- The women from the villages will follow you to try to get you to buy something. As our bus approached, we could see the women outside of the window, staring us down as if they were claiming someone to target. And as soon as we stepped out, they were on our backs. Fortunately, they all seemed very nice, throughout our whole stay. Just kindly tell them no thanks and walk away. We never felt like they were too much of a bother. Honestly, it was the worst after getting off the bus, so everything after didn't seem so bad.
- You can rent shoes or boots for trekking for $2. Unless you plan on doing a lot of hiking, it's a real hassle to pack an extra set of shoes. Luckily, trekking is so common in Sapa that you can rent shoes. And they're cheap! Rain boots are available too, which are good for muddy days.
- Treks are through the rice fields. You literally walk right in them. Views and experiences don't get much better than that!
- Don't bother with an organized tour. Sapa is extremely easy to plan yourself when based in Hanoi and cheap. The bus drops you right in town, and Sapa town is small and easily walkable.
- Take the bus, not the train. The train seems like the most popular transport, but it is overnight, takes 8 hours, and gets in at like 4:00 am to Lao Cai, which is an hour from Sapa. So then you have to take some sort of shuttle from Lao Cai to Sapa, so it's at least 9 hours in total travel time. And once you get to Sapa, you won't even be able to check in to your hotel because it's too early. The train is about $37 each way, and while you can save on hotels those nights, you probably won't get much sleep. The bus, on the other hand is $17 each way, takes 5-6 hours, picks you up at your hotel in Hanoi, drops you off in the center Sapa, and best of all, the views on the way are stunning! Great way to enjoy the northern Vietnam countryside. The bus leaves at 6am from Hanoi, so it gets in to Sapa around noon, leaving you with a solid day of activities. The bus back to Hanoi leaves at 4pm. On the way back, the bus drops you in the Old Quarter, but it was only a 10 minute walk back to our hotel.
- Make sure your hotel has ample hot water and ways to heat if staying in the winter. It can get super cold in the winter months. And it's where the Vietnamese go to see snow. Make sure you read reviews of hotels. Running out of hot water is a big issue. So make sure you see reviews where someone has commented on the hot water, as well as what is done for heating. Some places have fireplaces and electric blankets.
- Spend a few hours in Ham Rong Mountain. This place was awesome and we were the only Westerners around. People, this place is totally worth your time! As you wander further inwards and upwards, it feels like you have the place to yourself at times.
- Hire a guide for trekking. First off, I'm not even sure if it's legal to go certain places without a guide. You definitely need a permit to go through the villages. But a guide is a good idea anyway, because it's not like you can follow a clearly marked trail. You are wandering through someone's property and rice fields. So you need a guide to tell you where to go. Plus a guide is a great way to learn about the local villages and cultures.
- Book a trek so that the money goes 100% to the guide. We booked though Sapa Sisters because the money all went to our guide, which was important to us. Booking at your hotel or some other places will only give a small percentage to the guide, lame.
- Stock up on knockoff Northface gear and barter. You can get all sorts of Northface stuff here (and even in Hanoi). You can't miss it. Shop around so you can find items that look to be of better quality and make sure you barter. You should never need to pay the asking price unless it's already drastically less than nearby competitors.
- Go between June and early August to see bright green rice fields. Go between mid August to early September to see golden yellow rice fields before harvest. Sapa only has one rice harvest per year, so they plant in May much like we do in the States. This means that most of the year you will miss out on the actual rice and its amazing beauty. Of course, if you come in the summer, it's gonna be hot as hell and it coincides with rainy season.
- October and March have the best weather. You will miss out on the rice, but the weather will be manageable or even nice. We went in March and it was sunny and in the low 70s, still cool at night. And the terraced fields are still an amazing sight, even without the bright colors of the rice growing.
- Music plays at roughly 7:00 am every morning. It sounded like it was coming from the main square, but I'm pretty sure you could hear it anywhere in town.
Katherine & Bradley
Two engineers with a passion for food and travel! Join us as we eat our way through the world!