Our trip to Sapa began at Hanoi and our train trip to Lao Cai near the Chinese border. We decided to take the Sapaly Express the highest price option.
The train to Lao Cai has a number of different names but are the same train. The train was borderline comfortable, the trains in Vietnam are certainly not up to the standard of Thai first class.
So after a night on the train we arrived in Lao Cai early morning where we had a car waiting for us, The car cost $30 and was arranged by the hotel.
My first impression of Sapa was a mountain town surrounded by low cloud almost a combination between Asia and Switzerland.
There are not many things to do in Sapa town itself you can graze between French style cafes and restaurants and you can relax at a few Massage joints.
Most of your time however will be spent trying to dissuade the local hawkers trying to sell their wares. Sapa also has a large number of shops selling North Face and Columbia hiking gear. (you can also buy this in Hanoi at pretty much the same price).
The big earner (other than the hotels) are village tours. The tours are run by local guides we had a local Black Hmong villager called Soo whose English was very good. She took us from Sapa up hill down dale through the Sapa countryside. The walk was 13km but felt like more for my bloated, unfit body.
The tours themselves were very enjoyable and if you are lucky and go on a clear and sunny day it would be heaven for people who enjoy photography.
However the downside is the hawkers. You appear to get 2 Black Hmong villagers who walk along with you and over the day you strike a rapport with them but as soon as you get to the village its all bets off and you get a severe hard sell. After buying a couple things from the 2 women who walked with us we were surrounded by about another 20 of them wanting you to buy their stuff.
So in the ended up spending $20 on a couple things I’ll never use plus the $28 for the guide.
Is it worth it, considering it cost $90 round trip on the train plus higher hotel rates – I’m not sure to be totally honest but I think if the weather was better I might not be writing this.