Once I saw photos of the rice paddies in Sapa, I knew I wanted to go. Once I looked on Airbnb and saw accommodations were $14 a night, I knew we were going!
When traveling full time there is a lot of logistics work to be done. To make this task less daunting we divide it up. I’m in charge of accommodations and Grant is in charge of transportation. (I think my job is more fun!) Grant discovered there was an overnight train to Sapa and was totally in! We had never been on an overnight train before and the getting there is half the experience right?
Taking an overnight train from Hanoi to Sapa
We were coming from Hanoi and would spend one night on the train and one night at a homestay in Hau Thao village. We only needed a day pack for such a short trip so we left our backpacks at our hotel in Hanoi. It ended up being a very funny story! Read about it here.
Here’s the kicker…the train was not cheap, at all! We were paying less than $20 for our accomodations but getting there was $169 per person round trip! It’s a high ticket price, but it is an 8 hour journey each way. Sapa is located in the north of Vietnam almost at the China border. (Okay, it wasn’t exactly on the way of our Vietnam journey, but I saw those rice paddies and couldn’t resist!)
After comparing the trains ad nauseam, Grant went with the Chapa Express. Turns out they’re all the same train, just different cars. It was super nice and had two twin beds. We brought wine and had a great night!
We weren’t the last stop so I was worried we would oversleep and miss our stop. The train conductor said they would knock on our door when it was time to get off. Well we awoke abruptly to so many loud knocks! Turns out there are ladies who walk up and down selling coffee 30 min-1 hour before you arrive. Our tickets included coffee so it was pretty annoying to feel flustered for no reason. Overall we slept decent and arrived in Sapa at 6 AM ready for an action-packed day!
Where to stay in Sapa
We really liked our homestay that I found on Airbnb. You stay with the family but there are other guests too so it still has kind of a communal hostel vibe. We met some other American girls there who were really nice. Our stay included meals which was great since there weren’t many restaurants around. The town of Sapa by the train station is fairly big but it is 45 minutes from Hau Thao village where we stayed. Although we couldn’t communicate well, we had a nice dinner with the family and we loved all of their farm animals!
Trekking the Rice Paddies in Sapa
There wasn’t much planning to do once we arrived to Sapa. The family we stayed with helped us organize our trek. The two young women we had as guides were funny and we had a good time getting to know them throughout our 7 hour trek. They were young, around 14, and told me they had husbands and children already!
There are different villages around Sapa and the Hmong women wear traditional clothing to represent which one they belong to. Along the way they approached me to sell jewelry and textiles. I bought a cool bracelet and pillow case. (Pilllow cases are one of my favorite things to buy when traveling because they take up little space and are an awesome piece of decor to have when you return home!)
The trek itself was beautiful. We hiked through the rice paddies and hills (some were super steep!) and even saw a little waterfall.
Our guide was eating plants along the way! We tried some fresh lemongrass which was cool. And she showed us the indigo plant that they use to dye textiles.
There were oxen everywhere and it seemed like a painting…and then there was the trash. Unfortunately this was a common occurrence we witnessed when traveling SE Asia. We would be surrounded by nature in a beautiful place and then we would see loads of plastic. So sad!
After our hike we stopped for drinks and snacks. I even tried on some traditional clothing which was fun!
We wrapped up the day with dinner with our host family and then we took the overnight train back to Hanoi. It was an expensive detour but I really enjoyed our trip to Sapa. It allowed us to see a different side of Vietnam that we didn’t experience in the larger cities.
Smiling in Sapa,
Note: We visited Sapa in April 2019.