I was in Sapa 10 years ago, with my family, when Sapa was still a peaceful no-tourist town. I came back to Sapa recently to find out it has expanded and developed into a Mecca for eager tourists. Still, I bumped upon those tourists who have no ideas about Sapa even though they have spent 2 or 3 days there.
It is not hard to experience Sapa’s soul, the only genuine part hidden behind all tour operators and travel agencies.
How to get to Sapa
There are two express trains and one local train run daily from Hanoi to Lao Cai. Express trains often run at night and only stop at major stations, whereas local trains run during daytime and take longer to get to the final destination.
Train tickets can vary depending on the class and time of travel. One ticket costs from 150.000 to 3.500.000 VND. Cheaper tickets are hard to find as tour operators and travel agencies will get these tickets first to sell to their customers. It’s better to buy the ticket yourself from the ticket office to avoid rip-offs.
Trains stop at Lao Cai, so you must take a minibus to go to Sapa. The price usually ranges from 50.000 to 60.000 VND. There are also public buses from Lao Cai to Sapa which run daily from 5 a.m and cost only 30.000 VND.
By night bus
Night buses from Hanoi are also a good choice since the price is lower and they are mostly direct buses. Vexere, an online platform, offers many cheap options from different bus operators. The road to Sapa is quite curvy and winding; it’s better to take medicine if you have travel sickness.
Accommodations in Sapa
You can find plenty of cheap and comfortable hotels and hostels in the town center with a relatively low price. However, if you want to experience the authentic ethnic lifestyle, homestay should be on the top of your list. A typical trekking tour will cost around 1.000.000 per night including a guide to the village, four cooked meals, and drinks. Red Dao homestays even include herbal bath with provided towels and swimming costumes.
What to do in Sapa
Situated in the north-west of Vietnam, Sapa is home to several hill tribes such as Hmong, Dao, Giay, and Tay. Their distinguished languages, social structures, clothes, and cultures are the main reasons why Sapa has been attracting so many visitors each year.
A market in Bac Ha, Sapa (Source: Internet)
One way to explore the cultural diversity is to pay a visit to local markets. The markets are located in the western part of the town and around Bac Ha. It is a long way to get to these markets from Sapa, so you’d better prepare half a day or more. Sunday Muong Hum market, 30 kilometers away from Sapa, is another ideal market for those who wish to visit the market but don’t want to spend too much time on the road.
Trekking tours: Cat Cat Village and Ta Phin
Cat Cat Village is one of the must-see destinations in Sapa. Visiting Cat Cat, tourists will have a chance to understand how daily life of local people looks like. It takes half an hour from Sapa to arrive in Cat Cat through easy trekking route.
Ta Phin Village – a good place to get to know the locals (Source: Internet)
Ta Phin, the second famous trekking place after Cat Cat, is a village of Red Dao people. The walking trail to Ta Phin is neither challenging nor arduous, and you will have several walking buddies from the nearby villages trying to sell you things. Here tourists are often offered herbal bath. The number of ingredients in one bath can vary from 10 to 100 different herbs, depending on how experienced the bath marker is. The herbal bath of Red Dao people is believed to help boost blood circulation and improve skin conditions.
Tips: You should hire a local tour guide since she can tell you a lot about the local tribes and their cultures.
Food is abundance
Sapa is not only a famous place for the beautiful view but also wonderful cuisine. Sapa offers a wide range of fancy restaurants to authentic street vendors. There are many local dishes you must try once in Sapa. One of those is Thang Co. Thang Co is a typical dish of the H’mong. Horse meat is cooked together with blood, inner organs of the horse and various wild herbs. Thang Co may not be easy to eat, but it is definitely worth a try.
Thang Co – a typical H’mong food (Source: Internet)
Tips: If you are not into too much of the greasy taste of meat, there are some restaurants where veggies buffet is served.