So you’re sat there, thinking that you’ve come all the way to Vietnam, but you just don’t have enough time to see the amazing, colourful place that everyone is talking about…namely SAPA. WORRY NOT! Sapa is definitely doable in 24 hours (including the trip there and back) and I’ll tell you how.
The first thing I have to mention is that, if you have time to stay longer, please do! Sapa is an amazing place to stay and with the climate being just that little bit cooler than Hanoi, it is a nice little break from the humidity.
Sapa is an wonderful hill station town in the north of vietnam roughly 5 hours by road from Hanoi. It is a countryside escape from the city life of Hanoi and allows you to see how the ethnic minority Vietnam (the Hmong people) and their culture.
So how do you get there??
This is a question so many people ask, particularly due to the distance being so large. There are usually 2 recommended routes to take; by sleeper train or bus. For this 24 hour journey best route, is to take a sleeper coach/train to sapa and on day 1 night and then back on day 2 night. Day coaches and trains are also available but I will only be discussing the sleeper coaches/ trains for the above reason.
This is the option we took and we found it very comfortable. There are two decks of seats, with the upper seating directly above the lower one with access via a little ladder. The seats are reclining and the coaches are kept very clean and wonderfully air conditioned. In fact they ask you to remove your shoes on entry of the coach at which point they give you a free bottle of water for your travel (lovely in the heat!). There is wifi on the coach should you wish to use it.
There are a few downsides that you should keep in mind. Firstly, the seats are fairly small, and if you are a tall person you may not be very comfortable. There aren’t any toilets on the coach itself, however, the coach makes a stop for roughly 30 mins where toilets are available. The ride can be a bit bumpy at times, and as it is night, there have been some safety questions by other tourists. However, we found that the ride was safe, with the drivers quite used to the route, knowing what they were doing.
We paid $13 each way (300,000 VND, £10), for a 6 hour journey. This was half the price of the train and found that for one day seemed more reasonable. (A little tip for those not travelling from the US, ask for the price in VND rather than USD, with exchange rates much higher for USD, u will end up paying a bit more than you expected overall). The coach leaves Hanoi at 9.30pm (they will usually pick you up from your hotel or airbnb, which is an added bonus) and arrives in Sapa at roughly 3.30. However, they allow you to sleep in the coach till 6am at which point the coach leaves. Another added benefit of taking this route is the fact that the coach drops you directly into Sapa town, unlike the train option.
You can buy tickets for sleeper coaches from most tourist shops, though prices will vary.
The train option is one you should definitely consider, particularly if you have the money and are keen on safety. Trains can be taken from Hanoi train station to Lao Cai train station, which is around 50 minutes from Sapa itself. Sapa doesn’t have its own train station, however, there are many ways to get to sapa itself from here, not to mention Lao Cai being a beautiful place itself to see.
There is a wide variety of trains you can take, from Hanoi and depends on the price you want to pay. The victoria express is the most budget friendly train, yet still is very luxurious. I would advise people to make sure they get a private cabin, especially if travelling in a group, otherwise you may end up with other people. However, there is always the advantage of getting to know the locals if you do want to share a cabin. Most cabins have 4 beds, but there is an option of deluxe where you can get 2 beds per cabin.
More information about the different types of sleeper trains can be found on:
Hiring a motorbike
Getting from Lao Cai to Sapa can be via bus, taxi or motorbike. Hiring a motorbike in Sapa is very easy and costs roughly 100,000VND for the full day., with the option of renting for a few days if you would like. I would really recommend hiring a motorbike, as it is the best way to see this amazing place. There are motorbike rentals around the station.
A similar place can be found in sapa town very close to the coach station itself. The gentleman who runs the place is very nice, and did not try to hustle us in any way. If like us, however, that you want to hire a motorbike but can’t ride one ( next thing on my things to learn!), if you talk to the manager, you can hire a driver for the day for an additional 500,000 VND. We found this very useful, particularly when it came to navigating around, he was able to tell us exactly where to go (and in some cases avoid the toll charges). Just a heads up however, some the roads are a bit bumpy, so be careful when you are driving around. When hiring a motorbike, the owner will usually ask for a form of ID that he can keep with him as a deposit, so remember to bring at least one driving license with you in your group.
When in SAPA
So you’ve just got off the coach/train and have arrived in sapa town feeling slightly groggy but ready for adventure. What to do now?
