If I were to pick the highlight of my short trip to Vietnam, I would say trekking the terraces of Sapa takes the Banh Mi hands down.
How to get there
Sapa is located northwest of Hanoi. It is a five to six-hour drive from the capital. You can reach it by bus, train or private car. Since our flight landed in Noi Bai Airport shortly after midnight and we only had two days in Hanoi, I asked our hostel to have a car pick us up and drive us directly to Sapa.
If you have time you can catch a bus in Hanoi (around the Old Quarter area or near Hoan Kiem Lake). The earliest leave at 6:30 am and the latest at around 4:00 pm. The bus will take you directly to Sapa town. Alternatively, you can take an overnight train but it won’t take you all the way to Sapa. You will have to get off at Lao Cai station then ride a bus (or a taxi or moto if available) to town.
The Best Time To Go
I read online that the best time to visit Sapa is either from March to May or September to November. We were there mid March but I guess we caught the tail end of winter because it was still too foggy and cold. You can try scheduling your trip within these months to get the best views and shots of the terraces.
We arrived in Sapa town at around 6:30 am. Our driver dropped us off at the Grand View Sapa Hotel. The front desk told us the trek will start at 8:30. We had more than enough time to bundle up and eat. I was not expecting it to be so cold in Sapa, saying we were under dressed is an under statement.
The fog was too thick when we got there, we can barely see anything from where we started. This was the same during the first two hours of the trek. It eventually thinned halfway into our walk but by then, we already passed the best vantage points.
After changing and putting on more clothes we went to get (complimentary) breakfast. We met our guide, Song at the hotel’s entrance. She is from the ethnic group H’mong which I think most guides in Sapa are.
This trek was part of the package we got from our hostel. We were supposed to go with a different company but they gave a much better offer that also include private transfers. The other tour they arranged for us was a cruise along Halong Bay. It was a pretty sweet deal as I was told (through Instagram) most tours in Sapa cost around $100.00.
I have never trekked a mountain or did any high altitude trekking before. My only trekking experiences were both in Ilocos and they mostly consisted of walking along a trail. One involved crossing a raging river but those were like walks in the park compared to this. This at some points was intense.
I thought there would be a lot of climbing slopes or going up the terraces. I was not expecting the opposite. The hardest parts for me were when we had to go down steep and very slippery hillsides. I was wearing running shoes, which were no way near suitable for what we did as they provide no traction at all. By the end of the day I had to throw them away (the soles gave out). I slipped two times (or was it three?) and landed on my butt which was better than twisting my ankles. They didn’t hurt but I started getting scared going down. Slipping made it harder for me…mentally. I was so afraid of rolling my ankles that there were always hesitation and second guessing on where to step next.
There were three H’mong women (aside from Song) tagging along with us. They held our hands every time we needed assistance (going down or up) and they let us know where we should step. Of course they were not doing it purely out of the goodness of their hearts. You are expected to tip them and buy their products at the end (or by lunch) of the day.
Even though it was intense and challenging , it wasn’t too tiring, The cold weather helped. I don’t think I would have been cheerful had it been the other way around. It was definitely exciting and the views were incredible though not as breathtaking as the photos I saw before heading there. Nevertheless, there were times when I just had to pause for a while and take it in.
Most of the shots were foggy and not really worth showing here. These are the best that I pulled out from my google drive. They’re not even all mine. I took very few photos. The guys who came with me shared their photos on the drive back to Hanoi. Credit to the rightful owner.
After trekking, we had lunch, we didn’t pay. It was also part of the package. We didn’t go through any of the rice paddies after we ate. Instead we visited (walked through would be more accurate) two villages, I think one was Lao Chai. I don’t know what the other one was. It was definitely not the popular Cat Cat Village.
That was our last stop. Song brought us to an open area near the last village (shown below). A van picked us up and brought us back to Grand View Hotel. It was around 4:00 in the afternoon and we only had time to clean and freshen up a bit before our driver arrived and took us back to Hanoi. I wish we had more time to explore Sapa town but it was not to be. The driver did bring us to the lake near the town entrance. We took photos but they’re just groufies.
If you want to know how much we spent on this tour, leave me a comment and I’ll get back to you. You can also get in touch with Tomodachi House, our hostel who put everything together for us.
This post is long overdue. I wrote a part of it at the airport (in Saigon) while waiting for my return flight to Manila. I had a not so good day and the worst time ever at an airport. I was trying to feel better by writing, sadly it didn’t help. But don’t worry it had nothing to do with Vietnam. I actually think this country is wonderful and deserves a longer visit.