When I arrived in Sapa, after having spent the whole night on a sleeper train, I had to take out my mobile phone. I was shocked and disappointed, and couldn't get my phone out fast enough. I opened the google website and entered „What to do in Sapa during rainfall?“.
What to do in Sapa when it rains ?
I took an 8-hour-train-ride from Hanoi to the Lao Cai train station, which is the station where you get out, and hop on a mini-bus for a ride to Sapa. I had beautiful weather in Hanoi, it felt so much like summer in may. On my busride to Sapa, I could barely recognize the rice fields in the valleys, because there was so much fog.
I really didn't know what to think about at that point. I was so looking forward to take amazing photos of the scenic nature, the hmong tribes, the greenish rice fields. Suddenly I asked myself how i'd spend my next 2-3 days at the hotel!
So ... what to do in Sapa, when it rains ?
Well, if you traveled all the way to Sapa, don't be disappointed about the weather situation ! Believe me! I had one of my most memorable traveling moments in Sapa, despite the heavy rainfall and the fog.
Some people I talked to in Sapa on my first day, told me that the weather can change within minutes, within hours, which I first didn't really believe. But I witnessed it myself, the very first moment, when I was about to take my first photoshot. I saw a very pretty ricefield scene, surrounded by a mysterious mist. The time it took, to open my bag, take out my camera, put the right lens on it, the ricefield had vanished among the fog. I couldn't see it anymore! It was a matter of seconds and minutes.
I can't say it often enough, don't get disappointed or scared by the weather! It can change so rapidly. As you can witness, I was able to take some lovely shots, despite the horrible weather I got in Sapa.
Hiking in Sapa
You have endless hiking possibilities, if you're only staying a couple of days in the city. I spent 2 nights in Sapa. Sapa at first sight seems really touristic. It's packed with restaurants (very touristic ones, there are a couple of italian restaurants downtown), hiking shops which sell tons of North Face bargains, hotels, and a couple of bars. On the streets you'll mostly bump into tourists, or the hmong tourist hunters, who are trying so hard to sell you a hiking-tour or handmade objects.
On my first day in Sapa I visited the „Catcat Village“. It only takes about 20 minutes walking to reach the entrance of the village, where you have to buy a ticket (50.000 dongs). It's all downhill to reach the village. As soon as you get out of the main roads of Sapa, you already can have a glance at the first rice field valleys. „Catcat Village“ is very easy to reach, you could even wear flipflops to do the whole walking tour. If the ticket-officer hands you out a map of the village, take it, and follow its directions. I really missed the prettiest corners of Catcat on my first day, so I went back on my last day, after I saw some beautiful shots of Catcat on google. „Catcat Village“ is considered as being very touristic, and not really worth visiting. I can't agree with that. It might not be the dreamroute for a born hiker, but it's definitely a beautiful place to start you first exploring in Sapa, after a long train ride. Because I didn't follow the local-map on my first day it took me around two to three hours to get back to the hotel. It would only take 90 minutes to 2 hours to do the whole tour.
On my second day, I got out pretty early of the hotel, around 08:30 or 09:00 in the morning, and started a longer hike. I walked from Sapa, towards the Lao chai village (not Lao Cai!), and headed towards Ta Van village, because I wanted to take a photo of the hanging rope bridge, also know as the cloud bridge. The one-way hike is about 7-9 kilometers long, and isn't that tiring, because it goes downhill for most parts of the hike. Now guess what! Walking back to Sapa, will be more exhausting, all the way up to the mountain! My trip started with rainfall, as soon as I left the hotel, lots of fog as well, and then it got better and better til 13:00h (1:00pm). After lunch time, I had to take of my jacket, because the sun came out, it got really hot. Two hours later it started raining again. By the way, don't forget the cash, you also need to buy an entrance ticket before making it to the first village.
On my way back home, to the hotel, around 2 or 3pm I noticed that most of the tourists who arrived by a mini-bus, to walk through the villages, were the unlucky ones. Sleeping all morning, and taking the easy way to visit the villages, won't give you the weather conditions you deserve ;). So I was glad that I walked all morning, and got my moments of luck with the weather conditions. It allowed me to take some descent photoshots, and meet a lot of hmong people on the streets, especially the adorable hmong kids.
What really touched me on this trip to Sapa, was the mix of nature's beauty and the lifestyle of the hmong tribes. Those poor people living in cabins, houses without windows. Wearing multiple colorful layers to protect themself from the rainy weather and protecting their skin from the sunrays. While walking through the several villages, I realized that the locals don't have any material possessions, except for their lands, animals, and their four-walls with a roof. Still those villagers looked happier, than a lot of people in my country, or maybe even happier than myself. This day, hiking from Sapa to Ta Van, belongs to one of the most memorables moments of all my travels. I felt instants of pure happiness.
After I returned at the hotel, I was checking out tripadvisor, what else I could do on my last day in Sapa. I read about the highest peak in Indochina, called Fansipan Mountain. The route to the peak of the mountain started right outside of my hotel. However it takes about 6 to 7 hours, only uphill, to reach the top of Fansipan. One of the main reasons I didn't do the hike, was that I was only wearing running shoes and summer clothes. Another issue was the fog. Wouldn't it be disappointing to reach the peak of Fansipan, and all i would/could see, was the fog; no valleys, no mountains, only fog. Because of the heavy rainfall, lots of roads were slippery wet and very muddy. So I decided to do some shopping instead, visit the Sapa Lake in the city center, and go back to „Catcat Village“ to check out the places that I missed on my first day. Once again... there was so much fog on my last day, that I couldn't see the village from the top of the hill. I walked down to the village, through the fog, and on the lowest point of the village, the fog had vanished, which allowed me to take out my camera.
Since the beginning of the year 2016, you can catch a cable car to reach the Fansipan peak. Apparently the two-way ticket costs around 40 US$.
Dry season takes place during the summer months in Sapa. I really can't tell if it would be better to climb the Fansipan Mountain during the warmest months or in spring during rainfall. However you could enjoy the ricefields and its green colors. I'm pretty sure that someday I will turn back to Sapa, and do more hiking, as a couple.
- The mini-bus or shuttle ride from Lao Cai station to Sapa costs 65.000 100.000 (2-5 euro or US$). The ride takes between 40-50 minutes. I was told by the hotel manager that a taxi would cost around 500.000 dongs (20-24$). You can't miss the shuttles, they're right in front of you, once you get out of the Lao Cai station.
- Because of the rain in Sapa, ask your hotel manager if they could dry your clothes or shoes. Most of the hotels only have a/c in their rooms. So it's kind of impossible to dry your clothes within 24 hours, if you don't have a balcony, and if the sun isn't out. I had to use a hair-dryer, which wasn't the easiest way to dry your clothes.
- During my 2 first days in Hanoi, I booked my train ticket to Sapa, through the hotel manager. I paid 1.500.000 dongs (60 euro, 65-69 US$) for a two-way ticket. Each train-cabin on the sleeper train, has 4 beds, 2 lower beds, and the 2 upper beds. The lower beds are a little bit more expensive, but it's definitely worth booking these! There's no ladder to get on the upper bed, only a foot rest. I still can't imagine how older people would get on top. On the lower ones, you get an electric outlet to charge your phone, a reading lamp, and a shared table. On my two train rides, I only shared the cabin with one person. There was no small-talk at all. People get in, fall asleep instantly, and get out of the train again. The train rides takes about 8 hours, and it's a very confortable ride! It feels safe, and isn't too noisy. Bring a jacket, the a/c can get pretty cold.