How to get to Sapa and how to choose a perfect guide
When planning my 2 week trip itinerary to Vietnam, I didn't know much about Sapa, or anything about the Black H'Mong hill tribe family with whom I was going to spend the next 3 days.
The only thing I knew for certain was that this would be the most exciting part of my adventure in Vietnam!
I knew it would be challenging. It would involve strenuous hiking in the mountains, and I would need to figure out how to communicate and eat whatever I would be served. But the opportunity to trek among the misty rice fields and the highland villages of the hill tribes in Sapa was going to be epic.
Where is Sapa
Sapa is located beyond the clouds in a mountain town in Lao Cai Province which also includes Vietnam’s highest peak, Fan Si Pan.
It is in a remote place in Vietnam located about 350 km northwest of Hanoi, close to the Chinese border. We were so close to China that while my phone didn't have service in much of Vietnam, in Sapa I could get on service from China.
How to get to sapa
You have a couple of choices to get to Sapa such as night bus or a night train from Hanoi.
After some research, I found that the best option for me was the night train (we chose the Livitrans), leaving Hanoi at night and arriving in Lao Cai in the next morning. I had a good night sleep in my private berth. The car had a shared bathroom available and it was quiet at night.
Upon my arrival in Lao Cai train station, I took the mini-bus up into the mountains to Sapa Town, which takes approximately an hour.
Mini-bus tickets can be purchased in the train station when you arrive (just get in line with other people catching the mini-buses).
I recall the winding roads continuously climbing. The mini-bus was quite crowded (a mix of tourists and people from Lao Cai heading to work in Sapa Town), but the drive was not bad.
Arriving in Sapa I met with my guide, who I found during my trip prep by reading some awesome traveling blogs such as Bobo & Chichi .
I had been communicating with my guide via Whastapp calls in expectation of our arrival. Talking by Whatsapp was preferable for both of us because of the challenge texting in English. Some guides speak English fluently, but are not as adept in reading/writing. Ah! Wonderful technology!
what to expect when you hike sapa
When you choose to hike in Sapa, you’ll enjoy amazing views of mountains, waterfalls, rice paddies, rivers, and cross bridges where you can see local women washing clothes.
You’ll pass small villages and meet many curious children on their way to and from school. This very remote and quiet part of Vietnam is home to many different ethnic tribal people, and you’ll see the five main groups in Sapa: the largest group is the Black H'mong, followed by Dao, Tay, Giay and Xa Pho.
Sapa is not only beautiful, but it is also very rich in culture and a safe place to visit while you are in contact with nature and the lovable local people. It will definitely help you to travel back in time and make you appreciate a few days of quiet and inspiring nature.
Options to book your tour in sapa
You have an option to book a tour in advance with a travel agency or directly with a local lady, but if you don’t have the chance don’t worry, you still can book a tour with one of the trustworthy local ladies upon your arrival in Sapa.
They’ll be waiting for guests at the bus stop in Sapa Town (your first stop). I highly recommend booking directly with them because of the experience you will have with them is the most authentic, they are very knowledgeable about the mountains and villages in Sapa, they can cook very well, they will take good care of you, they speak good English and the most importantly, you will be giving back to the community.
Here I explain this topic with more details.
how can i decide if trekking and living with a local tribe in Sapa is for me?
If you are someone who takes full advantage of your trips and you are a free-spirited adventurer who is looking for an authentic experience, Sapa could be for you. If you’re not afraid of traveling to remote areas of our planet and you appreciate the simplicity of life while you immerse yourself with the locals, respecting and learning from them, Sapa would be a great destination!
So why not take a few steps outside of your comfort zone and see a place few travelers will ever encounter? I hope that you’ll never stop exploring our beautiful planet!
Check this blog for my 3 days trekking in details.