Vietnam is a truly awesome country and with its rolling hills and miles of rice terraces Sapa should be high up on any itinerary.
We had been warned about the touristy nature of Sapa’s main town and were told in no uncertain terms to simply not stay there. So we took everyone’s advice and booked a homestay down in the valley. From Hanoi, Sapa only takes about 6 hours by bus and you can either take the day bus in the morning and get there for the afternoon or, as we did, take the night bus and arrive at about 5am (the bus does just pull up outside a shop and lets you sleep on for another 1 1/2 hours! Winning!)
Looking around Sapa town wasn’t high on our priorities so we wanted to shoot down the ‘hill’ as soon as we could. We found a hostel which rented motorbikes and sat down and asked all of the details for a two day hire. Roughly 10 minutes later without any further conversation with the hostel manager (a tiny little Vietnamese guy) and we decided that we actually didn’t have much use for a moped except for getting us to the homestay. Sapa is all about the trekking! Simple enough we will just tell the guy we don’t want his moped…WRONG!
What followed was completely bizarre and somewhat psychotic. The aforementioned tiny little man completely flew off the handle and starting threatening us, pointing his fingers in my face (I’m not the tallest but he could only just reach), screaming about how he had already got the moped delivered for us (obviously a lie as we walked past all the mopeds sitting outside the hostel), how we were cheating him and that we were, in his own words, ‘shit heads’. By the colour his face had turned and the agitated hopping motion, were not sure the patronising laughter and telling him he was crazy went down the right way, so we just walked off, not before he had spat at our general direction of course. Pleasant man we thought, really good salesman.
It being only 7am and having already been spat at its safe to say we didn’t really like Sapa all that much to begin with but, as ever, perseverance is a wonderful thing and one of the best virtues to have when travelling in Asia…trust us.
We were soon both on the back of moto-taxi’s hurtling down the spiralling mountains through the fog and mist away from Sapa town itself and down into the valley. What greeted us when the clouds broke was truly incredible and a view we will never forget. Yes, it was absolutely freezing and we couldn’t feel our faces on the back on the bike but the magnificent green layered mountain sides were some of the best we have seen!!
After the weird start to the morning and the amazing ride down we arrived at our quaint little homestay in the middle of a tiny village called Tavan thinking it was about 2pm. It was 9am. So, of course, as with any homestay or hostel we couldn’t check in until 1pm. There was only one thing to do…order our staple of vegetable fried rice and regaled our story to the unassuming guests eating their breakfast.
Check out this and other local homestays here!
Check-in done, fed, watered, showered and all that stuff it was time to get some trekking under our belts and hit the road:
*Now, as a note or gentle warning, you cant walk ANYWHERE in Sapa no matter how remote you think you are without local village ladies walking with you, asking for your life story and trying to sell you their ‘handmade’ crafts. You just have to accept this is going to happen and have a laugh with them.*
Happily strolling down the village paths and roads following the hand drawn map given to us by the homestay owners we were blissfully unaware of the huge black cloud hovering above us, so of course as you can probably guess it was a complete shock when the ‘blizzard’, as we like to call it, set in. We decided it was best for our clothes and morale to turn back instantly and get some lunch. Hardened travellers indeed…
The rain and fog passed after about an hour, so with high spirits we hit the road again. The route we took was relatively easy to begin with and the views from the side of the mountain paths were outstanding so we decided to ignore how incredibly muddy and weary everyone coming from the other way looked (By everyone, we mean 3/4 people). Easy? Oh how wrong we were…
The rain had created what can only be described as a mud slip and slide. Sounds fun? Well normally we would agree but when your trying to climb up the side of a mountain and then get back down again this makes for a rather painstaking process. Of course it didn’t help that we wore normal trainers and I had absolutely zero grip on them or at least that was the excuse for being like Bambi on Ice. Anyway, we ran into some local ladies (they pretty much staked us out on the mountain) who, clad in their traditional village gear and wellie boots, followed us along trying to show us the way and help us up and down the paths which they made look spectacularly easy.
*A note from me;
Charlotte took their help, holding their hand and having a great old time. But being a man I would just not be helped! I am strong and fool-hardy…I am an idiot, who should just accept help and stop trying to be so macho!
Its safe to say that I was soon on my arse, covered in mud, with bloodied hands and knees, not really enjoying the ‘walk’. So after 20 minutes of trying to be Bear Grylls and failing (I still blame the trainers…) I succumbed and spent the next hour holding an 80 year old’s hand down the side of a slippery mountain. ‘Hang your head in shame’, I thought. So I did.
It was still an awesome route and the views were great but if you go, make sure to wear shoes with grip and maybe avoid going straight after a downpour!! Fail! *
We had been warned about the kind local ladies who seem so willing to help but then stop you at the end of the route, bombard you with handcrafted items and demand money for their time. Now, this is completely to your discretion but two guys at our hostel gave them £30…we hope they don’t read this but we thought that was pretty foolish! We thanked them and waved them off as we made the last walk back to our homestay for the evening.
In November, Sapa gets notoriously cold at night but having spent the last 8 months in 30+ degree heat we kind of forgot about this and assumed it would be fine…armed with limited cold weather clothes we really should have known better! Cold doesn’t even begin to describe it, freezing might get you a bit closer to how we felt but as it was actually only 10 degrees we guess we cant claim ‘freezing’. A vest, t-shirt, two jumpers, jeans, socks and a coat may give you a good idea of the conditions, or alternatively check out the picture below. Good mood?
Yes, we were in bed by about 9pm as when it gets dark down in the village there isn’t much else to do. Orrrr so we thought. Apparently, the ONLY thing to do at 9pm, right next door to our Bamboo homestay with no soundproofing was have a trance dance party and sing karaoke over the top. We wish we were making this up and the tiny, peaceful village in the middle of a secluded valley was exactly that…but we aren’t. It happened. Trance. The base made the bed shake for about 2/3hours before, luckily, the young bucks couldn’t handle any more liquor and all passed out around a burning fire! Do we sound really old? We hope not.
All that was left of our quick trip to Sapa was to embark on a 8km hike back up the valley to Sapa town from our homestay. You may be expecting something to go wrong now or hear how we are fools but, actually, it was just epic.
If you stay down in the valley and don’t have your big rucksacks (we left ours in Hanoi, clever us!) then we would definitely recommend doing this walk back up to Sapa. The pictures can do all the talking….
We wouldn’t change our experience in Sapa for the world. It was a great two days and one that should definitely not be missed. The villagers are incredibly friendly, the homestay cooked great food and the views are really something special!
Just wear good trainers…
For more tips and reviews of Vietnam check here!
C & J