One thing to be aware of in Sapa is full of Hmong women, and children selling merchandise. ‘Where you from’ and ‘you buy from me’ will be well ingrained onto your minds by the time you leave. Please be aware, that these children have often been taken out of school and taught what to say to sell this merchandise. When buying merchandise, you are encouraging them to be taken out of school as they will earn more money for their families.
A lot of these women offer homestays which is supposed to be a very rewarding experience, so if you have more time you should definitely consider doing this!
So now you have your motorbike and where do you go? I’ve written a one day itinerary here which is what we used. This is not by far the best parts of sapa, however allows you to see a part of sapa in one day.
One day motorbike itinerary
One thing to bare in mind is that there are entrance fees to enter most villages and waterfalls in sapa and this varies from 20,000-40,000 VND. So please feel free to change up the itinerary according to your affordability.
We found it best to split our day into 2, half of which we checked out north of Sapa town, while the other half we did south, with lunch in sapa town itself.
Sapa town- Silver waterfall- Love waterfall- sapa fansipan station- sapa town
Silver waterfall and love waterfall are both stunningly beautiful and allow you to see the true naturesque beauty of sapa. The silver waterfall, our first stop on our journey, is the smaller of the two waterfalls. It is over 200m high and allows travellers to climb along side it to its midway point where there are gorgeous points to take photos or just relax and watch its serenity. The waterfall itself, has lots of security, so travellers won’t fall.
It costs 20,000 VND to go up and see the waterfall, but it is worth it! For those of you, wanting to visit the larger waterfall, just outside the silver waterfall is a little market selling lots of ethnically designed bags, scarves as well as a restaurant (with a toilet) and a beautiful view over the valley. I would stop by here, if only to check out the shops.
From here, head to love waterfall which is around 10 minutes away from silver waterfall. For those of you wanting a little trek, you can park up here and head up to check out the waterfall. This is the larger of the two waterfalls, and is often seen as the waterfalls used to advertise sapa. There is also a little trek to this waterfall, but it isn’t challenging and the sights are beautiful. This waterfall, unlike the silver waterfall, allows tourists to get in and have a little swim, so bring your swimming costume or a change of clothing if you want to do this.
After enjoying both these luscious waterfalls head to the fansipan station. This station doesn’t seem like a station at all, but feels like a very small theme park. When we came, it was off season and the majority of places were shut, however, this is still an amazing place for great sights, as well as being the place where you can get a cable car to the top of fansipan mountain. At the station itself, there is a car park, which is free for parking your motorbike, and will be given a ticket after parking up. You then enter into a fabulous well kept garden and a pagoda. Both of these are great to see and are beautifully designed.
The actual cable car is a little expensive (600kVND, ~£20, $26 each way), but there are often deals including a meal with your ride, so keep a look out for this. Fansipan mountain is the highest mountain in Indochina, and the view from the cable car alone is therefore amazing. Its a great sight, and worth checking out. However, just a warning, that the sights may sometimes be fog filled from the top, so the best times to go see this are September, October and March.
Sapa town- Lao Chai- Ta Van- Cat cat- Sapa town – home time
Lao Chai and Ta Van are the most visited towns in sapa due to its beautiful rice field as well as its close proximity to sapa. Lao Chai is about an hour away from sapa town, and as mentioned earlier costs 40,000VND for entry. This town is amazing to learn about the culture of particularly the Hmong population.
When entering the town you will see scattered shops, selling everything you can think of, including petrol in flasks! Hmong people are one of the largest ethnic minorities in vietnam. There are many different sub-sects of this population, but the most commonly seen in vietnam are the black Hmong- easily distinguished due to wearing black/dark blue clothing, or flower hmong who tend to wear bright colourful clothing. This is a great place to buy handicraft souvenirs (or even clothing if you didn’t wear the right thing).
From here set off to Ta Van, which is 40 minutes away from Lao chai. A lot of people tend to come here for homestays, as well as trekking. This is a great place to stop to check out some street food and have a great sapa food experience.
And finally to cat cat. I have left this till the end, as although cat cat is beautiful to check out, and is on the way home, a lot of what sapa has to offer can become repetitive if you’re not staying there. However, it is wonderful to stop and talk to the locals.
And that’s all folks! 24 hours and you will have seen a great part of sapa, and hopefully have made some amazing memories along the way. I would love any comments that any of you have!