Glorious Sapa …… we had considered bypassing Sapa because of the time and effort involved – a night train in and out, in tiny little bunks, with hardly any sleep each way – but it was worth the pain to experience views like this. As hot and difficult as the trekking proved to be, we were treated to unbelievable vistas like this, everywhere we looked. Geo: 22.3945, 104.056
An exhausting night train in, and an exhausting night train out – very few tourist sites are worth such fatigue and effort, but the incredible rice terraces of Sapa certainly were. One of the best decisions we made in Vietnam was to squeeze in Sapa, even though we knew we would be wrecked by the journey. Our final week in Vietnam looked like this:
Wake up early in Hanoi, check out of the hotel, tour the hot, humid, and chaotic city, before the 22:00 night train. Sleep maybe an hour or two on the stuffy, bumpy train to Sapa, on beds that are 6" too short.Roll into Lao Cai at 6:00 AM, ride an hour in a cramped minibus to Sapa, have breakfast, hike all day, before finally being able to check into the hotel for a shower and some rest. At least we were able to have a decent sleep in a decent bed!Up early, hike all day again, back to the hotel for a shower, then another cramped, bumpy hour back Lao Cai, and on to Hanoi on another stuffy, bumpy, sleepless, night train. Arrive in Hanoi at 5:30, grab a shower and breakfast, then hop an another View From the Sapa Panorama Hotelcramped minibus for the 4.5 hour ride to Halong Bay.Spend the night on a boat in Halong Bay, wake up at dawn for some activities, lunch, then back on the cramped minibus for the 4.5 hour ride back to Hanoi.Is this really a vacation???!!?
While we anticipated that this would be a brutal stretch of travel, it turned out even more difficult than expected, when we averaged under four hours of sleep a night, over a five-night period. But our one consolation would be the fact that Sapa is several degrees cooler than Hanoi, with daily highs in the mid to high teens. Our hikes around Sapa would be easy strolls through the hills, in cool, relaxing temperatures … until there was a heat wave!
Our bodies had grown fat and lazy from the decadent dining habits we had adopted in Asia. We simply were not prepared for five to six hours of hiking each day, under the scorching sun, with temperatures pushing 33 or 34 C, and what felt like 90% humidity. The easy hikes we expected turned out to be fairly strenuous in certain portions, with terrain ranging from gravel, to rock, to mud.
But still – it was worth Another Pretty Hill Tribe Villageevery second of pain, to be able to see and experience Sapa, even though it wasn't the prime season for viewing the rice terraces. Our guide Quang advised us that the best time is actually the rice growing season, when the terraces are flooded with water, resulting in a far more beautiful and varied colour palette. It's hard to imagine how spectacular Sapa is during the growing season, because what we saw on our short two-day visit was, at times, mind-blowing.
Despite the haze that hung over the region for much of our stay, the vistas were still incredible. Whenever we were exhausted, our bodies dehydrated – we only had to look up and around us, and smiles crept across our parched lips. It wasn't easy getting to Sapa, and the effort expended our hikes was definitely considerable – but in the end, the experience was unforgettable, and completely worth it, to be able to cross off an item that should be on every bucket list. The rice terraces of Sapa … it's the stuff of dreams …
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