Getting to Sapa
There’s two ways to get to Sapa - by over night train or bus. The train from Hanoi to Lao Cai station takes around 9 hours. After arriving into Lao Cai station, you’ll need to hire a shuttle bus or taxi to Sapa town.
Roads to Sapa are winding, minibus drivers can be reckless
It takes about one hour to get from Lao Cai to Sapa and the roads wind. Both coming and leaving, there was at least one passenger who got sick. It happens. Cost for this shuttle bus is anywhere from around $2.50-$3.00.
Tip: Bring a plastic bag for emergencies.
Sapa has a problem with touts
“You Buy” and “Buy from me”, you’ll hear on the streets. The Black Hmong women and children are everywhere, stalking tourist hotels to doggedly selling their wares. If you buy from one child, beware… you’ll tempt more children, who want you to patron their products as well. It’s a problem- the kids come all the way from their villages to sell souvenirs to help support their families and sometimes they sleep in the market or don’t attend school.
Tip: Never answer a tribes person with a “Maybe”, unless you mean it. They’ll follow you until you purchase something. Also, try to be socially responsible with your purchases or gifts. Gifting children with pens can encourage future begging, while giving them sweets is often bad for their teeth.
Trekking to villages requires permits
Some villages will have pay stations at the entrance. You will need to show a permit, which is bought in advance at the tourist information center in town. If you don’t have it upon arrival, you’ll need to go back to town to buy one. If you’re with a trekking tour, it’s likely this is already covered in the fee.
Sapa Market can be intense
A walk along D Phan Si Road, merges you with Sapa Market, a small fresh market for locals. It isn’t any different from other local markets, selling produced, herbal remedies and meats. The part about this market that gets intense is their meat department. Freshly-killed you’ll find anything from chickens feet, horse legs, even dog.
Shopping at Sapa Square
Sapa Square is a giant market where hill tribe groups turn out to sell their craft work. You’ll find culturally rich objects, clothing and jewelry. You’ll need to wield your rockstar haggling skills, as these women are serious bargainers. But don’t haggle too much. Generally, the cost is never too high.
Massages are cheap
Thailand isn’t the only country to hold copyright on cheap massages. You can find them in Vietnam too and Sapa has a few salon and massage parlors for you to try. Foot and body massages can be gotten for around $6 /hour and the Vietnamese are experts at making your feet and body feel like it has wings! It’s easy to get addicted.
Bring or buy poncho
It rains and around winter time (November to February) it can get very cold. If you don’t have one, you can always buy them at a local trekking shop in Sapa.
Bring trekking shoes or rent rubber boots
During winter, Sapa rains a lot creating muddy hiking paths. If you’re trekking, you’ll want good shoes. Some paths can be narrow and with the mud, very slippery. Good trekking shoots will give you traction.
Variety of food
Sapa has a wide selection of international restaurants, cafes and street food. P Cau May road houses many international food joints and the street perpendicular with Sapa Square houses a string of Vietnamese street food, where you sit on plastic chairs, eating on the sidewalk. The food is fresh, made with care and well-flavored.