Sapa, Vietnam and its sorounding villages are some of those places you will visit once and they will stay in your mind forever. Some years ago, Sapa had exploded for it’s tourism potential and as the epicenter to the various local villages, with time bringing in (and still bringing) many investors in the hotel industry. I had heard about this place by word of mouth about a year ago and from then, the idea to visit Sapa had stayed in mind as one of the places to must visit while living in Asia.
After arriving in Hanoi with my kids (11 and 15 years old) and resting there for a night, the plan was to board the night soft sleeper train from the capital city, 300 kilometers away to the town of Lao Cai in the western mountains; a trip of about 7 hours.
We arrived at the Lao Cai station early morning on August 5, 2018. Getting transportation from there was easy, as there were many people offering transportation to Sapa via private mini vans and medium sized buses for about 50,000 Vietnamese Dong (about $ 2.50 Dollars). We followed a guy that had approached us offering bus service to the town and after showing and instructing us to load an almost fully loaded van, I had refused it, asking him to find a different one for us, which he did. This guys was obviously going to make a commission from the driver or bus company for each client. After looking at our second option, we had agreed to board it and and then paid him. Soon after boarding, I had learned that some of the people on the bus had been charged up to 80,000 Dong each.
* If you follow one of these guys to place you on a bus service, make sure you first bargain the price and DO NOT pay until you are placed on a bus that you feel comfortable enough to ride in.
The ride had been quite smooth with plenty of curves, but the driver seemed to know what he was doing. We had arrived in Sapa in less than an hour. The bus had dropped us by the main plaza and amphitheater, where local villagers waited for the tourists to arrive to offer their handmade crafts and perhaps a tour to their village or others in the area. It was there where we met young Dolisupan Vang (15) and her friend Bâu (20), who where nice enough to offer their villages crafts, asked us where we where from and as well offered to be our guides to visit the area.
Our initial plan was to stay at Tavan guesthouse about 15 minutes away from Sapa, but after checking my phone, I had noticed they had cancelled our reservation due to flooding. Our plans had changed, but had managed to reserve those three nights at Cat Cat Hotel in town. After checking in and leaving our things in the hotel, we went out for lunch and the options were many. That fist day in Sapa, we just wanted to walk around and get to know the area well enough, before venturing out.
During our second day, rain had delayed our plans, but after lunch we had our break and renting two motorcycles (80,000 Dong for 5 hours) was the best thing to do to cover as many places as possible. Bâu had told us about the Silver Waterfall, a place we had to go and visit. From there, we returned to town and passing right in front of our hotel, we went down to some small villages, where my kids and I had a good glimpse of how the native people of the area lived.
Our third day in Sapa and after negotiating with Dolisupan, a very good businessperson, we had agreed on a good price for her and Bâu to take us for a trekking experience through three local villages, a walk of about 15 kilometers in total. We had begun our journey after breakfast, around 10:00 am. From our hotel, they had guided us down a couple of streets and into some dirt trails. Soon enough, we had gone deep into the green lushness of the mountain, where we crossed through several creeks and out feet were deep in mud walking downhill.
After taking a couple of breaks in some shelters made by the locals for the hikers and where we could buy some drinks, we continued our journey to the first village named Y linh ho. There we learned that almost one thousand people lived and harvested rice on the hills, the main crop of the area, mainly for personal use of their families and community for the entire year. Along out trekking, we also noticed many corn fields, an important part of the local diet as well. We Also noticed that many homes raise their own cattle, pigs and chickens.
On the second village of Lao Cai, where we had lunch and rested for a while, we had been surrounded by local villagers wanting to sell their handmade crafts. We had noticed that we could not ask the price of a single item to one of them, because quickly many of them, particularly children would approach us wanting us to buy their things also. The feeling was overwhelming.
After lunch, we made our way through the village, where Dolisupan and Bâu showed us how the local villagers made their own indigo color ink by boiling the plant and the complicated process to dye their clothing with this color. We had also walked through rice fields with spectacular views of the mountains, where everywhere seemed a picture perfect place. Our long walk through these villages served to pick up a conversation with our guides. I was able to ask the about life for the people of the area, work and what they had planned for their futures. Their individual responses with so much determination made me think that these young girls being so hard working could definitely achieve anything they wanted. Bâu at age 20 was determined to live her life in her native village of Tavan. She mentioned that life in the city was not really for her. On the other hand, Dolisupan at her young age mentioned that she wanted to leave the village life and study abroad, perhaps in Germany or Australia.
Our guides, Dolisupan and Bâu
Our trekking experience had been great and after arriving at the village of Tavan, our guides had managed to hire three motorcycles to return to Sapa with them. It had been a wet day with some light rain almost the entire day, but my kids had enjoyed the experience and I did as well.
If you would like to contact Dolisupan Vang to take you for a day trekking experience in these beautiful villages, contact her directly at her number: +84. 0918051442
Hope this information is useful to many wanting to discover one of the many beautiful places that Vietnam has to offer.
Here are two maps to help you get familiarized with Sapa town and the Districts around it.
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