Sapa Tour, Vietnam
I was picked up in a shuttle at 6:45am. We drove around Hanoi to pick up other passengers. The streets of Hanoi seem so different at this time of day. It’s very quiet and the start of the new day begins with locals chattering and having breakfast on the streets on their little stools, store owners setting up, and the traffic starting to pick up. We arrived at a parking lot where we transferred to larger bus that was a sleeper bus. First we were greeted with a plastic bag to put our shoes in before boarding. Each person had their own little capsule to lay down in. There were about 50 spaces on two levels. All of us were just fascinated by the concept. We were all a little uncertain how this worked, but it was so awesome. It was chill and relaxing and a great way to travel. If you are tall however it might be a little bit uncomfortable. In the back they had open seats that you didn’t have to put your legs in the capsule so that would be better for the tall folks.
At about 7:20 am, the big bus departed the depot and we were on our way. The guide checked the passenger list and passed water out to each if us for our cup holders. Then gave us each a map with information about the area. When I asked the guide about the wifi password, he said he would tell me later. My initial impression of him was unfriendly and not very personal. He spoke mostly to the Vietnamese people. Tung (our bus guide) addressed us approximately 20 minutes after we got moving and he informed us of what we were about the trip. Good Morning Sapa was the name of the bus. We got the wifi password but it was very spotty. I ate my take-out breakfast from the hotel and cozied up with my blanket and pillow and reclined my seat horizontally and snoozed.
Around 10:30, we took a 30 minute break at the rest stop to get snacks and go to the bathroom. I had already used the bathroom on board, so I charged my phone for a bit and bought a coke at the rest stop.
When we arrived in Sapa, we were harassed immediately by ladies wanting us to book tours, but we were directed into a waiting room but nobody knew what to do. We sat for a few minutes before a man gave us directions and then spoke in Vietnamese for three times as long. We were assigned a local tour guide and sat around while a group of 25 people were arranged.
Lunch was at the bus stop, which is a hotel, typical VN restaurant lunch (meat, rice, soup, fruit). I sat with two German students and a french teacher. They went on another tour, but we had lunch together before heading of in our separate directions. Even though I had no idea what was going on, the tour guides did, and they got us everywhere we needed to go.
At 2:30 a taxi came and picked me and several others off near our hotels, and then we walked about ten minutes. The organization of it all was puzzling, but we made it. I was the only one in the group at The Sapa Lodge. I was checked in by 3, with my lovely room with a spectacular view. I sat down on my patio for a minute and thought WOW, I just want to sit here and drink coffee and bam! Soa (/Swa/), my tour guide, was already there to pick me up at 3:20 in a bus and take me with 7 other people to Cat Cat Village. I just wanted to stop and take in the views from my patio, but off I went on an adventure.
Stunning views everywhere you looked in the mountainous region with cool weather made my heart happy. We walked around the village for 1.5 hours (2.5 miles). The walk was a mix of paved road, dirt, rocks and steps. It was fairly easy terrain because we stopped every five minutes for pictures. Along the walk. Soa informed us of her culture and interesting facts about the village. Hemp is grown and used to make clothes here and not for smoking. We went inside one of the homes of the Black H’mong people that live in the village. It is very basic, but they had electricity. I got to use the machine to make the cornmeal for the pigs.
The Love Waterfall, in Cat Cat village was great, despite all of the tourists. I wish I could’ve sat and enjoyed it longer, but due to the tour we had to keep moving.
By 5pm, we were in the van back to the hotel. It was a little rushed, so I asked if you were able to do it on your own the cost to this area from Sapa is 50,000VD entrance, 50,000VD each way on motorbike. Because I had no idea what I was doing and this was my first activity in Vietnam, I took the tour, but now after experiencing it, I can totally recommend doing it on your own.
When I arrived back at my hotel after the outing to Cat Cat Village, the view from my patio was fabulous and peaceful, so I didn’t want to leave for even a minute to walk upstairs for dinner even though it was the same view, but I had to go up before the dining room closed. Dinner was at the hotel and included in my tour price. It was a set menu of chicken, pork, vegetables and rice.
After dinner, I walked around the quaint town and bought a chocolate croissant at the bakery for dessert and got a $6 massage. This was pricer than the other massages in Asia for a 45 min head, neck, back and foot massage, but still worth it. It was very safe to walk around the streets of Sapa alone, however there are lots of people selling trinkets for you to buy and are very persistent, so you have to constantly tell them no or ignore them. I retired to my hotel around 9:30pm, as I was told the town closes down at 10. I got my clothes ready for the next day and spent a little time on the wifi researching my next destination. At my hotel they were doing a lot of remodeling, so it was a bit noisy, but it stopped around 10 pm.
I woke up early to enjoy the beautiful views on my patio just after sunrise (6am), then breakfast was at 7, and Soa picked me up at 8 in the lobby. We waited for 30 minutes for the shuttle to take us on the trek for the day. The transportation was again delayed, but we got on our way and drove 20 minutes to the trailhead. I was actually not looking forward to it because I had been in such a relaxed state, and so she said I could take the bus to the village in the valley with some of the other groups and walk around, but thankfully despite my laziness, I declined. It was so nice and peaceful. IT WAS AWESOME! The mystical weather was mesmerizing as the fog would come in and out. It reminded me of when I visited Machu Picchu and the weather changed so many times within the day. During the day, we trekked for 3 hours through rice terraces and villages. It was a bit muddy and the terrain was a little more difficult than the previous day but not too strenuous. I had great conversations with the village people and learned so much about their lives. They live in very primitive houses, but have electricity which costs about $4 per month. They can survive on 20 dollars per month for their family. Clothing defines which village they are from in the area. Most women marry young, between age 13-17, and are “kid-napped” for three days by a boy they are interested in to see if they want to marry them. Soa said they marry for love and if they decide to marry, the boy must pay the family in money and livestock. Her family got a 40 kilogram pig, 2 chickens and 35 million Vietnamese Dong (~1,500USD). She said she was cheap and the prettier the girl, the more money for the family. Soa is the oldest of 6, so she stopped going to school in third grade to earn money selling hemp goods to tourists. This is how she learned English.
At noon, the bus picked us up in one of the villages. The transportation was definitely not timely in Sapa and was typically 10-20 minutes late. While we waited, I gave a little boy my leftover sandwich I had in my from yesterday and he was so happy. We got back to the hotel at 12:30, where I got 20 minutes to shower before heading off to lunch at 1. Lunch was devoured in no time because we were so hungry from the hike. It was the first time, I ate all of my food. Right at 3:30 we left on the sleeper bus to Hanoi. Within minutes, I was sleeping for 3 hours. At 730, we stopped at a rest stop for 30 minutes, which was nicer than the way up, but so hot after being in the mountains. I bought a coffee and cookies for $2. And just like that, we are back to the heat and humidity.
The price of the tour was $140 for the bus ride, accommodations, food, and a trekking guide through Good Morning Sapa. Tips for the future: Avoid the weekends if possible. Do it yourself to avoid tour chaos. Bring earplugs for all the honking on the bus. There are guides readily available, you can pay $15-20/day to take you anywhere and guide you on hikes. There are lots of hotels you can choose from, but it is my understanding the hotels with a view fill up fast so book early, if not there are others they just might not have a view. The guide I used Soa, also does private tours and her email address is Sohangthiso@gmail.com. She speaks excellent English however her writing is limited because she quit school to earn money for her family at age 10, so be patient.
Despite being on a super schedule because of the tour….SAPA was BEAUTIFUL, AMAZING, LOVELY, CHILL and GREAT PLACE TO VISIT!