S A P A, LÀO CAI
Day 2 → Day 3
Accommodation: Cosiana Sapa Hotel – 3 stars (the ONLY hotel with Halal restaurant)
Rating: ★★☆☆ – for the cheap and delicious Halal food and, the view!
Room cost: USD 42/night with breakfast
Mode of transport: Good Morning Sapa bus from Hanoi and King Express Train back to Hanoi
Length of stay: 2D1N
For a Vietnamese cultural experience, it is recommended to visit Sapa. In Sapa, among the Hoàng Liên Sơn mountains, you’ll encounter many Hmong Hill tribes people. Sapa is a once in a lifetime experience because you get a true taste of the Hill tribes culture and lifestyle with them.
All psyched and ready to depart from Hanoi that morning. The bus came to pick us from Splendora right at 07:30 am.
So that’s the sleeper bus, a bus with bunk beds look-alike. Not quite comfortable for tall people with long legs. Good thing was the free seating arrangement. Once we were settled, the bus attendance gave out bottles of water.
The journey took a total of 6 hours with a toilet break in between. Even the view during our toilet break stop was awesome!
This bus ride reminded me of our drive up to Cameron Highlands. Surrounded by hills and mountains, views of rice field terraces and as we reached the top, the temperature began to drop. If you’ve booked for a tour guide to lead you on the treks, she’ll meet you at the point of arrival.
Things you need to know about Sa Pa:
- Sa Pa is in the Lào Cai Province and is located North-West of Vietnam, also commonly known as the border of China.
- Sapa is rich with limestone mountains, rivers and rice field terraces.
- A quiet mountaineous area and home to a great diversity of ethnic minority groups. You’ll notice the tribe people will refer to the towners as Vietnamese.
- There are five ethnic groups in Sa Pa. Hmong, Yao, Tày, Giay and Xa Pho.
- Their earnings come mostly from day job as peasants, tour guides or by selling handcrafted items to tourists.
When we were briefed on our walk to the villages, we imagined a stroll in the park but that wasn’t the case. I came in my Vans and it wasn’t made for the trail and road. So remember to come in your sports shoes. Provide those feet with comfort for the long trail walk. It was easy to walk down the hill but the hike up killed my knees! The view that greeted us was worth all the walk though! Magnificently beautiful. An experience we couldn’t buy with money. Being our first, worth the pain and time.
Day one was a visit to Cat Cat Village.
The temperature took a drastic dip as the night gets darker!
For prayer times, google has it! If you’re unsure, compare a few tables from the different sources and you’ll find that most of them are relatively same. I used the guide in the above image.
Day two was a visit to our tour guide’s village, Xã Lao Chải.
Anyway, a quick summary on the last minute bookings we made for Sapa. Initial plan was to stay in Sapa for a few hours before we leave for Hanoi again. But we were told that 3 hours are not enough to explore Sapa. (Obviously, we didnt do our homework!) We were advised to stay one night and leave on the night bus so we could at least have proper rest after all the long bus ride and trekking.
We were first quoted the following:
Bus + Hostel Stay + Food + Tour + Bus – we thought it was perfect except that we didnt want to stay in a hostel. Not convenient for me who needed a space to pray and worried about how the other travellers would judge me. I’m not ready for any discrimination.
Then I remembered a friend recommended Cosiana. Thus, we booked our accomodation seperately and leave the rest to the host. Then we asked if we can leave by train instead since Jo wanted to experience an overnight train ride so bad. (I’ve been on the KTM to Kuala Lumpur but this is different!)
So we paid the host USD 260 for:
Bus + Tour + Train – perfect! Lucky for us too Cosiana had an available room.
We bought four train tickets because we didn’t want to share our train cabin. For privacy purpose, I needed to sleep without my hijab on. If you don’t mind sharing, you can make friends with the other travellers.
- If you do not have any winter jackets, you don’t have to buy just for this trip. Winter jackets can be very expensive but not in Sapa! They may be replicas but good enough to keep you warm!
- The temperature drop and cold mist are no jokes! Not even 6 packs of heater could keep me warm. (Yes, S I X! One each for my pair of feet chucked into my socks, one each in my pair of gloves and one each in pockets of my jackets.)
- I recommend Muslim friends to book their stay with Cosiana Hotel because that is the only place with Halal food. And there, we met other Muslim travellers from Singapore.
- If you’re not feeling well enough or prefers not to walk, let the tour guide know so that she can arrange for a bike to bring you down to the villages for a visit.
- A basket carrying Hmong women will wait together with the tour guides. One of them will tag along on your walk and she will sell her handcrafted items to you at the end of your tour.
The process repeats on your second day tour but with a different Hmong woman.
- Kids will run after you to sell their gifts but it is really up to you to buy anything or not. You’ll feel sorry for them with their state of living but once you buy from one kid, the rest will start to come after you.
- We were told it was snowing that time the previous year. It was not our luck that it didn’t snow this time. There are so many beautiful videos to share but I’ll save all that for the last entry, I promise!
Now, let me get my notes together for the next post, Halong Bay Cruise!