Discovering Northern Vietnam - What to See & Do in Sapa on a Budget

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Hello and welcome to another post in our Vietnam series! Now that we're back from travelling there'll be a lot more posts on Asia, Europe and general travel top tips coming to the blog soon so keep your eyes peeled!

So, Sapa. After having taught English in Hanoi for 5 weeks we were sad to leave but excited to start travelling and Sapa was the first destination on our list. We took the sleeper bus heading North West into the mountains and watched the windows as the scenery seemed to constantly change. Vietnam is a big country with around 1000 miles separating the old capital of Saigon and Hanoi, it's current capital city. It's therefore unsurprising that the culture, people, food, landscapes and weather, change so much across the different provinces. This was certainly the case for Sapa. Many of the locals are of the H'mong community, who look and talk very differently to the Vietnamese around Hanoi, making you feel almost like you've entered another country. Whilst we didn't have the time to explore the full extent of Northern Vietnam, we really enjoyed the 4 nights we spent in Sapa and would highly recommend making the trip out from Hanoi for a few days. 

Here's how we spent our time in Sapa, Vietnam, dotted with a few top tips and recommendations for the area...

We dropped our bags off at the hotel and decided to spend the rest of the day exploring the town, taking a few photos and getting some good coconut coffee. We soon realised however that the weather in Sapa is significantly colder than what we'd gotten used to in Hanoi. We therefore prepared for spending the next few days as None of the Gear, No Idea and decided that due to low visibility, thundering rain and deceptively cold temperatures we wouldn't make the trip to climb mount Fansipan, something we'd previously planned on doing. 

Mount Fansipan is the highest mountain in Indochina and can be reached by a two day hike or by taking a newly built cable car and is what brings a lot of the tourists to the area. However if you're in a position like we were and don't fancy it but would still like to do some walking, there are many other options.

Hiking in and around Sapa

So, apart form Mount Fansipan, what other hiking is there to do in the area? Well your best bet is probably to join a Homestay trekking group. Local women go around town gathering people up for the next day, to depart on a 2/3 night hiking trip in the mountains, where you'll stay in basic homestay style hostels or huts. We've heard from other travellers that this is supposed to be really worth while and we would have done so if we knew we'd get some nice weather. Unfortunately it didnt seem like the grey skies were going to change anytime soon and with predicted storms coming in across the following days, we gave this a swerve.

Cat Cat Village

What we did do though, is the short 45 minute walk from town to Cat Cat village. This is a 'must-do' from us, as the views over the surrounding hills are stunning and the rolling hills of rice fields replicate those all over Vietnamese postcards. The village itself is a huge tourist attraction in itself. The place has been set up in a way for tourists to enjoy and learn about traditional H'mong culture but we were glad to see that it hadn't stopped the locals living their ordinary lives. 

Upon arrival you are given a map, which points out the best route to follow through the town, taking you past traditional houses, farm land, a water mill and a small waterfall. You can either walk back up (about an hour and a half long) or get on the back of scooters (10 minutes). No prizes for guessing which option we took!

Waterfalls near Sapa

The next day we hired a motorbike and drive off towards some waterfalls a little higher into the mountains, The road out from Sapa doesn't start great but we promise you it gets much better, once you get our of the mud and onto the windy mountainous roads.

The first waterfall that you'll come across is called the Silver Waterfall. You pay a small entrance fee, before walking up lots of steps, getting better views the further you climb. A little further down the road is another called Love Waterfall which, although perhaps no as impressive, is where you can swim (just not in the weather we had!)

Heavens Gate

If you've gotten this far, then you HAVE to carry on for 10 minutes further to a viewpoint known as Heaven's Gate. It doesn't seem like much and there aren't any signs indicating 'STOP HERE TOURISTS!' but it is easily recognisable by a few tarpaulins and huts on the side of the road and most likely a few other tourists doing the same thing. 

Walk through the open hut to get to a wooden platform on the other side, where you'll have a breathtaking view of the windy road back down the other side of the mountain. It was one of the best viewpoints we went to in the whole of South East Asia and so despite the lack of anything to do but look out into the distance, we spent a long time just sitting there on that platform.


On our final day in Sapa we decided to stay in town, relax and enjoy the cool, fresh air, before catching the bus back to hectic Hanoi. We headed to the lake near the town centre and grabbed a coffee at one of the many nearby cafes as we starting making plans for where we would head next...

Where to stay in Sapa?
We stayed at a couple places during our time in Sapa. The first was Sapa Paramont Hotel which we would recommend for it's price, decent location and staff who were lovely. The second place wasn't budget at all, rather much more luxury and is probably the best hotel in which we have ever stayed. I'd booked Sapa Diamond Hotel as a birthday present for Lissa so we didn't mind it being over budget at around £35 per night. The rooms, the view the service - everything there was incredible and we couldn't recommend it more.

Thanks for reading, if you have any questions please don't hesitate to ask, we're always happy to help!

Will & Melissa


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