I have been wanting to write about this trip, which I had in the last quarter of last year, but things went way too busy right after it that it was pushed to the back burner. So, here, I’m writing about it now. If you’re planning to go to Sapa, I hope I can provide some tips & helpful insights.
Why Sapa? In my travels, getting to know more about the people and culture is always the number one objective. So it’s quite apt that the trip should go beyond Hanoi, up to the mountains where the more culturally rich Hmong people are.
Hmong is an indigenous group of people that is found in Vietnam, Myanmar, Laos, and Thailand. Their colorful costumes remind me so much of my very own tribal group, the Tboli of South Cotabato in southern Mindanao.
Sapa is a hill station in the north western region of Vietnam with its terraced rice fields as its main scenic attraction, so much like the Philippines’ Banaue and Sagada. Tourists visit this place to trek the Fansipan mountain which is known as the roof of Indochina.
How to go to Sapa
Cebu Pacific flies directly from Manila to Hanoi. The departure time is 10:15 PM. The flight takes about 3 hours and 15 minutes and arrival at the Noibai Airport is half past midnight (Hanoi time).
On this trip, I was in the company of my 2 friends. We opted to wait at the airport for the first trip to Sapa which was at 7:50 AM.
Noibai Services offers airport pick-up service to Sapa. You have the option to take the bus, limousine, or a private car. We took the 9-seater van (limousine) for 25 USD per pax/ way. Our contact person is a very accommodating and reliable guy in the name of Andy Le. Here’s his contact info:
Andy Le -ANBASCO
Pick-up time was 7:50 AM so we thought it best to catch some sleep at the airport’s empty benches. At 6 AM the airport police was already going around waking people up with his batuta (baton), tapping those who refused to wake up.
We had a quick breakfast of pho, then at 7:20 AM Andy was already at the arrival area. He ushered us out of airport and the limousine arrived shortly.
The trip to Sapa takes more or less 5 hours with 2 pit stops. Our driver was talking to someone on his phone the whole duration of the trip. This stressed me out, especially when we were already going up the mountain, on a narrow, steep road. Mobile phone use while driving is common in Vietnam.
When we reached Sapa, we were dropped off right in front of our homestay.
Where to stay in Sapa
We opted to try homestay accommodation and the place of choice was Fansifan Terrace Cafe & Homestay, which I booked via Booking.com. There are 7 positive points about this place: cheap, awesome view of the Fansipan mountain (on sunny days), strong wi-fi, crisp & clean bedding, clean common toilet & bath with heater, very close to the center & Cat Cat Village, and just a hop away from the best restaurant & banh mi shop in town!
Best Eats in Sapa
Good Morning Vietnam for really good food without MSG! Vietnamese people love lacing their food with a generous amount of MSG. I almost fainted when I saw that a spoonful of it went into a bowl of pho!
Sonny, the resto owner, has superb social skills. His hospitality is commendable, we were delighted and entertained at the same time.
Right across Good Morning Sapa is a banh mi shop by the same name. It serves the best banh mi that I ever tasted by far. The sausages are homemade and the owner (a European guy) would let customers taste the sausage to help them decide which one to stuff their banh mi with.
What to Do in Sapa
Sapa is the take-off point for trekking. But if you’re not so into it, you can just go around the town. The farthest spot where our feet took us was the Cat Cat Village, where Hmong people live.
We also went up to Ham Rong mountain, where we could supposedly see an aerial view of Sapa town, but it was very unfortunate that the fog was too thick we were unable to see anything from there.
We included Fansipan cable car ride in our list of activities, but due to zero visibility of the Fansipan mountain from our homestay, we chose not to go anymore.
For 3 days that we were there, a great deal of time was spent walking around town, eating, talking to the locals and looking at the handmade products of the Hmong people.
When is the best time to go to Sapa
Definitely during the time when the rice is already ripe for harvesting, which is usually during the early part of September so you can enjoy this view:
We went in the beginning of November and what we got was 3 days of overcast weather. But it was still good since we got to enjoy the food, the amazing view from our bedroom window, and running away from Hmong touts.
In going back to Hanoi we took the sleeper bus, which we also booked through Andy Le.
Sapa was overall a wonderful experience, and I’m looking forward to going back during the harvest season and staying longer so I could experience the weekend market of the Flower Hmong people in Bach Ha and see other nearby villages.
Here’s a slideshow of our photos in Sapa and Hanoi.