A Soul Enriching Trip To Sapa, Vietnam
We had a soul enriching trip to Sapa, Vietnam in August with our 3 children. Sapa is located in Lao Cai province, 350km north-west of Hanoi, close to the border with China. Sapa is famous for its rugged scenery and for its rich cultural diversity.
Flying into Hanoi and you will either need to take an overnight sleeper train or 5-6 hours bus ride to Sapa. Many would probably ask, “is a trip to Sapa worth the effort, especially if you have young children in tow?” The answer is YES, a big YES!
We flew into Noi Bai International Airport from KLIA2. We touched down Hanoi at 3pm local time and were greeted by our prebooked friendly driver who drove us to the city centre. We would be taking an overnight sleeper train to Lao Cai, a connecting town by railway to go to Sapa. From Lao Cai, there would be an hour bus/car ride to reach Sapa town.
Weather was hot and humid in Hanoi, it was the peak of their summer season. Our overnight train was scheduled to depart at 9.30pm only. That meant we had a few hours to kill in this scorching hot weather and with our belongings (although all of us backpacked for this trip). So what I did was to book a youth hostel just for us to leave our stuffs and for us to shower before we boarded the train at night. It was the best decision ever as it down-poured heavily as we were out exploring the Old Quarters of Hanoi . Our shoes and clothes were all wet, thank God we had a place to shower and change. We also received local tips from the reception on where to eat and they booked us a Grab car to the train station.
We arrived the train station early and managed to find our platform quickly with the help of the customer service staff. We prebooked and prepaid for our train tickets before our trip and I would strongly recommend this, especially if you are traveling in a group or kids, so that you can secure a cabin for your group or family. We booked our train tickets via Baolau website. After reading much reviews, we went for the cheaper option of going with Vietnam Railway, instead of the luxury tourist train. Our 4 berth cabin was simple, well-lit and clean. Honestly, we sighed in big relief, as we had read mixed reviews about the cabin, that one reviewer said that he won’t recommend this train service even to his worst enemy. Haha, go figure… But there were many reviews which said that they were happy with the experience too. So with low expectation and strong faith, we boarded the budget train which saved us hundreds of Ringgit.
It was the kids’ first overnight train experience. They were so excited, especially when we passed through some housing areas and the locals were seen sitting at their front porch snacking on peanuts and coffees, some of them even waved at us. The ride was bumpy, noisy and rough at times, but we were too tired and we slept through the night. Well worth doing it for the experience and it was an adventure which the kids would remember and they were still talking about it.
We arrived Lao Cai around 5.30am and the station was already lively with drivers and agents fetching tourists and selling us their services. We read online to use the public bus service which supposedly cheaper and more reliable. But after checking out the price of public bus service and private van service, we realized that the price was actually not much different and private van started the journey immediately once they had 10 passengers. So we went with the private van instead, which was a good choice, as the driver could drop us anywhere within the Sapa town.
After an hour of feast for our eyes ride, we finally arrived Sapa town. We were swarmed by a group of ladies of all ages wearing the ethnic clothes. They tried to sell us souvenirs and walking guide services. They were not pushy and all smiling. We just told them politely that we would just hang around the town area on our own. After a few attempts, they left us alone.
We informed our homestay host of our arrival and she arranged for a motorbike taxi rider to pick up our bags, so we could enjoy Sapa town care free. Temperature was around 18 degree Celsius in the morning. Sapa town was beautiful and for once we thought we were taken back to the French colonial period. The architectural design of the whole place flaunted a rustic French exterior, especially the popular Stone Church. We took lots of picture and walked around the Sapa market, enjoying the “morning price” being the first customers. We simply strolled around the town and the lake area, enjoying the cool breezy air, café hopping trying out the local Vietnamese coffee and French baguette. When it approached noon, we contacted our homestay host again, she had arranged for a driver to pick us up to go to her house in one of the villages.
The road entering the village was bumpy, I meant VERY bumpy. We bumped “rhythmically” to save our buttocks and bones, and to avoid squashing each other in the compact sedan car that meant for 4 persons, which we had 6 of us including the driver. LOL Anyway, the driver was nice that he wasn’t in a hurry to drop us off our homestay, he made many stops for us to take lots of picture, and each stop he could hear us going “oh wow… oh my God… “. Maybe because of that, he was encouraged to make more stops for us… LOL Anyway, if you think Sapa town is beautiful, wait until you see its villages and terrains! It’s so unspoiled and picturesque like a fairy land we saw on movies or read on story books!
We finally arrived our home of 2 nights in the village of Muong Hoa. It’s located on a small mountainous land which required just a little bit of hiking. We were warmly welcome by our hosts and the children from the nearby houses who were mainly the Hmong and Zao ethnic groups. The place was simply stunning, offering panoramic views from every angle of the house. Our hosts, Ann and Bien made us felt at home immediately. They showed us around the house and prepared our lunch, knowing that we had had only breakfast in the town centre. Our kids blended in very quickly with the native kids, who so happened to be on summer holidays. The native kids spoke good English, as our homestay host actually organized English classes for all the native kids free of charge in her home on every evening. The teachers came all the way from Hanoi on voluntary basis and each of them stayed about a week or two in Sapa to teach the children. It was heartwarming to see how the children gathered at the big stone outside of Ann’s home in their neatest hair and cleanest outfit waiting for the lesson to start in the evening.
Before our trip, we were contemplating if to stay in Sapa town in nice and cozy hotel, and just do a day trip touring the villages. Glad that we made the decision to stay in the village. Ann’s house is beautiful and clean, most importantly she really made us feel at home. In fact, our 3 kids were saying that they felt like they were back to their grandparent’s house in kampung. It was so relaxing that our kids would mingle around with the native kids who would gather at Ann’s house almost everyday to play, they would play with the puppies, they would run up and down the terrains, and just enjoy the house and its tranquil surroundings.
The native kids had become our best companions. They would walk with us trekking to the nearby waterfall, we would share the snacks and laughters. They would laughed at us when we met face to face with buffaloes who refused to give way and we weren’t sure of what to do and they would come to rescue us. They taught us local language to chase the dogs away. They made us hand crafts using plants and leaves. Awww… our hearts are full.
We also hired a local guide to bring us visiting the further away villages, which was truly an eye opener. We enjoyed peeping into their daily life, how they grew the huge giant pumpkins on their roof, how they sundried the corns, how a toddler babywearing a few months old baby, so her parents could work, how a toddler used a long harvesting knife to cut off some tiny plants obstructing his way, the kids could climb up the tree so easily and many more… They lived in a village which was lack of modern amenities and facilities, but so much we had learned from these kids and our own kids. Yes, our own kids amazed us with their readiness to make friends, to embrace differences and to respect. They never thought of these kids to be poor and what they were lacking of, but always looked at how rich, happy and positive they were, so much of good vibes exchanged.
Our days in Sapa were really spent on soaking in its tranquil ambience and poetic landscapes. Morning and evening gave different feels to the whole experience, we were totally in love and promised the kids that we would be back for a longer stay on our next trip. Sapa promises a truly memorable and soul enriching experience. Start planning now!