Sapa Trekking 3 Days
Sapa began life as a hilltop retreat for French colonists desperate to escape the searing heat of the Vietnamese plains. They chose the lofty cool of Fansipan's surrounds, and it's easy to see why he humidity of Hanoi peels away as you ascend the mountain peaks skirted with finely-sculptured, emerald-green rice terraces...
- Length of the trip
: 3 days
- Trip Starts from
: Hanoi city
- Trip Ends in
: Hanoi city
- Trip hightlights
: Hill tribal village, trekking, Local market
- Required booking time
: 15 hours for individuals and 5 days for group in advance
- Rates per person
: 125$ - Stay at 2-star Hotel
- Rates per person
: 165$ - Stay at 3-star Hotel
- Rates are valid from 1 Janualy 2008
Day 1: Hanoi - Train to Sapa (No Meals)
Our trip starts with an overnight train journey from Vietnam's capital city to the border town of Lao Cai. The train departs at 21:15 pm.
Day 2: Lao Cai - Sapa - Cat Cat Village (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
5.30am Arrive early in Lao Cai at 06 00 am, we start our drive up the spectacular Sa pa pass, which is 1300 m high, 33 km long. The bus ride uphill takes a little over an hour giving you a glimpse of the stunning vistas and impressive rice terraces. Arrive Sa pa in the morning; we have some free time to wander around, exploring this beautiful multi-ethnic town.
In the afternoon, we take a walk to Cat Cat Waterfall to visit Black H'mong minority people. Return to Sa Pa for a shower and a rest before heading out for dinner. Overnight in Sa Pa. .
Optional activity: visit Ham Rong Mt. for some good panoramic views of Sa pa town and the surrounding valleys.
2-star: Goldsea hotel: http://www.sapagoldsea-hotel.com.vn/index.php?lan=e
3-star: Royal View Hotel: http://www.royalsapa.com/content/index.php
Day 3: Sapa - Trekking - Lao Chai - Ta Van Village - Train To Hanoi (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
In the morning, start trekking down the valley along trails and across rice paddies to visit Black Hmong village of Lao Chai and Dzay village of Ta Van. We have a picnic lunch along the way .
We get picked up by Jeep back to Sa Pa. Later in the after noon, we take the bus ride down Sapa pass to Lao cai train station. Overnight train back to Ha Noi.
Day 4: Arrive - Hanoi (No Meals)
05.30am, arrive in Hanoi, end of services.
The trip includes:
Transportation by Air-con vihicles
English speaking tour guide
Meals specified in tour program
All entrance, permission and visiting fees
Accommodation at 2/3-star hotels
Train ticket Hanoi - Lao Cai - Hanoi with Aircon-soft sleeper cabin (wooden cabin)
The trip excludes
Visa to Vietnam
Departure airport tax
Meals which are not included in the program
Personal travel & medical insurance
International flights to and from Vietnam
All personal & daily expenses
All gratuities and tips to drivers and guides
Surcharges for peak seasons, Christmas and New Year Holidays, lunar New Year Festival, extras for room, air tickets upgrades shall be applied
Group tour: To join with other people on available daily tours. These tours are fixed itinerary and deparute time. It is possible to join in even your group of only 1 or 2 people. Customer do not to find other people to form the group. It is our company duty to gather the tourists for each tour. For these tours, you have to share the coach, boat and tour guide with other tourists who come from different nationalities. The number of people of this group is normally less than 16 persons.
Private tour: To do the tour privately. The tour is not fixed, it is possible to be customized for your group. All service is reserved for your group only. You do not have to share the bus, boat, tour guide with other tourists. One exception, if you stay at the boat in Halong bay - it is like the hotel in Halong - you still have to share the boat with other people.
General information about Sapa:
Sapa began life as a hilltop retreat for French colonists desperate to escape the searing heat of the Vietnamese plains. They chose the lofty cool of Fansipan's surrounds, and it's easy to see why the humidity of Hanoi peels away as you ascend the mountain peaks skirted with finely-sculptured, emerald-green rice terraces.
