Sapa is a true gem in northern Vietnam! Home to mountain villages and lush green rice paddies as far as you can see, exploring the valleys and mountains was one of the highlights of our trip. It’s the perfect escape from all of the chaotic Vietnamese cities. Our amazing hostel had maps of picturesque hikes and we spent a whole day exploring the area around our village and searching for perfect viewpoints like the one in our feature photo. Waking up in the morning to rolling green hills and spending the day exploring or relaxing and eating delicious Vietnamese food is a wonderful way to spend a few days.
How to Get There
We opted to take a night bus from Hanoi because it cost less than a night train. Night travel was the best option because it took around 6-7 hours. We booked the night bus through our hotel with Camel Travel for 330,000 dong. However, be warned that as we were travelling North and into the mountains, the roads were constantly winding and made for one of the worst sleeps we had on night buses. To top it off, we arrived at 5:00 am, and though we were given an extra hour to sleep on the bus, this left us completely exhausted and we had to go back to sleep once we arrived at our home stay. So, the train (though longer and more expensive) may be the best option for you.
The bus takes you into the main town part of Sapa, but to get to the nearby villages, you need to find a different kind of transportation and it depends on where you choose to stay. Either your local family will come and pick you up, or you may have to get a taxi to the village. When getting a taxi, ensure that the driver knows the village you are going to (it helps to use MapsMe). Our taxi took us about an hour and cost 220,000 dong.
Where to Stay
- My Tra Homestay – We’d highly recommend a home stay in one of the villages over an expensive hotel in the main town. It is a much more authentic and personal experience as you get the chance to live with your hosts in their own village.We opted for a home stay run by Andrew, an Australian native and his Vietnamese family (called the My Tra Homestay, in Ta Van Village). There were a few private rooms upstairs but we opted for the cheaper dorm room with mattresses on the floor and individual bug nets that cost $8 U.S. Meals were relatively cheap, food was delicious and Andrew kept a tab for us for the duration of our stay. He gave us a map of the area and walked us through some good hikes. This way we were able to explore on our own! Finally, if you pay for dinner, everyone in the home stay sits down together at one big table and talks about what they did that day and exchanges new hike trails and activities. We loved it!
- A slightly different option we heard of was what our friends chose to do. They contacted a family directly (through recommendations from their friends before them) using a phone once they got off of the train. They were picked up by their host “Mama Ti” from the train station. They were driven out of the city by Mama Ti’s family members and then she took them on a hike to her village. It was only our two friends and Mama Ti’s family in the house. Any hike they went on was guided, but they were taken care of from right off the train until they got back on the next day. Compared to our pay-as-you-go style home stay, Mama Ti charged a flat rate and all meals were included. Our friends said they loved this personal experience. Don’t worry too much about having something perfectly planned for Sapa; there are tons of sweet old ladies in traditional mountain village clothing that wait for you at the bus and train station. As long as you look up a rough price estimate beforehand (around $20 U.S., so you don’t get scammed), you can book with one of them!
What To Do
- Hike – This is by far the best thing to do in Sapa! The trails may be a little steep at times, but the unbelievably stunning views of the rice paddies, valleys and mountains will take your breath away. This was one of the best and most beautiful views we had during our trip. Take a snack and some water with you before you head out!
- Relax – The fresh air and peaceful surroundings are perfect for a day of relaxation. Sip some famously delicious Vietnamese coffee and spend the day reading and enjoying the moment.
- Local Bars – Depending on the village you’re in, there will probably be a few small bars selling cheap drinks and other substances (such as opium water…). Make some friends and have a chill but fun night.
- Hang with Your Hosts – For that personal experience we’ve been talking about, spend the night drinking or smoking with your hosts! Our friends said they got together with a few other host families and their guests, and had a great time. This is a perfect opportunity to get to know them and their way of life.