Mind-blowing beauty on a scale that I have never seen before reveals the unique landscape of Sapa located in the Northern province of Vietnam. Positioned close enough to the border of China, that it’s only a scooter ride away gives it a feeling that you are no longer in Vietnam. The massive valley filled with villages, rice terraces and locals that make you feel at home. The closest thing I can compare Sapa to is the villages located in the Himalayas, only better.
Getting to Sapa
Feeling fresh after a couple of nights rest in Hanoi following Castaways, I caught a night bus North West to Sapa. Leaving Downtown Backpackers at 9 pm, this was going to be my first night bus experience in Vietnam. I have caught multiple around the world before yet this was going to be my first in Vietnam. I was curious to see what the journey was going to be like.
The night bus to Sapa was unlike any other bus I had caught before, but it was what continued to be a trend throughout Vietnam. You get your own little pod/bed, the closest thing I can describe it to is like a comfortable dentist chair. This particular bus had free WIFI that actually worked, charging points, free water and a blanket to keep you warm while you sleep in the air conditioning.
One thing that I liked, and that I love is prominent in Asian culture, they take their shoes off at the door. This keeps the inside environment very clear, both visually and mentally. This was no different for the buses. When you hop on you are given a plastic bag where you put your shoes.
I arrived in the Sapa township at around 4 am but the bus company is very compliant and lets you sleep in the bus to about 6-7am until taxis and cafes etc. are open. They don’t just dump you on the street at some random hour of the morning which I thought was very nice of them.
I meet a guy on the bus who was staying at the same homestay as me. We went to a local café to have breakfast and a coffee. Then we took a taxi to the village of Ta Van, about 15 mins away down a sketchy mountain road.
From what I had heard about Sapa, all there is to do hiking. I thoroughly enjoy hiking as I have done it almost everywhere I have visited around the world. However what I got from my experience in Sapa was so much more.
My Tra homestay
Most of the accommodation in the Sapa area are homestays.
Staying in a homestay you expect a relaxed, intimate environment with a family and a handful of other backpackers. Almost like a cross between a Hostel and a family home. Amazing vibes.
I stayed a place called My Tra homestay which was run by an Australian guy and his Vietnamese wife.
My Tra was hands down the most comfortable place I have stayed at in my travels around the world (I know I say this a lot!). Both in terms of vibe and the physical environment, My Tra was ideal.
Downstairs is an open dining and lounge area with a massive couch in front of a TV with the biggest selection of movies in South East Asia. Upstairs is an open dorm like setting. With around 15 mattresses sat on the floor, the most comfortable beds I have slept on. If really felt like home.
A few additional things contributed to the vibe. One being the fact that there is an honesty like policy for drinks, which I haven’t seen before, but loved. Instead of getting a bottle of water, beer or a coke and paying as you go. You simply write what you got down on a piece of paper and pay at the end.
Secondly, there is family like dinners every night. Andrew and his wife will cook the biggest and most delicious meals for their guests. It’s refreshing to sit down a table and talk to everyone. Have a chat over a beer while trying to eat the endless food that comes out. This rarely happens while you are caught up in the midst of backpacking.
Lastly, and by far one of the biggest benefits was Andrew can tell you where to go hiking as opposed to getting a guide. A lot of homestays and people try to upsell you to expensive hiking tours. Something you can easily do yourself, all you need to a rough direction.
Which Andrew gives you through a de-brief and a rough map to follow.
There are multiple hikes you can do dependent on your fitness level and the amount of time you have. You can simply do a loop around and down to the bottom of a river, before walking back up. Or you can walk up to one of the never-ending ridges on either side of the valley. The view from the top is well worth the couple hours of vertical climbing.
During your hike up the ridges there is more than enough of natures eye candy to keep you occupied. You are literally walking through the local’s backyards as they prepare meals and farm the terraces. They are very welcoming and always grant you with a smile. And although their English is limited they are more than happy to point you in the right direction with a point of a finger.
It’s funny, they have so little compared to the average westerner yet they seem happier than most of us. Always have a smile from ear to ear as they work in the fields and go about their day.
After a few days of relaxing and hiking, I left Sapa with a couple of impressions. The scale of the valley and the rice paddies is crazy, and the scenery is beautiful, unlike anything I have seen before.
The calming feeling that mountains give you, I’m not sure if it’s just me. Because I grew up inland I feel more at home in the mountains as I would say, by the ocean. Regardless, as soon as you get there you will feel this sense of calmness.
Andrew will happily take care of any transport you need out of Sapa, back to Hanoi or even south.
I couldn’t recommend My Tra homestay and Sapa enough if you are in the North of Vietnam.
If you want a more visual experience of Sapa to check out the Video Here.