If you're only in Sapa for a few days, be forewarned that the views do not come with a money-back guarantee. The 'best' time to visit Sapa is in the summer months of August to December, when skies are more likely to be clear. These months are rainier but they are also warmer, and sometimes you can't beat a nice summer rain for atmosphere -- showers are typically brief, but it pours in buckets. Winter can be cold, foggy, and rainy, but every three or four days, the weather clears and the views are more gorgeous than they are any other time of year. No matter what time of year you arrive, Sapa has its drawbacks and advantages. Your top priority when selecting a room in January and February should be heat. Some places have electric blankets or heaters built into the bed frame, but that means the rest of the room is going to be freezing. Electric space heaters are better, and best yet, many places come with wood-burning fire-places. Make sure the fireplace works before you hand over your passport -- some we saw were only ornamental.
Here you can come into close contact with a multitude of ethnic minorities. Chief among them are the Black Hmong, so named partly because their dress is black, ornamented with colourful brocade and silver jewellery, but mostly because of their black, fez-like headgear. The Red Hmong dress in black as well, but the women wrap up their hair in a red scarf bedecked with silver-beaded tassels. The Dzao also have distinctive headwear -- a pile of coiled, braided hair, with an elaborate, rectangular ornament of silver metal sticking out of the top. They will happily remove their headdress for tourists to show that it's just a hat and not their real hair.
Since the advent of tourism these tribes have reinvented themselves as hawkers of handmade trinkets and retailers of goods made by the Flower Hmong, who live elsewhere in the province. They are the genuine 'native' inhabitants of the area, and they clearly regard all of the political nonsense that has been going on for the past 1,000 years as background noise. People invading and leaving. Governments coming and going. Many tribes straddle the border with China, which they ignore, circulating freely on both sides. As far as they are concerned, the lowland ethnic Vietnamese who have shown up in recent years to make a buck are simply arrivistes.
Sapa is sharply stratified -- almost all the businesses in town are owned and staffed by Viet Kinh, and the only trade the tribes do is on the streets in the form of handicrafts, fruits and vegetables, and, to an extent, drugs. You can expect to have a 60-year old woman grab your arm and offer you marijuana, hashish or opium. Heroin and other hard drugs are also a problem here, especially among the young Vietnamese who arrive looking for work and don't find it. Whatever you may do back home, think twice about the ethics of doing it here and making a bad situation worse.
The fact that the tribes continue to live a very basic existence is partly economic and partly cultural. To them, a rice field, a garden, some cattle and a stilt house are all the prosperity they ever hoped for, going back countless generations. Homestays in these same stilt houses are very popular, of course, though some villages are more 'authentic' than others. The most-easily accessed destinations feel more like 'theme resorts' for tourists, where they get to rough it local-style, though technically they are real villages. But if you venture to the more remote hamlets, they offer fascinating glimpses of lifestyles seemingly stolen from history.
Life is probably better for the tribes than it once was, but it still takes all day to make a few dollars profit. Despite the steady flow of tourists, supply far outweighs demand. You may notice that if you wander beyond the last tourist-oriented business on any street, there are precious few businesses thriving on local dollars alone. In a sense, it's not really a town at all -- the tribes live elsewhere and come into town to do business -- often trudging along on foot, six hours each way. The ethnic Vietnamese, for their part, are from other cities in Vietnam. Many live in cheap, shabby rooms along the steps at the bottom of Cau May street, alongside the Royal Sapa Hotel. Such rooms cost about US$25 per month, but it still takes a lot of postcards and sweet potatoes to make the monthly rent. And there are few other options: other than family farming, since there are no major industries in the area aside from tourism.
To describe Sapa as 'over-touristed' is a bit beside the point, since that is the sine qua non of its existence -- something to think about when you are having brocade thrust into your hands or being dragged against your will into a shop. Visitors are often surprised by both the ruthless selling prowess and candour of the minorities. If you feel you've just been cursed in Hmong after refusing to buy, rest assured, you probably have. But their cunning and sales routines come just as naturally as their giggles and smiles. The Hmong in particular are as tough as they are sweet and naive as they are savvy. Patience, curiosity and a sense of humour are requisite attributes for all visitors.
