Known for it’s untouched mountainous beauty and stunning terraced rice fields, Sapa Valley is quite a unique place to experience. Situated in the Hoàng Liên Son Mountains of northwest Vietnam, the valley is home to many tribes and villages. Sapa town itself, initially built as a hill station by the French in 1922, is the tourist hotspot for this part of Vietnam.
As most SE Asia travelers know, the only way to truly get into Sapa Valley is to take an overnight train or bus from Hanoi into the Lao Cai Station. This journey takes 9 hours. It wasn’t the most comfortable night of sleep in my life, but it was what I call a character building experience. From there you need to hire a drive or take the bus into Sapa Town. Needless to say, it’s a bit of work to get to this area, but arguably well worth your time.
Although we were only in Sapa for 36 hours, approximately 12 of those hours were spent outside in the mountains. Between our first and second day, we did about 22km (about 13.6 miles) of hiking. While that honestly is not that much in terms of milage, it was the rough terrain that really did me over. Activities like that made me realize how poorly out of shape I am 😦
We walked through glorious rows of green tea fields, rose fields (which had not yet bloomed, we were too early) and on mountain paths that wound all over the area. We explored villages and tribal areas that have been around for centuries.
The photos above are from our first hike/day in the area. The sights were genuinely beautiful and serene. I was constantly reminded of the thought of American soldiers traversing this area during the Vietnam War, and how hard it must have been not knowing where to go. It was also fascinating to see how the villagers live their day to day lives.
It was a tough hike, one that I’m happy I experienced but I don’t particularly want to do again.
We stopped by the next village to do a Batik painting with a local villager. She showed us what to do, and when we weren’t doing it correctly she did it for us. There was something very comical about a woman who barely spoke English, but perfectly told us to “go drink (y)our coffee.” That being said, our experience with her was one of the highlights of the day.
Overall, Sapa Valley proved to be a worthwhile experience, although oddly enough I can say I don’t have much desire to return. Was it beautiful? Definitely – but here me out. Sapa town itself has turned into a tourist trap, and it’s only growing more touristy by the day. The entire time we were at the hotel there were construction noises all around us during all hours of the night. Our guide told us the town is currently building 10 more five star hotels to accommodate even more tourists. I can easily say that our 36 hour stint was plenty of time. I also learned that hiking in the mountains is not my idea of a vacation. We were more than thrilled to get back on the overnight train and return to Hanoi – not to mention we had missed our guide Tintin!
Kisses & Kimchi,