- Southeast asia
A Hiking & Motorcycle Guide to Sapa, Vietnam
A good journey always ended with a bang and this trip was no exception. Sapa, a little town in the north of Vietnam that overlooks the terraced rice fields of the Muong Hoa Valley, was my last destination. Sapa is not just well known for the beautiful mountains and rice fields, but also for the relentless haggling of the Blank Hmong minorities trying to get you to buy their trinkets. Although it was a little annoying at times, we were able to find a way to avoid them and enjoy the landscape in peace, by renting a motorbike.
Vietnam Travel Video
Getting to Sapa from Hanoi
I took a night train from Hanoi to Sapa the previous day. While I was in the cabin, I met Anna and Rolando from the States and we decided to tag along for the rest of the trip. Joined us later was Delphine from France.
I have heard stories about how relentless the hawkers are in Sapa and I was not disappointed. The moment our minibus stop, several Black H'mong minorities surrounded our bus trying to sell their trinkets.
Where to Stay in Sapa, Vietnam
Anna got the most of it and it took us a while to get to our hostel. We stayed at the Green Valley Hostel.
Visiting Cat Cat Village
After freshening up, we went on a walk to the Cat Cat village.
The walk was very easy and it took us around 15 minutes to reach the village by foot.
We were warmly welcomed by several happy and smiley locals who asked nothing off us. They were genuinely to see us here in their village.
This particular kid was trying to act cool and tough for the camera but when the shutter went off, he bursted out laughing because he couldn't hold his tough face any longer.
We found a nice little stop along the way to the Cat Cat village. There was no one except us here and the shop owners weren't pushy like the ones in the city center.
As we arrived at the village, we were shocked to see so many tourists walking around in bright colored jackets which was a contrast from the villages along the trail. They must have arrived by bus.
Right before the entrance to the village, we found a remote trail that led us away from throngs of tourists.
We decided to stop at the suspension bridge and re-energized ourselves with cookies and crackers. Rolando jumped into the water while we were discussing the possibility of parasites in water like this. He seems fine so I guess it was safe. :)
Two local kids freshening up after a long hike to their village right before we left. Life is so much simpler when you are young.
We backtracked our way back to the Cat Cat Village.
Anna watched the children in the village as they run around poking each other with a bamboo stick.
I got to say, the Cat Cat Village does have a more laid back feel to it that doesn't resemble any of the villages I've seen so far in Vietnam.
The trail was shorter than we anticipated and so we decided to continue north and see what we could find up there.
We were not disappointed. The trail took us through some very photogenic terrain with countless terraces of rice fields that covered parts of the valley.
Two H'mong minorities relaxed after a long day of hard work.
As we walked along the road, we started to wonder where the trail would end. As it turned out, the road took us deeper into the mountains with no way back in sight so we decided to backtrack our way back to Sapa. We ended the day with a local hot plate cuisine at a local restaurant nearby and we went straight to bed as the temperature dropped.
Exploring Other Parts of Sapa on a Motorbike
The next day we woke up early to find that it was pouring outside. We were planning to rent a motorbike that day and so we had to postpone it and come up with something. We ended up visiting a waterfall nearby with a taxi.
The good thing about waterfalls is that you can go there in any weather, it would still look amazing sunny or rainy.
It took us only 15 minutes to get to the waterfall by Taxi and we started walking the trail right away.
As it was raining lightly, a fog started to ascend up the mountains while we were there. It was very dreamy walking through a tropical forest under a fog.
Not long after we started, we arrived at the charming Love waterfall.
It was too cold to swim during the time, but boy was it intriguing.
There were several tourists that come and go throughout the day. We decided to relax near the waterfall for a bit and wait until we get the whole place to ourselves.
And we did get the whole place to ourselves. :)
After the Love waterfall, we decided to stop at another waterfall along the way. It was not as impressive as the Love waterfall but there was a path we could climb up the waterfall, and so I did.
This is how to eat lunch like a local: Sit on the floor, choose your preferred food on a stick, grill them and eat them together with a cup of chinese tea.
After lunch, the clouds were clearing as we went back to Sapa. We decided to rent a motorbike from these guys that were hanging out in front of Delphine's hostel. Not the best idea..
They didn't charge us much (because we rented for only half a day) but Anna crashed the bike and left a little scratch on the motorbike. As Anna and Rolando was about the get on a bus, we returned the bike and they forced us to pay 1 million VND for a paint job. It was a rip off and we were arguing with them for a long time. It was a fiasco. At the end, there was cops involve and Anna still had to pay for it.
Lesson Learned: Rent a motorbike from a licensed store.
Anyway, with our motorbikes we took off and drove down along the road leading down south of Sapa. This trail is highly recommended because we did not meet any tourists along the way. In comparison, the nature around here is much more untouched than the more common north trail.
With my backpack, I drove along the zig zag roads along the mountains with the infinite view of the rice terraces.
We drove for 3 hours and we decided to end our trip at the valley and rode back as Rolando and Anna had to catch the train back to Hanoi.
After the motorbike fiasco, we said goodbye to each other and I went out in the night with Delphine enjoying our last beer in Sapa. She took a night bus back to Hanoi that day and I took the day train the next day.
Getting Back to Hanoi from Sapa on a Day Train (Not Recommended)
Do NOT take the day train from Sapa to Hanoi or vice versa. It was one of the most boring and longest train ride of my life. Day trains stop more often than the night train and instead of taking around 8 hours, it took me 10 hours. To make matter worse, the air conditioning broke in our car and it was burning hot inside.
It was one of the worst train rides for me but I survived and as I arrived in Hanoi, I went straight to the hostel and crashed for the night. I flew back to Bangkok the next day and ended my trip in Vietnam, exhausted but fun.
Further Reading about Vietnam
Are you looking for more information about traveling in Vietnam? Here are a few more articles that can help you with your trip in Vietnam:
- Looking for a complete travel guide and itinerary for Vietnam? 2 Weeks Itinerary for Vietnam.
- Are you planning to travel to Vietnam as part of a big Southeast Asia trip? Check out our 3 months backpacking itinerary for Southeast Asia.
- Ho Chi Minh City is a great place to start your journey in Vietnam and you can read more about Ho Chi Minh City here: 3 Days In Ho Chi Minh City
- Looking for things to do in Hoi An? Be sure to check out an article I wrote about my experience in Hoi An here: The Colorful Lanterns Of Hoi An's Ancient City
- If you are looking for an off-the-beaten path destination in Vietnam, do not miss a chance to explore the caves of Phong Nha National Park.
- Ninh Binh is a great alternative to Halong Bay if you are not so keen on sleeping on a boat for a few days and having to deal with cheap tour agencies and drunk tourists. You can read more about my experience of Ninh Binh here.
- Not convinced by my words about Vietnam? Here are 33 photos that will inspire you to visit Vietnam now.
- You can see all my Vietnam related articles on my Vietnam Travel Guide page.
There you have it, the final entry of my 2 weeks trip in Vietnam. From history to cave exploration, Vietnam has earned a special place in my heart despite the bad experience I had with the motorbike mafia. I hope you enjoy this series of post about Vietnam. Next up, we are going a little further. How far? Hint hint, it's in the middle east. Stay tuned.
The Solo Traveler’s Journal is a series of posts by Pete Rojwongsuriya, the founder of BucketListly Blog where we will follow his solo journey around the world as he experiences different cultures, people, and historical locations one country at a time.
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