Sapa, Hanoi: A Commercialized Trekking

Sapa is a perfect destination for those who want to have a break from the city and have an adventure surrounded by the mountain view and breezy weather.   

Sapa is located at Hanoi, Vietnam and known for its breathtaking hill stations and colourful tribal cultures. This town as we know as Sapa today was originally founded by the French at the beginning of 20th century. This place offers you a stunning mountain landscapes, verdant rice terraces, unique villagers and not to forget the Indochina peak, Fansipan.   

For my trip to Hanoi, I give Sapa a visit based on tourist recommendations and positive reviews that I read. Since I have limited time in Hanoi, what I did is to hire a travel agent to manage all my trip from Noi Bai International Airport, Hanoi to Sapa for 3 days and 2 nights and transport back to Noi Bai International Airport.    

And since I landed early around 10 am in Hanoi, I have approximately 12 hours to walk around Hanoi city and explore to see what it can offer before taking a bus to Sapa. With 12 hours left, we manage to do this;  

  • Taste a bit of Vietnam by trying their famous food; Pho.  
  • Visit Hoan Kiem Lake  
  • Watch the Water Puppet Show at Thang Long Water Theatre.  
  • Walk around at the Old Quarters and see The Ancient House and St Joseph Cathedral.  

Later at around 10 pm, we are ready to take a sleeping bus from Hanoi which will take us to Sapa for around 6 hours.   

Booking a tour or do-it-yourself?  

There are several options you have based on what vacation you want to have in mind;  

  • Travel with the travel agent who will manage all your need during your stay. For three days of trekking and two nights in a hotel, the lowest price someone quoted me without bargaining was $USD90 including a sleeper bus to and from Sapa. The highest price was $USD120. It will include food and drinks with three breakfast, three lunches and two dinners.  
  • Travel by yourself. Planning your own trip to Sapa is very doable. There are a daily bus and train you can book it by yourself. When you arrive in Sapa, there will be locals waiting for you to offer their homestay or hotels and also to arrange you with any activities you preferred to do.   

How to get to Sapa?  

Getting to Sapa from Hanoi is definitely an easy task. The fastest route and most practical option are by bus. With the opening of the Noi Bai—Lao Cai Expressway, the travel time will take approximately 6 hours, less than the train journey which takes 8 hours.   

As for my opinion, a road is such a convenient option as there are multiple sleeper buses and vans you can choose from morning till night. Plus, passengers will be picked up in several picked-up locations in Hanoi and you will be dropped directly to your hotel in Sapa.   

You can book online bus tickets using this link. And if you prefer to take a train, you definitely can do so by using this link.   

Day 1  

Fansipan Mountain  

The first day we arrive in Sapa, we went to Fansipan mountain. Fansipan mountain is one of the most famous checkpoints in Sapa. If you are lucky enough, you can reach the top on a sunny day and enjoy the views of Sapa’s mountains, clouds and villages downhill from over 3,143 meters above.   

Back in the day, climbers required to have at least two days to conquer Fansipan’s peak. While nowadays, you can reach the top by taking a cable car that reaches to the top within a few minutes.   

We visit Fansipan by taking a two—way cable car to the peak. The price per person will be VND 700,000 and additional VND 100,000 for the tram ticket. If you want to avoid paying for the additional VND 100,000, you definitely can do so by climbing 600 stairs to reach the peak.   

During our visit to Fansipan, the weather at the peak is not on our side. It is raining heavily added with a strong wind which hinders our view. Even though the weather is not good, we still able to climb up to the peak. We were unable to take any good picture at the peak but the experience we get to reach the peak of Fansipan is still worth it.   

Half-day trekking at Cat Cat Village  

After seeing Fansipan in the morning, our next plan for the evening is to do half—day trekking at Cat Cat Village. Cat Cat is a small village at the foot of Fansipan Mountain. To me, it is only a stroll rather than a trek. This trip provides an excellent overview of the countryside surrounding Sapa. This trekking route is definitely easy and still acceptable for all tourists who came to Sapa. There is an old village of Black Hmong where you can discover many interesting facts about their real life and their culture.   

Cat Cat Village is also a perfect place where you can see traditional clothing being made, women weaving colourful handcraft and hemp being dyed. Along the way, you can see locals selling their hand—made merchandise for you to buy.   

After visiting Cat Cat Village, our next destination will be to Sin Chai. The trek will follow the Muong Hoa Valley through rice terraces and small houses. Sin Chai is a village of the Red Dhao ethnic, where their women wear embroidered clothes with silver jewellery and an enormous red turban.   

Another selling point for Sin Chai Village is that the locals here will take time to teach textile weaving and dyeing to visitors and their unique village is something you need to see with yourself. After finish the tour in Sin Chai Village, our transport takes us back to our hotel in Sapa.   

Day 2  

Full-day trekking to Lao Chai and Ta Van Village  

The next day, we do full-day trekking to Lao Chai and Ta Van Village. Here, we get the chance to see the spectacular mountain scenery and to walk through traditional villages and their rice paddies. During the start of the trek, a group of several ethnic people will start to follow you from the start until you arrive at Ta Van Village. They will most likely to help you along the way if you need any. Apart from that, they will start a small conversation with you to break the ice. The reason they do this is that they want you to like them and finally to help them by buying their merchandise at the end of the trekking.  

The first pit stop is to reach Lao Chai which is the village of Black Hmong ethnic people. We can see their daily life and witness how to make their traditional clothes, handicraft and indigo. Lao Chai Village also offers the best view of the rice terrace field in Vietnam.   

After Lao Chai Village, our next stop is Ta Van Village, a village of Giay people. It is a small group of ethnic people living in Vietnam but still preserves their rich and traditional culture. During this stop, they serve us with a delicious lunch with a local family here in one of their beautiful houses located on their rice paddy fields.   

Our tour end with a ride back to our hotels later in the evening.   

Day 3  

After having a full day trekking, getting a whole night to rest is definitely necessary. We woke up early today to get our breakfast and then we packed our things to check out before taking our sleeping bus back to Noi Bai International Airport.   

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