Visiting Sa Pa is an eye-opening experience. One that has truly changed our lives. It is a place with endless views and inspiring people. After being in a seemingly different world than the one we are used to, it was hard to go back to reality. We want to give you a peak into what traveling to Sa Pa looks like and why you’ll love visiting.
Sa Pa is located in northern Vietnam near the border of China. The easiest city to come from is Hanoi. We’d be lying if we said it was an easy journey from Hanoi, but we can promise it’s worth it.
The overnight train was quite an experience. Unless you want to motorbike from Hanoi, or spend an entire day on a bus, you’ll take the overnight train. It isn’t comfortable- but it is the cheap and efficient way to travel from Hanoi.
We stayed at the Eden Boutique Hotel and had a great experience. It is charming, right in the heart of the city, with staff eager to assist you. Since we spent most of our time trekking while in Sa Pa, it was wonderful to stay in a very clean, comfortable hotel. We also ate many of our meals here, which featured the best of Vietnamese cuisine.
We booked a 3-day tour through our hotel in Hanoi, Oriental Suites. They took care of everything for us when we got to Sa Pa which made it easy for us. All the tour guides are the hill-tribe women, since they are the only ones able to take tourists to their villages. They would meet us at our hotel in town each morning with group sizes of about 6 tourists. They were so great to spend time with and we learned a lot about their culture.
The bars, restaurants and stores were all very unique to visit. Down the street from our hotel was the Color Bar. They served home made rice-wine and had a child serving us. *There were also rats running over the beams on the ceiling and broken chairs and tables. But the experience was pretty cool- they ran a good business!
We of course got massages while we were in Sa Pa. For $8 you can get a 45 minute massage! At the place we went to, the entire family was in the next room partying and drinking wine while their cats grazed our feet and the kids chased each other around the building.
The fog can be intense here. The first full day of trekking we could hardly see anything. This was disappointing at first since we were hoping to see the rice terraces, but the fog made for amazing photos and a surreal setting and went away within a few hours.
Once the fog subsided, you’ll have gorgeous views of the rice fields. The hardest trek we had was to the Lao Chai Village. We trekked over 6 miles through the rice terraces in the down-pouring rain. While it was challenging in walk down hill in the mud, we each had a guide helping us downhill. It was one of the most rewarding experiences of our lives. The views were unlike anything we’ve ever seen, and the terraces seemed endless.
Hill Tribe Villages
We were able to visit the Hmong, Lao Chai and Cat Cat Villages on our tours. The children in the villages get married at age 14 and start working in the fields and having children right away. (Our tour guide was 19 and had a whole family already!) The women work hard to provide for their families by tending to rice terraces, making and selling handicrafts and giving tours. We were able to see a local school and have lunch made for us in the Lao Chai village.
Something that will always stand out to us about Sa Pa is the amount and variety of animals- everywhere. We saw roosters, pigs, dogs, cats, goats and oxen all around the villages. They would all come right up to us and keep us company during our long trekking days.
The hill-tribe women set up markets selling their handicrafts on route to the village so that tourists will buy from them. There were many young children selling items on the route as well. We were told in advance not to buy from the children, since the parents pull them from (free) schooling to sell items.
It is good etiquette however to buy from the women to thank them for letting us into their villages and the tour guides as a tip for their services.
There are so many amazing places to visit in northern Vietnam but make sure not to miss visiting Sa Pa and the hill-tribe villages. We promise, you won’t regret it! Let us know in the comments if you have any questions about visiting Sapa or want to share your experiences here. Thanks for reading.
Emilie & Chris