Sapa town is set on a roughly north-south orientation, and you'll be heading north as you head up the hill away from Mt Fansipan into town and on towards the road to Lao Cai. The chief landmark is the old church sitting just above the pentagon-shaped town 'square'. It's actually a stadium built into the hillside, though we've never seen it used as such. The road along the south side of the church, crowded with market stalls, is Phan Xuan Huan -- following the road to the end leads to some cheaper accommodation with lesser views. There are two sets of steps that lead down to Cau May, which may provide a good short-cut between the church and your hotel.
Cau May (Cloud Bridge) is the main thoroughfare for foreign tourists, and is crowded with restaurants serving western food. This street starts at the south side of the town square and terminates in a steep set of stairs lined with cheap rooms, let out by the Vietnamese who have come here to work. At the top of the stairs, you'll find one of the town's two ATMs that takes foreign cards.
To the right and up a bit is Dong Loi, the alley where you'll find Tau Bar and Chau Long Hotel. To the left, the road takes an extreme turn and technically becomes Muong Hoa, but places along both streets may refer to either name. Here you'll find places like the Lotus Hotel, the Pinocchio and the Royal View. There's little to see past the Pink Candle restaurant 500m down the road, but 25km further on is Ban Ho village.
The other road of interest is Thac Bac (silver waterfall) which ascends north from the town square up into the hills. Here you'll find Baguette and Chocolate, and further up, the Summit Hotel -- and much further still.
It's more than likely you'll get free internet at your hotel, but for a full range of services, one stand-out place is the Cybercafe on Fansipan Road, for CD-burning, printing, and whatever gadgets and thingamabobs you need to make this talk to that.
The road that crosses Cau May features a banner announcing it as the way to Cat Cat Village. Cat Cat is literally 'cascade', the French word for waterfall, subjected to the Vietnamese rules of pronunciation. The road is called Fansipan, after the mountain, via a variety of curious phonetic spellings involving the letter 'X'. This road leads to places like the Cat Cat View, Pink Floyd, and then on to the local waterfall.
There's very little to lure you further north than the post office on Thach Son, along the fish-shaped park above the town square. Not even the bus station, since all the buses to Lao Cai and Lai Chau depart from in front of the church. Across from the bus station is the BIDV bank along with the town's other ATM. North of the bus station is the artificial Sapa Lake, which takes about an hour to walk around.
Tours and treks can be booked in advance in Hanoi, or on the spot in Sapa. You'll pay a bit more for the former, but to make sure you get the tour you want when you want, booking ahead in Hanoi provides more ease and security. Tours are offered absolutely everywhere in Sapa, and trying to pin down the best agency with the best tours for the best price is like trying to catch a wave on the sand. The bottom line is, don't pay more than you can afford, and Sapa is so beautiful, and the surrounds so intriguing, you'll walk away feeling you've got your money's worth, even if you paid a bit more than someone else for the same thing.
If you really want to re-distribute your western dollars directly to those who need it most, forget about the tour agencies and head to the bottom of Cay Mau outside the Royal Sapa Hotel where you'll find many independent guides looking for clients. Many Hmong girls make a living this way, and their English is often excellent. As for the Vietnamese, some are drug addicts, and some are working hard to support their family in a remote village to the south. It's pretty easy to tell the difference. It's best to work out a plan on your own first, and just tell your guide where you want to go. This is the same 'talent pool' the agencies often use when they have extra work, so you'll just be cutting out the middle man. We found a wonderfully low-key and easy-going independent guide who speaks English well. Tran Thi Huyen T: (0916) 640 048.
BIDV Bank: Ngu Chi Son (across from the bus station), Sapa. T: (020) 872 569, , F: (020) 872 636. Hours: Winter: 07:30 to 12:00 and 13:00 to 16:00, Summer: 07:00 to 11:30 and 13:30 to 16:30. Travellers cheques for dong, 2.2%, credit card advances, Visa cards only, 3%
Cybercafe: 30 Fansipan, Sapa. T: (020) 872 192, (0912) 372 893. Hours: 07:00-23:00
Main post office: Thanh Son, across from the park, Sapa. T: (020) 872 298, F: (020) 872 282. Hours: 07:00 to 21:00. Long distance phone service available.