Traveling to Sapa, Vietnam What To Know Before You Go

Sa Pa Trekking

How To Get To Sapa

The most common staring point to Sapa is from the city of Hanoi. The means of getting there is limited to two ways, overnight train and bus. By train it takes about 8 hours and is much preferred over bus, as it’s more comfortable and spacious than the latter. An average economy class ticket is about $35 – $45 USD. This local website link can help you book a ticket for a sleeper train.
For all my broke backpacker and “on a strict budget” friends, bus will be the option you’ll want to go with. This way to Sapa may not be the most luxurious, but hey you’ll get there. Most of the buses to get there are sleeper buses so they are more pleasant then what they may seem, but don’t expect much. The bumpy ride takes about 5.5 – 6 hours which does make it the fastest out the two options and runs you only about $12 – $16 USD. Most hotels or home-stays have a way for you to buy bus tickets to Sapa, but always shop around. We got a price of $15 dollars a ticket from the owner of our homestay then when we went to get our laundry done they had a special, if you bought tickets through them you get your laundry done for free. Free laundry is our JAM. We jumpe d right on that offer and it ended up being $12 a ticket! Three dollars cheaper than anywhere we we’re quoted AND free laundry. Every dollar counts friends. You can find it here Hanoi Laundry Shop.
(The owner of this laundromat actually owns a hotel and booking agency she was very kind and we even bought our open bus tour tickets through her as well)
Hot tip for ya: bring an extra pair of socks if you plan on wearing sandals on the bus as you will be given a bag to put your shoes in. The socks will just ensure that you don’t have to go barefoot because well, these buses aren’t the cleanest.

When To Go

While looking into making a trip to Sapa, we saw so may pictures of lush green and gold rice terraces stretching over the vast landscape of mountains. Although we were disappointed that that golden hue was not the case, we were still stricken with the sheer amount of green and beauty that was Sapa.

The weather does vary depending what time of the year you decide to travel. Since our time in Vietnam happened to fall in July, we were smack dab in the middle of rainy season. Although the rains would only hit at night or in the early morning, it rained just enough to make the roads and paths muddy and VERY slippery.
Summer/Rainy season lasts from June till September, this is when Sapa is at its hottest. Temperatures climb to 77° with 75% humidity. Although its relatively cooler than most of Vietnam, its still pretty freakin’ hot. We may be from the hottest state in the U.S., but we are not used to the humidity. Arizona is a dry heat but I now appreciate that it’s not 70% humidity all the time. It drains you good. Take this into consideration especially if you plan on trekking as you will obviously be out in the sun most of the day. It does cool down in the evenings, which make being outside without a fan directly on you tolerable.
October to November is harvest season, A.K.A. the best time to visit Sapa to see those golden fields that everyone posts about and makes Sapa so famous. Definitely make sure bring your camera for those views.
December to February is Sapa’s winter, it gets extremely cold and snow covers the mountains. Again take this into consideration if you plan to trek, the cold will force you to wear layers and bring extra gear that you wouldn’t need compared to the rest of the year in Sapa. Light rains still happen when it’s not cold enough to snow, making the roads and trails slippery and icy. Also most homestays have very limited heating as well as cooling, keep this in mind when picking what time of year to visit!
Sa Pa Vietnam

Where To Stay

Zach and I personally think we had the best place to stay in Sapa, it was about an hour out of the actual town of Sapa, but it was so great. It’s a wonderful little homestay owned by husband and wife and since we were so far away from literally any kind of restaurant we were a bit worried. But the owners made some of the best food we had since being in Vietnam. Everything we ate was grown or raised right from their family farm, which I think only added to the experience. The entire place was surrounded by the mountains and was even about a 7 minute walk from a little waterfall that you are able to swim around and escape the heat. Although it did not have AC, it was not bad at all. It cools down at night, and you are able to sit in the shade with a fan during the day if you get to overheated. (View Homestay Here)
Personally, if we were given the choice to stay at a fancy hotel IN actual Sapa, or the homestay we were at; Homestay all the way. The town of Sapa was very busy and touristy. Although this is hypocritical because we are obviously tourists we like to be away from the hustle and bustle of “touristy” areas. An authentic and local vibe is what we like. Our last day we needed to travel into town to catch our bus back to Hanoi, and were only there for a few hours. But thats all we really needed to see everything there. The landscape is barely visible compared to even ten minutes out of town and the streets are full of people and locals trying to sell to such people. In our opinion the town of Sapa is overrated.
Sapa, Vietnam

Try the Thang Co

Eating Thang Co Sapa, Vietnam

What the heck is Thang Co? It is a horse dish and the thing to try in Sapa. There’s quite a few restaurants that make this traditional Mong tribe dish. Zach was absolutely stoked to try this dish because where else are you ever gonna taste something like that?

It’s made of mostly the entire horse the intestines, liver, bones, everything. It’s all thrown in a pot with spices and a broth and its heated over a little stove. Then you’re able to toss in cabbage, mint, and tofu. According to him it wasn’t half bad. I personally have no opinion because I just ate the tofu (I told him I drew the line at horse). But if you like trying different foods, you can add this one to your list.

What To Do

Trekking

The most famous thing to do in Sapa is trekking. It’s pretty much the thing to do when you’re there. Although Zach and I weren’t able to do much of this, there’s a couple things that we picked up about it.

Most of the folks that we talked to and read up on gave us a 50/50 split of hiking with and without a guide.

Pros and Cons

Pros
•You’re able to do your own thing at your own pace. You can go with the flow and are not on a set path.
•It’s cheaper, a guide will run you about $30 dollars or more per day
•You can find views that maybe you couldn’t with a guide, that being said the road less traveled also has less tourists.
Cons
•You can get lost! This is pretty much the biggest con. Even though you can go wherever you like, it’s easy to get turned around. Set landmarks and if worse comes to worse, use Google translate to have a local help you find your way back.
•You might also miss some history or cool facts, guides can tell you stories about the history or local culture.

Visit the Sapa Market

Located next to the bus station, it’s Sapa’s local market. It’s more locally known as the “Love Market” because villages and people are be so spread out all over Sapa, villagers would make trips here days before to find a potential love interest. Over the years, it’s been commercialized and less and less used for such purposes.

Sa Pa

What to Pack

Water

Honestly, this is #1. No matter what you decide to wear or do, you can’t really go wrong with bringing enough water. Like I mentioned before, Sapa is freaking hot.

Sunscreen

Even though it was rainy season when we were there there weren’t many clouds in the sky during the day. Walking around you don’t have much cover from the sun and can easily turn into a lobster without even realizing it.

Hat and sunglasses

To help you not turn into a lobster.

Tried and trusted shoes

The roads and trails are not well maintained and are often slippery. Don’t be like us and think that you’re good with just some crappy chanclas.

A change of clothes

Don’t worry you’ll definitely sweat through your first change.

Camera

Were you really there if you don’t post about it later on social media?

Anti-diarrhea pills

This is self explanatory.

Hope this post helps on your trip to Sapa! Any more questions? Ask in the comment section below!