Rolling hills, rice terraces and raging waterfalls.
Sapa is lush and gorgeous. Green is the most prominent color in the area, but it never becomes monotonous. The city and surrounding villages are absolutely stunning.
I spent four days and three nights in Sapa, which in truth was one of each too many. Though I did enjoy getting a nice, leisurely start to my travels. And the area is really beautiful, so it wasn’t a total waste!
After an overnight train ride from Hanoi (on the SP3, which left Hanoi right on time at 9:50 p.m. and arrived about an hour behind schedule at 7:40 a.m.; cost was 650,000 VND/ $30.50 for the soft sleeper, which was quite comfortable and clean), I arrived in Lao Cai. Thankfully I booked a pickup with my hotel, which turned out to be the cheaper option and was really much more convenient than trying to find someone to take me to Sapa when I was still wiping the sleep from my eyes.
I stayed at Green Valley Hotel, which I would definitely recommend! The staff was quite nice and helpful. The hotel is located a bit outside of the main Sapa area, but it is a benefit. It is a short 10 minute walk to the center of Sapa and only about 5 minutes to get to the start of the restaurants and shops. The hotel is up on a hill with an incredible view of the rice paddies across the way. And the rooms are comfortable, clean and cheap! My stay in the four-bed dorm, which really was just a hotel room with three (yep, not four!) twin beds and en-suite facilities, was only $3 per night. There was also a nice common area with a pool table and a restaurant with good, fairly cheap food.
My first day in Sapa I mostly just walked around the immediate town area and hung out with some of the other hotel guests. I was not fully rested from the overnight train ride the night before, so I was lagging and decided to relax.
The next day was a completely different story. I set out in the early afternoon and hiked a bit more than 10 miles round trip to two of the nearby villages, Lao Chai and Ta Vang. I walked through the rice paddies and the mountains, constantly stunned by the gorgeous views. I wasn’t always sure where to go, but would run in to village women who would point me in the right direction. I decided to venture out alone, but there are several tours that will take you to the villages or you can pay a village lady to take you. I figured I’d save some cash, since I have just started my travels. It worked out really well and was plenty enjoyable. Perhaps I didn’t get the full experience others did-say with an overnight at a village home or even just a lunch-but I was content. I did, however, eat dinner with my fellow hotel guests that night. A Vietnamese family was also in the restaurant celebrating a birthday, and they were kind enough to share their cake with us. It was such a sweet treat!
My final full day in Sapa, I set out with the intention of renting a motorbike and riding up to Silver Falls (Thac Bac) and along Tram Ton Pass. It being my first (ok, second…Ubud, Indonesia, where I freaked out and decided not to ride) time driving a motorbike, I was a bit nervous. I got a quick run down of what to do and decided to just go for it. Two seconds after taking off, I panicked. I thought I was going to run over a little village lady, so instead of letting go of the throttle and correcting my steering, I pulled a sled-gone-out-of-control-downhill bail out. Or really, I crashed. Thankfully I wasn’t going fast enough to do any real damage (a bruise and minor abrasion to my left calf were all I suffered), and I didn’t hit any one. The bike just fell to the ground and I had to catch myself from falling with it. My ego and pride did suffer, but I decided not to rent the bike. So I set off, walking, into town and had some breakfast. After gathering myself, I went to another bike place and asked for a guided tour. I was able to talk the guy down to $10, which secured me a driver to take me to Thac Bac and Tram Ton Pass. Oh, and a short lesson on how to drive an automatic bike upon my return. I was determined to acquire the skill!
My driver, Tian, was really sweet, and I didn’t mind paying double what I would have paid to rent the bike and drive myself. Because, really, my life is worth way more than $5 and who knows how much I might have racked up in medical expenses? And I am really glad that I didn’t just throw in the towel and mope around all day, because the waterfalls and the pass were my favorite part of Sapa. Both were incredibly beautiful! The rice terraces are an impressive feat of man, which has led to a stunning view. But it is nothing in comparison with the masterful artistry with which God has landscaped parts of this Earth. After our short adventure up the winding hills of the pass, we headed back to Sapa, where I got another go a driving a motorbike. This time I was prepared: it’s all about the throttle…just let it go a bit if you are going to fast…don’t freak out…just breathe. These thoughts in mind, I started the engine and took off…after establishing a wide, open gap in traffic. And I’m happy to say it was a complete success. I felt a bit foolish for making it such a big deal and seemingly incredibly difficult. Because really, it was quite as easy as everyone made it out to be. That’s not to say that I didn’t stall out once or twice from revving the engine too little, but I was pleased indeed. Now I just have to wait for the next time I want to rent a bike to see the sights.
My truly final day in Sapa, the heavens unleashed their sorrows at my departure. But seriously, it rained tremendously all through the night and in to the next morning. The weather didn’t really make me much inclined to venture out, but I decided to enjoy a bit more of Sapa before I left. So I went jaunting around the city once more and had my final meal in town. It was then another shuttle bus ride back to the train station to catch my overnight train to Hanoi.
Though I did enjoy my overall time in Sapa, I feel inclined to note a negative. The village ladies are like vultures! The minute they see a tourist, they pounce. It starts out innocently enough… “Hello. Where are you from? What’s your name?” until in becomes, “You want shopping? You buy from me.” It’s all smiles and friendliness until you tell them you really aren’t interested in shopping. And still they persist. No matter how many times you say no, they continue to ask. Eventually I just got steely and ignored people completely. I felt rude at first, but I was eventually frustrated at feeling so. I was just trying to enjoy my time in Sapa and take in the views. It is not my personal responsibility to buy from every single village woman and support every family in the area! Rant aside, I decided to compromise and give people a slight smile with a firm head shake and cast down eyes to clearly express my intentions without seemingly utterly aloof. And it appears it will be something for me to adopt as a way of life in the pushy country. And so it is.
Now on to a more positive note. A friend recently challenged me on facebook to write three things I am thankful for every day for a calendar week. I’m not really one to jump on the bandwagon with facebook challenges (or really any social media challenge), but this is one I can get behind. Just in my own way. Rather than posting each day for a week on facebook, I’ve decided to conclude with the things (any number I deem necessary) I am/was most thankful for during my time in each destination I travel.
Sapa Gratitude Journal
1. I’m so grateful for sunshine!
2. I’m grateful for the relief of cool weather.
3. I’m grateful for a determined attitude.
4. I’m grateful for times of rest.
5. I’m grateful for the undeniable beauty that is abundant in nature.