WHAT TO DO IN SAPA (NO TREKKING)


How to go to Sapa: 
We took a sleeping bus from Hanoi with the company Sapa Express. It leaves at 10pm from their office in the Old Quarter (if you stay in a hotel in the same area they come pick you up) and it arrives to Sapa around 3am. They let you sleep in the bus until 6am, so nice of them, and that allows you to save one night in a hotel.
Be prepared for an avalanche of taxi drivers when you get off the bus! They will try to charge you A LOT, be patient and try to negotiate a fair price. We asked to use taximeter but they refused... We paid 50.000VND; his initial price was 100.000VND and real price (on Grab App) was 25.000VND.


During Têt holiday (Lunar New Year) we went to visit the province of Sapa, in Northern Vietnam. It's one of the most visited places, and we wanted to use this opportunity to be in the mountains. Sapa is famous for the magnificent rice fields. Like most places, the best time to visit this area is spring especially if you are planning a trekking tour, since the weather is nice and warm, and autumn if you want to witness the bright yellow colors from the rice fields and take beautiful photos.

We went in winter (January), the worst time to go hehe! It was very cold and super foggy so we couldn't see the beauty that the landscape had to offer. The good thing about going in winter is that it's low season, so you won't find that many tourists around and the experience will be a bit more authentic. And if you keep looking on the bright side, the foggy weather gives a very special and unusual atmosphere to the place and you can get different photos rather than the typical ones.


That said, let me tell you that Sapa village it's super touristy, very expensive (some places even more than Hanoi) and the local women and sellers in general are very persistent, pushy and they can even be annoying, trying to sell you things at all cost. I understand that they have to make a living and they see tourism as the perfect chance to sell their crafts and handmade items, but I don't feel like buying anything if they follow me on the street insisting, and for sure I don't feel like buying anything if I see they put their children on the streets to sell, they should be at school and playing around, not chasing tourists with a bunch of keychains on hand...


Most of the people go to Sapa to do trekking, it's a perfect place to enjoy a good hike and breath the fresh air of the mountains. However, we weren't prepared and January is not the best season for trekking, as I said before the fog is very intense, it's really cold and the roads and walkways were very slippery due to all of the rain and moisture, so for us it wasn't worth it to go all the way up to Fansipan mountain because we won't be able to see anything. So we took advantage of the low foggy season to relax, walk around the town, read and do nothing!



This is what we did during our relaxed staying in Sapa area:

* Visit Sapa village
Super touristy and expensive, but has some nice spots to visit, like the church, the lake, the local market and the museum. One day is usually enough to visit the town. 


The church was built in the 20th Century by the French. It's small but very unique. They have mass every day at 6pm. 



The lake is pretty small, you can walk around it easily. It gives a european ambiance to the town, sometimes we felt like being in a skiing resort in the Alps. The first day we were there, the town was completely hidden in the fog, we couldn't see anything! Luckily the second day the sun came out and we could enjoy a walk by the lake and its gardens. 



The museum is very interesting. It looks very old and dusty, but it has panels with information about the minorities, their culture, traditions, food, clothes... The entrance is free.




In the same building as the museum there is a shop where you can find all the arts and crafts made by the minority ethnics: scarfs, blankets, jewelery, clothes...


 The local market is on the east side of the lake, you can go easily by motorbike but also walking by the lake (around 20 minutes). The indoor market is located inside a two floor French style building, where you can find all types of food, herbs and local crafts. Outside the building there is the farmers market with all the fresh local products. Go early in the morning for a better experience. 



The O'Chay Cafe is a homestay, coffee place and tourist agency run by local H'mong people. If you are looking for a fair and sustainable experience, this is probably the best option, since it's the only non-profit agency and it gives the local people the opportunity to have a better life and improve their English. They also promote school projects to schooling the children from the villages.
We had a tea there (they have a fireplace!) and we asked them to prepare some food for our trip to Ta Van village, because we didn't know if it was easy to find vegan food there. 



There are many other coffee places in the town, some of them are really cozy and have hot drinks.  But we couldn't find any other with fireplace. 

* A night in Tavan village
As I said, one day in Sapa town is more than enough. After visiting the town we rented a motorbike  and drove to Tavan village (about 40 min ride). We stayed in a homestay in the mountain called Hmong House, a wonderful experience (although super cold!). Winter is low season, so the village was very calm. We relaxed in the homestay by the fireplace, we had a little walk around the village and we enjoyed dinner with the other guests. Because sometimes it feels nice to do nothing :) 

Walking around the village

There is a fee 75.000VND to go from Sapa to the other towns.  We assumed the fee is to support the local communities, road maintenance, etc.




There is a cozy place in the village called Mi Coffee where you can have a drink and enjoy all the decor details.  It's right next to the bridge. 








Sustainable construction with glass bottles

Staying in a homestay is a great experience, you get to live with a local family and eat with them. We chose a homestay in the mountain next to local houses to have a good view and experience the local lifestyle. 

Our beautiful (and cold) room

The views from our room



* Cat Cat village
The village is very touristy and there is an entrance fee of 75.000VND (around 3 euros); the money goes to support the local community. It's very close to Sapa town, you can easily go walking and enjoy the views. From the village you can hike to other beautiful spots and visit the waterfalls. 
We found the village too touristy, so we decided not to visit it, we just had a walk around the area above to enjoy the views. 


We stopped at one of the coffee places on the way to Cat Cat to enjoy a fresh juice with views. It was called Atlas View and besides a coffee place with fresh juices and homemade food, it's also an art gallery with artworks showing the minorities of the place, very beautiful!


And that was our short trip to the mountains of Sapa, before taking the bus to Ha Giang. Two days to relax, breath fresh air and discover new cultures in the country. 


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