted to walk through the national park instead. Of course we did! What an amazing walk. Tough at times though. Lots of steps and some precarious moments climbing up some steep hills but it was great to see.
We then walked to a little village for lunch, over the below bridge that was way too wavy for me to be comfortable with. Lunch was shared with the pig, the dog and the monkey.
After observing the interaction between the three, this is what we discovered. Dog trumps pig. Monkey trumps dog. But sometimes dog trumps monkey. So funny.
Our feet were sore from another day of walking around so after the trek, we went for a 45 minute foot massage. Was just what the doctor ordered. Our feet were happy campers after that!! And ready for a final day of treking.
We woke up the next morning to sunshine. I yelled at Susan to grab her camera and we took some pictures from our balcony. We couldn’t see anything the days before but to wake up to this was a miracle! We watched as the fog rolled in and out. So incredible!The manager at the hotel recommended since it was sunny (which he had been telling us since we arrived that this day was going to be sunny and was now saying “I told you so!”) that we should climb Hamrong Mountain and get a great view of Sapa. We headed off and before we knew it we were stripped down to just our tank tops. We went from wearing three layers the previous two days to tank tops! So amazing! The view from the top of Hamrong Mountain was incredible!
We had a little snack at the top. So relaxing. We sat for about an hour and just soaked up the sun.
Since our guide had gone on about how amazing the view on the way to Cat Cat village was the day before, we decided to walk down again. The view did not disappoint. You could clearly see the view of the valley and Fansipan Mountain.
We then strolled through Cat Cat village again, seeing things that we had missed the day before because of the fog.
This kid was the cutest. With his little teddy bear back pack!
We did not wanted to walk back up thr 3km hill so we hopped on the back of this bike and off we went to the market in Sapa. Cost us $2. I laughed the whole way up. As we went over bumps etc I thought I was going to fly off the back but we got to the market safe and sound. We had to experience the motorcycle taxi before we left Vietnam and doing it in Sapa seemed like the safest of all the cities!
The rest of the afternoon we just walked around and I took some pictures of the local tribeswomen. When I took a picture of the one shown first, she asked if she could see the picture. Her comment: I look old. She was the cutest. I told her she looked fantastic!
Before we knew it, it was time to head back to the hotel, shower, pack and get the shuttle back to Lao Cai so we could take the over night train back to Hanoi. We were meeting up with my brother Jason in Hanoi and heading to Halong Bay.
Final thoughts: If you come to Vietnam you have to experience Sapa. It is a lovely town with incredibly friendly people. Although you get a bit tired of having the tribes people say “Buy from me”, you know it is the way they feed their families and you get used to it. Regardless if it is foggy or sunny, you will see things you haven’t seen before. I was so happy to have experience it!