Given that Vietnam is a very large country, five weeks simply weren’t enough. Like usually, the rushing sets in at the end of a trip. So four days was all we could spend in Vietnam’s scenic Northwest, focusing on SaPa and Bac Ha.
We have two stories to tell about SaPa. In 2003, after travelling together for three weeks all over Vietnam, Gilles had to go back home, whereas Heidi extended the trip and took the night train north to SaPa. A memorable journey, with a few fun hours spent in the restaurant car, drinking beer with young Vietnamese students. The area around SaPa Heidi explored with a local guide. Just the two of us leisurely walked for three days, passing bright green rice terraces and remote Black H’Mong villages. Late afternoon we checked in with some local farmers. Some had learned that adding a little guest room would provide a bit of income – My first time ever drinking schnaps made of rice and staying in a house lit by a SINGLE light bulb powered by a small generator in a nearby creek.
Gilles didn’t get to know SaPa until January 2015. Now the new direct express bus from Hanoi breezes the distance in five hours. Once in SaPa, Gilles opted for a motorbike to discover the area on his own. This allows freedom to move around, especially away from the touristy places… Not an option for the very inexperienced driver, though: roads to the more remote villages can be extremely steep and quite bumpy. But that’s where you want to go – these are not visited by tour groups, like the ones closer to SaPa!
January is definitely not the best season to visit SaPa. First of all, the rice terraces are barren, as rice cannot be planted in wintertime, which brings us to the other downside. Temperatures can be iffy. It can be quite pleasant during a sunny day, but at night it gets downright cold. To make matters worse, insulation is unknown and rooms can be freezing… When riding a motorbike, bring your mittens!
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You can see more the itinerary at here: