From Hanoi to Lao Cai is accessed by train and from Lao Cai to Sapa you have to go by road (100 km usually donein about 3 hours).
Trains always make the journey at night (9 hours if there is no breakdown). They have 2 bunk beds with shared bathrooms for the entire wagon. The bathrooms are pretty basic and do not have showers.
There are two companies that offer the service: Fanxipan and Victoria Express. The first is much cheaper and easier. The second is more luxurious. I did the way there with Fanxipan and the way back with Victoria. The cost to go and come back is €150.
Supposedly, I should recommend the journey with Victoria; but I will not do it because I think that the experience of Fanxipan must be lived. It is a very basic and dirty train, but it is very authentic. That's why I think it's a good idea to go up with a company and go down with the other one.
Sapa, for me, is special.
I always say that this is one of the most beautiful experiences I have ever experienced. In fact, one of the reasons why I always recommend going to Vietnam is precisely for Sapa.
After spending 9 hours (plus the suffering of 3 hours waiting for a breakdown) in a dirty and disgusting train where I had the need to put on a long trousers for not touching the stained sheets, I arrived at Lao Cai without having clinched an eye all night. I felt very tired, but excited at the same time. Under the train and a smile escapes me when I see that there are no high passages or no security to cross the roads. I took the suitcase and followed tourists who seemed to be more accustomed to them.
On the other side a guide was waiting for me, which recommended me a nice breakfast before I took the car. The route is long on a damaged road. We paused for a while at "Le Bordeaux", a restaurant that is just in front of the station to catch a good breakfast.
Sapa is located in the north of the country, at 1600 meters high and touching the border with China. From any corner you can enjoy spectacular views of the mountains stuffed with rice fields. The area is inhabited by ethnic minorities you love in a few minutes. They are very friendly.
After about an hour and a half we came to the weekly market of Coc Ly. They only do it on Tuesdays. It is highly recommended to go there because you can see all ethnicities together. Each group has its style and color to dress. And everyone tries to sell what they can. Men, mostly, sell animals and woven women dyed by hand themselves. But there is everything. It can be seen from "healers" to hairdressers passing through butchers' or vegetable stalls. The colors of the stage are crazy. I was just over an hour turning and taking pictures. Amazing.
The road to Sapa gives wonderful views of rice fields and tea plantations. I took the opportunity to stop, on the same road, on a couple of occasions to enjoy the landscape as it deserved. It took approximately 2 hours and 40 minutes. After checking in at "Victoria Sapa Resort & Spa" and paying a good tribute to the best Pho I have ever tasted, I decided to go for a tour of Sapa. Is soon seen The village is small. You have to see the main square, the market (open every day) and the Cau May street. Nothing more.
Once you see the market and the small town of Sapa, I recommend spending a couple of days trekking in the mountains. The landscape is so beautiful that this is the main tourist destination in the area. In the village there are many guides and the hotels are very preparatory to provide the necessary material to make it easy for the guilty tourist. My guide set me two routes (one for each day) and the hotel rented my water boots. You can already imagine how moist and muddy is the terrain that gives water boots and not a mountain!
The first day I started the route to Y Linh Ho which is a very small town inhabited by black Hmongs (one of the two main ethnic groups in Sapa). It only has a dozen houses and I had the privilege of visiting one. They introduced me to all the family members and they told me about their day to day life. Then we walked a little more than half an hour on the rice fields with wonderful views until we reach the next town called Ta Van. I would say that I liked it more than the first one. It's bigger and the houses are in better conditions, but it has a rustic and quiet style that inspired me with peace. It is as if time has stopped: a boy spending an afternoon with a glass, a lady washing lettuce in the river, girls go searching for milk to I do not know where, a boy with a running wheel up and down, little kids to school playing ... but all of them went out to look at us! At this point, we stopped for a fast lunch and went to Cat Cat (black H'mongs). Supposedly we visited this town to be able to see the Vietnamese traditional way of living. Honestly, for me, the visit was worth the trouble of the waterfalls that are located at the end of the town. The rest seemed to me a bit too focused on tourism.
The second day I made a shorter route. I went to the Ma Tra area where the two major ethnicities live: the black H'mongs and the Red Zao. I was very sorry to find out about these last ones on my last day in Sapa. They have a huge sense of humor and we felt like them from the beginning. I loved it. In fact, they proposed me to live with them! This had never happened to me in any other country! I left with the broken heart. They were very easily recognized with their huge red dresses. I finished the visit with the Hao Tao Primary School where I coincided with a weekend show.
Walking with some H'mong or Red Zao between the rugged mountains watching their daily life so far from western civilization, without too many things and seeing them all happy is priceless. It is one of the lessons that life has thaught me.
The landscape and the people make it a unique place.Duration:
You can not set a specific duration, because the hikes are infinite.
I had the opportunity to be there for 3 days and 2 nights; but I could have extended it.
No problem if the trekking is not so long.