Our hotel Tu Linh Palace Hotel 2 recommended us a trip to Sa Pa, the northernmost town in Vietnam. Sa Pa and sounding villages sit 1300m above sea level.
One of the hotel staff Lilli claimed she is from the area of Sa Pa and visits regularly, and the staff at the hotel are nice and trustworthy. They book many tours directly with locals and friends for the adventurous tourists. Friends Anna and Chris recently visited Sa Pa and highly recommended it as it allows the traveler to experience a real simple living culture, even helping the locals with their crops and chores.
We could not miss such an opportunity, we booked 3 days trekking, 2 nights at a Home-stay, deluxe train and mini bus transfer from Lào Cai (where the rail station is) to Sa Pa. Lào Cai is the most northern point you can reach via rail, within a stone’s throw is the border to China.
Our train was a night sleeper, so we left for the station in the evening after getting dinner. We had some confusion over where the ticket office but plenty of time to organise ourselves. The station has low-level platforms and passengers have to cross the tracks to board the train. The night train is comfortable with plenty of space in private cabins. – high hopes for a pleasant night.
Sadly the railroad quality is not that great, the train sways, rocks and squeaks from the tracks being out of alignment. I got little to no sleep, my mind was over stimulated with movement and noise.
We arrived at 7 am and got a mini-bus to Sa Pa. Spidering up the hills, through the clouds, into the unknown arriving at a small developed town – my best guess tourism is increasing here.
We received a warm welcome from a tiny woman Li’May’ who must have waited hours for us to arrive – bless. She escorted us to have some breakfast, we did not know what lay ahead.
After breakfast we started to walk to some hills which that are paved well for dual lane traffic, then we went off the roads to a small concrete path which later ended and a mud paths continued. Li’May Guided us through the hills, fields, streams and homes, 10 kilometres away from Sapa town to small villages.
The land, thieving with agriculture is a spectacular sight to see. The people here accept the challenge to grow, eat and live in these hills. Living is basic, every family has plots of land which they grow rice, corn and vegetables on. They use the hills in the most beautiful way by creating flat steps that allow rice fields to grow.
Houses are simple wooden constructs with corrugated roof panels, with hard mud floors. Preparation of food is done on fire stoves and people use buckets of water to wash. Things are very basic, most homes have no plumbing or electricity – We could not get more away from western comforts.
In the evenings the home-stay family prepares dinner, everything is local and this weeks staple is pork. Every dish is prepared on a wood burning fire, this is impressive.
The local population has noticed an increase in tourism and make efforts to produce handicrafts to sell. It is distracting when locals are trying to sell you things – even when we were getting ready for bed an elderly family member attempted to sell some items.
The night is alive with the sound of insects, the noise level increased when the sun goes down.
We slumbered in basic wooden beds which have insect nets, sleeping is difficult as it is noisy, warm and the constant thought of an insect crawling over you as they are so loud outside.
The following days we trekked more, visiting a nearby cave, streams, villages, schools and feasting on more beautiful landscape sights. We returned to the home-stay and kicked back killing the time calving bamboo shoots and playing cards with other guests.
The last day we left the home-stay and headed east, walking along paths carved out the side of the mountains. The route snaked around and steadily descended to a small settlement we would catch our bus back to Lào Cai from. I made friends with a puppy and gave him my bamboo walking stick to chew on.
I enjoyed the simple quiet living and spectacular views. Wherever you look there is something interesting to behold. The trekking is challenging with limited sleep and basic footwear. We did walk many kilometres each day (over 20 kilometres in total) with gracious rewards of peace.
We booked this trip through Tu Linh Palace Hotel and paid $330 for the 2 nights 3 days including meals, transfer and local trekking guide (2 people).
This was a shared experience with Kim who also has written a very detailed experience blog about Homestay in North Sapa.
I would recommend people to visit this district, the train ride, altitude and views are something that simply can not be captured.