Out of Vietnam With a Bang!

It’s the 31st December and the year is drawing to a close. It’s only appropriate that our current Destination of the Month: Vietnam, should also be finishing.

Yes, I know that it was supposed to be Destination of the Month and we’ve been backpacking around Vietnam since October! But it’s such a wonderful place and there’s so much to see.

To add the last bit of diversity to such a culturally and geographically rich country, I finished my backpacking trip of Vietnam with a visit to the greenest and most picturesque location: Sapa.

Trekking in Sapa

Sapa

Sapa is cold!

The first thing I noticed about Sapa when we arrived at about 6am was that Sapa is cold. Bloody cold.

Coming from the extreme opposite end of the country might also have had something to do with it. But despite having read about the low temperatures and even having seen photos of people in very big coats, I wasn’t at all prepared for just how cold Sapa was going to be.

When I was dropped off at the hotel at 6am after bumpy and unpleasant minibus ride from Lao Cai, where the overnight sleeper train had dropped us off after the 10 hour or so journey from Hanoi, after we’d been flying all day, all I could think as, shivering I got my backpack off the bus, was how only the morning before I’d been lying on the beach on Phu Quoc Island where the temperature was so high that I couldn’t even walk on the sand.

First Impressions of Sapa

Apart from the cold, the first thing you notice in Sapa is how beautiful it is.

You might recall that I mentioned previously that there are no beautiful cities in Vietnam. Well Sapa is beautiful, and I don’t mean the perfect rolling hills and green rice paddies – we’ll get to that later – I mean the town itself.

sapa

Child from Black Hmong Tribe in Sapa

Sapa doesn’t look anything like the towns in the rest of Vietnam. It must be because the temperature is so different. The houses here are made from wood and look like they might actually stand up against a gust of wind or two, as opposed to the crumbling shacks and sheds that are generally found in Vietnam.

Sapa looks almost like a European ski village – but with hill-tribe people milling around in full Black Hmong regalia trying to sell their handmade trinkets.

Trekking in Sapa

Hmong women setting up stall in Sapa

The other thing you notice when you arrive in Sapa is the number of outdoors shops selling trekking gear like hiking boots and coats. And the number of tourists in the shops exchanging their beach flip flops for more sturdy attire!

Tip: If you are planning a trip to Sapa and you have read that this is the cheapest place to buy outdoor gear – mostly North Face – think again; it’s not the case. Sapa is more expensive than Hanoi and Hue. In Sapa they know that it’s cold so you have to buy it, whereas in other cities you have more bartering possibilities.

Trekking in Sapa

After being dropped off at our hotel we were shown into the dining room where we had a buffet breakfast and plenty of hot coffee. Then it was time to set off on our trek.

We were a small group of about eight, plus our guide. We also picked up a few extras along the way in the form of the women from the Black Hmong hill-tribe. They had finished their morning business in Sapa and were setting back off home to look after their families.

Trekking in Sapa

The Hmong women skipped and bounded easily over the rugged mountain paths like mountain goats, and much of the time had to wait for us or give us a hand over the steep and rocky trail. They only waited for us because they enjoyed the company of the foreigners and hoped to sell us something. It was nice to have them around though.

Sapa Scenery

The landscape in Sapa was incredible. Unfortunately there was a lot of fog, and visibility was poor, but we still saw plenty of those famous rice terraces, and really the fog just added a mysterious feel to the place.

Take a look at the Sapa images in the slideshow below:

We walked all day up and over the hills, through the villages of the tribes-people, and all the way back round to the start. We walked about 16 km that day and we were all nearly on our knees by the time we got back to the hotel in town.

Eating in Sapa

There are plenty of places to eat in Sapa but you should remember something: go early. In cold places people tend to eat early anyway, but here, where most diners have been out all day trekking in the hills, all they want when they get back is a warm shower, a warm meal and a warm bed.

We were no different and found ourselves strolling around the night market at about 6 o’clock thinking about where we would eat.

Prices in Sapa are not the best and the restaurants tend to be really touristy. Your best bet is to choose one of the places that has a local menu rather than an international menu. All we cared about was a place that was warm, so after wandering up and down the main street a couple of times, we headed into the place that had a spot by the roaring open fire!

Day 2 in Sapa

As we were leaving the next day to return to Spain, we had a limited amount of time in Sapa; we had  just booked a two-day package tour from Hanoi including the trains and transfers.

As it happens, we had booked this tour a month previously when we had first arrived in Vietnam. We booked the tour at the same time as we booked the Halong Bay tour so that we could barter a better price.

That meant that we just had the following morning in Sapa, and our guide was there at the hotel bright and early to take us trekking again and to visit a local village.

Let’s start our day in Sapa with a funeral!

Though it was to be a much less strenuous day, my father-in-law (aged 65 and with a bad knee) did not fancy such a gruelling hike through the Sapa hills after the previous day and was saved by the funeral procession!

Yes, you read it right: Funeral procession.

We were just leaving the hotel to set off on our day out and we had to wait to cross the road because a funeral procession was passing.

Martin was clearly quite desperate not to have to do this walk and as soon as he saw the funeral procession he was off like a shot. He marched down the road with the mourners and disappeared into the distance.

We didn’t see him until later that day when it was time to leave Sapa to start our journey back, and it seems he had had quite a fun day! The family of the dead had been very amused with him and flattered that he had decided to pay his respects and accompany them. They had treated him like the guest of honour and he was over the moon because they had given him tea! He had attended the funeral ceremony and had then been invited to the subsequent celebration.

Cha Pai Village

In the meantime, the rest of us were walking in the rain and drizzle. It was less cold than the previous day but it was pretty miserable.

Sapa Day 2

A Village Dance Performance

However, we walked to a beautiful village called Cha Pai, where we watched a dance display in a tiny theatre by the local children.

We visited a waterfall and saw some more of that stunning landscape. So we were happy too.

Sapa Day 2

We left Sapa in the afternoon and were taken by minibus back to Lao Cai and then took the overnight sleeper train back to Hanoi.

Goodbye Vietnam

We had just one last night in Hanoi before we had to leave Vietnam and then we were heading back to Spain and back to real life.

We had had an amazing time backpacking in Vietnam for a month and we had seen and done so many different things that it felt like we had been here for a year.

The food and the people were what had captivated us the most, closely followed by the rich diversity of the snakelike country. Leaving Vietnam, we knew that at some time or another, we would be back…

If you are not familiar with the itinerary of this amazing trip, check it out here.

Filed Under: asiafeaturedSapavietnam

About the Author: Lisa, born and grew up in England, live in Mallorca, Spain... Have visited more than 20 countries, have twice as many to yet visit, love sharing experiences....

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  1. susan sykes says:

    How funny about Martin and the funeral the mourners must have wondered where he had come from when he was following on the procession

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