Sapa is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Vietnam, arguably along the Southeast Asia backpacking route. But before you race off to Vietnam there are 10 things you must know before traveling to Sapa.
It is one of the most picturesque regions of Vietnam, and again probably one of the most picturesque places anywhere in South East Asia; the stuff of Lonely Planet and of National Geographic.
The stepped paddy fields of Sapa Valley are unlike anything you will have seen before. Get your camera at the ready (there’s an extra tip for you!) for a trip to Sapa will see you take some of the best photos of your life and see you make memories you will never want to forget!
You can get to Sapa from Hanoi and this is the most common route for most travellers. Many people decide to do a round-trip from Hanoi over three days. There are many tour providers in Hanoi who can organise everything for you but if you’re a savvy traveller on a budget then you can arrange this trip for yourself very easily indeed!
So, here are the 10 Things You Must Know Before Traveling to Sapa!
1. How to Get There
The road from Hanoi to Sapa is treacherous at the best of times. Like we said earlier if you get yourself booked onto a tour you will likely have access to a private car and driver which will make the journey much more pleasant!
Getting to Sapa is easy and can be achieved in one of two ways; by bus or by overnight train.
If you choose to go by train you should catch the sleeper train from Hanoi to Lao Chai station and this journey takes around nine hours.
Sleeper trains in Vietnam are nicer than you may think! Bring a sleep liner with you though for added comfort.
We used this site to book most of our journeys in Vietnam. Best of all, you can just show any ticket on your smartphone when boarding your train. That saves any running around to find a place to print your vouchers!
Try their site via the search box here. Simply pick your travel date for a full page of travel options in Vietnam and beyond!
Sleeper buses from Hanoi are available too and your hostel or hotel will be able to help arrange tickets for you.
2. The Problem with Touts
It is a sad but widely known fact that Sapa is rife with touts who make their living out of over-charging and ripping off unsuspecting tourists. That’s not to say that they are bad people, never be rude or horrible but respectfully decline the services of someone who you suspect will be out to tout you.
While you’re in Sapa at some point you will get followed by a Hmong woman selling her wares. Although they can be belligerent don’t give them false hope that you will purchase something.
Don’t say ‘maybe’ or ‘later’ unless you mean it. Ultimately, they’re just trying to earn a living for their family.
3. A Room for One is Big!
Many of the hotel rooms in Sapa are super spacious! If you’re travelling as a pair or trio I would recommend sharing a room, not only does this split costs but also makes for a sleep-over like atmosphere!
The hotel rooms in Sapa are generally of good quality and very clean. Almost all are reasonably priced, as ever you may save money if you turn up and haggle with the hotel owner as opposed to booking online. However, during high season booking is advised as the town soon fills up!
4. Get a Massage!
The traditional massages are available everywhere in Sapa, and we mean everywhere! Every street and street corner is home to a massage parlour. After months on the road be sure to treat yourself to a massage! The perfect way to release all the stress and tension of travelling!
After long days trekking around Sapa, a full-body top-to-toe massage is exactly what you need to get you feeling fresh and new!
Although Thailand is famous for massages the services offered in Sapa are pretty good too! A one-hour full-body massage costs around $6. Be sure to leave a tip if your masseuse is good!
5. Bring a Coat when Traveling to Sapa!
Rain is common in Vietnam, especially around the Sapa Valley. Why do you think the rice grows so well here?! ‘Cus of all the rain! If you’re out exploring and walking you won’t get cold as the heat never really dies down but be sure to bring a poncho or light raincoat to keep your clothes dry.
If you forget, no worries, there are plenty of places in town to buy yourself a new one. If you don’t think you’ll use it again after your time in Sapa, a nice thing to do would be to give it to one of the local people to use instead, a simp but kind gesture.
6. There is So Much Food!
If you’ve been in Vietnam for a while you’ll have learned to love the food! There are so many food options available to you in Sapa, you would not believe!
The tomato soup on offer at many of the cafes is top notch and although a little homely is a great way to get some extra vitamins and vegetables into your system after months on the road and a few too many beers no doubt!
7. Bring Your Camera!
Although it generally goes without saying nowadays, certainly don’t travel to Sapa without a camera. Not only are the stepped rice paddies incredibly photogenic but the town itself has so much to photograph.
Always be respectful of other people when taking photographs, especially tribal women.
Some may not want their photo taken and would be offended if you did so without permission; would you appreciate it if a Vietnamese tourists came and took your photo while you were reading a book in the park at home? No. Don’t do it here.
Always, always ask permission or gesture that you want to take a photo; they’ll soon tell you otherwise!
8. Get Your Visa in Advance
When travelling to Vietnam it is imperative that you get your visa sorted before you arrive. Unlike Cambodia where you can pay on arrival or Thailand where you get 30-days free on arrival, you must get your visa approved before you arrive.
Vietnam is one of the few remaining countries in the world you need to be ‘invited’ to visit. This basically means using an agency to get an invitation letter so you can obtain a visa for at least 30 days.
For more information on how to obtain your visa, check this post: Vientiane to Hanoi: Why We Chose to Fly.
9. How to Say Hello
Whether you’re travelling long term or just to Vietnam is it always important to learn how to say hello in different languages. This not only means that you’re polite but also shows your Vietnamese hosts that you have a respect for their language and culture too.
To say hello in Vietnamese you say ‘xin chào’, a nice little, easy to remember phrase!
10. Brace Yourself for the Intensity of Sapa Market
Sapa market is a must-visit when you’re in town but you should brace yourself first, it’s hectic!
Everyone wants to sell you something and everyone can offer you a better price than the person before!
You should brace yourself too for the wide variety of meat on sale, this can include dog and horse too.
Do you have any other tips for travelling to Sapa? Let us know in the comments below.
Linda Smith is a travel writer and the founder/main editor of easytravel4u.com
Her passion for travel inspires her to seek new places, new adventures and sharing her travel experience to everyone.