Sapa is not worth it, it is an excessively tourist area and it is absurd to waste 2 nights of train to see the northern area. This is something that leaves me very surprised when I hear a traveler preaching about the area. When I approach him and ask him what his experience has been, the answer is to wait: “I have read it on the Internet”. It is clear that for tastes are the colors and that each one sees what he wants to see but I think he is totally wrong. This entry will be based on my personal opinion without the intention of criticizing other people’s opinions.
So if you are equally interested in visiting the region of Sapa in Vietnam, from OneMoreDestination we offer different travel packs where you can find among them, different options to visit this region and enjoy its neighboring provinces.
I sincerely believe that the northernmost area , be it Sapa, Ha Giang or any other neighbouring province, should be a must-see stop for anyone coming to Vietnam . The rice terraces, the charm of its villages and the discovery of some of the 54 surrounding ethnic minorities that, according to legend, were born as the fruit of the love of the fairy Au Co with the dragon king Lac Long Quan. Reasons enough to start this adventure.
In this case, I will focus on Sapa because it is the best known place and in next entries I will introduce you other provinces also interesting. The experience of the night train is only the beginning of a stage that you will remember forever within an already unforgettable trip.
By train to discover Sapa!
Anyone who has not previously experienced long-distance travel in Asia may encounter certain limitations in transportation, comfort and facilities. Once you’ve traveled by train in India and China, you find it an incomparable luxury, a 5-star accommodation on the move. There are several companies operating the route. The most demanding will opt for the Victoria train, which offers all the luxury of details at an excessive price (from my point of view, you won’t get there sooner either…). I think that options like Fanxipan or Livitrans are more than right for everybody. Within each there are 3 categories: third class, with wooden benches that will destroy your body after 8 hours of travel; soft seats, which are an inexpensive but not very comfortable solution; and 4-bed cabins, undoubtedly the best option. The price of the latter is around 80 USD for both journeys in a shared cabin and, logically, double if you want to have the private cabin for 2 people.
The schedules are variable depending on the train that is taken. With little difference between them, the time of departure is around 20:30 and arrival in Lao Cai about 6:00 AM..
As I tell you, the point of arrival is Lao Cai and not Sapa. Once we arrive, a multitude of cars, buses and motorists board you to offer you the transfer to Sapa, most of them with previous reservation.
There are countless villages around Sapa to explore and they are not entirely easy to find. It is not a bad idea to hire a guided tour of the area. In this case we have it easy. Bella, my wife, is a Spanish-speaking Vietnamese guide in Vietnam and the area is known as the palm of my hand so I relax and, for once, let myself go. In addition, we shared experience with some good friends who have just arrived from Barcelona on holiday, Montse and Raúl, and they are looking forward to the area. On our arrival, we went directly to Bac Ha, one hour by road from Lao Cai. The place is famous for the ethnic market on Sundays . It is the most important market in the area and although it is possible to find other markets other days of the week in other villages, it is worthwhile to square the visit to Sapa with the Sunday market. Bac Ha is predominantly H’mong Flor , who you will recognize instantly by their eye-catching clothing . Everything from local handicrafts to water buffaloes is bought and sold there. It’s fun to spend a couple of hours and walk around the market. We wander around the area for a while and take the car back to Sapa. On the way back we will have 2 hours of road to the town of Sapa, the epicenter of our stage.
Which villages or ethnic groups are the most spectacular to visit?
The most representative places of the surroundings are: Cat Cat, where it is arrived walking a good time from Sapa; the journey Lao Chai – Y Linh Ho – Ta Van, a tourist journey but that does not take away anything of charm; Su Pan, home of the Zao ethnic group; and Ta Phin, where the Red Zao live.
And speaking of the different ethnic groups, in Sapa can be found, above all, H’mong Negros, undoubtedly the happiest and closest of all minorities. You will differentiate them by their dark clothes and long hair . You will also know the women Red Zao , with their characteristic red scarf on their skinheads . With a much stronger character, it is sometimes possible to witness small altercations without consequences between these two ethnic groups since nobody in the area of Sapa has special affection for the Red Zao.
A much less known and, in my opinion, spectacular place is the Ma Tra zone. Halfway between Lao Cai and Sapa, it is a forgotten area by most guided tours and independent travellers. a perfect opportunity to visit it . It is a village with indescribable landscapes and a welcoming and smiling people, something that leaves a mark considering the basic living conditions they have.
What is the best time to visit Sapa?
For those who are thinking of going to Sapa, recommend summer as the season with the most spectacular views due to the intense green of its rice fields; or the months of April and May , when the rice terraces are prepared for sowing and are perfect mirrors for the mountains that surround them . The months of November to February, as far as landscapes are concerned, lose quite a lot because the rice fields are left very much after harvesting and lose the spectacularity.
In any case, whenever I am asked about an itinerary in Vietnam I recommend, as far as possible, visit this area . Whether because of its landscapes or the mystery of its inhabitants, a trip to Vietnam is not the same if ethnic minorities are not known.
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