A journey to Sapa took a couple of hours. The road was winding up to the hill and if the constant mist had not covered the whole area, the views would have been amazing. Unfortunately, it was wintertime and we fully noticed that when we stepped out of the bus. Sapa town lies at an elevation of about 1500m and the temperature was well below 10°C.
That meant our only condition for an accommodation was a heater. The first hotel we walked in didn’t have one but the hotel next door, Sapa Ruby Hotel, had heat pumps in all rooms. For 30 NZD per night we had a luxurious warm room. Although when we tried to make a tea a kettle cable caught on fire which was, on the other hand, promptly fixed by hotel staff – with a piece of duct tape.
In the following two days we tried a number of different restaurants and cafes in town. We liked a place called 24 Restaurant where we went twice. On Cau May, which is one of the busiest streets in town, we went to Little Sapa and few other places. We were not really impressed with Baguette & Chocolate but they had heaters on so we got warm at least.
We started our first day with a trip to Muong Hoa Valley. It was about a half an hour drive from Sapa and it was a popular place for its beautiful views of rice fields and also the ethnic minorities people (H’mong and Dao).
Our driver dropped us off and we descended down to Muong Hoa River. Right when we got off the car, kids came to us trying to sell their pieces of work. It was hard to escape from them.
We passed a local school where a small group of kids was taking a lesson. We crossed the bridge over the river and went to a workshop where we learned about a traditional way of making clothes. Our guide also told us that different tribes can be recognized by a different type of clothes. Then we passed hamlets of Y Linh Ho and Lao Chai where H’Mong people’s lived and our walk finished near Ta Van village which was settled by Dao people.
For lunch, we accepted our guide’s invitation and went to her grandma’s house. We walked up to the hill until we came to a shelter. Hens and kittens were running around. An old woman greeted us and invited us inside. The house was furnished with a few pieces of furniture and there was an open fire pit on one side. The walls with no windows were black from soot. The space under the roof was stacked with rice bags. For a moment we thought that we had not been food poisoned yet but that would be a real test.
But in reality the food we got was absolutely delicious. There were different types of meat and vegetables. A lot of it. While we were having the feast, the grandma cut a piece of meat hanging above the fire pit and fried a bit of bacon too. Yummy!
With full tummies we finished our walk at Ta Van village and waited for our driver to take us over to Cat Cat Village.
Cat Cat Village was only 3km from Sapa and was a home of Black H’Mong. As it was much easier accessible, it was also much more touristic and houses had been converted to souvenir shops. When we descended to the bottom of the valley, there was a nice waterfall and an interesting water structure from bamboo trunks consisting of watermills and floating decks. We also attended a short performance of traditional dances but it was a bit average. A classic tourist trap.
The next day the weather didn’t get any better and we said goodbye to any spectacular views. After breakfast, we drove along the winding road up to Tram Ton Pass which is the highest pass in Vietnam at an elevation of 1900m. However, even that altitude was not enough and all those amazing views we had read about were covered in clouds.
Later on the way, we stopped at two waterfalls. The first one was called Love Waterfall. It’s a 100m high waterfall and to get there we walked through a nicely maintained area. A bit further along the road was the second one – Silver Waterfall. The stairs took us about 200m up to get a better view of cascading water.
On the way back to Sapa we decided to try our luck and go to Fansipan. Since 2016 there has been a cable car which takes people to the summit. As we didn’t have any hiking equipment, time and neither good weather it was a good alternative to a 2-day trip which could otherwise be organized with a guide. Also, we had heard gossips that it’s no longer worth the effort as they had been building a huge complex around the summit.
Eventually, it was only me and my mum who went up. Boys stayed down at the station. We shared a cabin with a group of really excited people from Ho Chi Minh, so after 20 minutes ride we were glad we got out. But more importantly, as we were getting closer to the top the clouds dispersed and the sun came out!
When we got out of the cable car I could understand why people who decided to hike to the peak talked about disappointment.
The whole area was a huge construction site. There was even another small cable car which could take tourists to the very top instead of climbing up the last 600 steps. No wonder that we met a few people on high heels. But still, we appreciated the view. The best in last two days.
And that was it. We wrapped our staying in north Vietnam with one more delicious meal and one crazy drive on a bus back to Lao Cai. There, we took an overnight train back to warm Hanoi.