Sapa was a trip we did not plan on. Originally we were going to skip this town on our visit to Vietnam, but we kept hearing great things about it and the people that lived there. One of our favorite blogs, theblondeabroad, had written about a trip to Sapa awhile back and it seemed great. We decided that if we could get the same guide that she was able to have, then we would detour to Sapa for a few days.
Jenny found the contact information for Hong, the guide recommended on theblondeabroad, and reached out to her. After some back and forth, we secured Hong for 3 days in Sapa! She would pick us up in the town when our sleeper bus arrived and spend the next few days showing us around. We took our first (of many) overnight sleeper buses from Hanoi to Sapa and we were greeted by Hong and her sister Hien!
The weather was much cooler and wetter in Sapa so we busted out the leggings and rain jackets. We went to Hong’s home and met her husband and her family and watched as she got her girls ready for school. We sat by the fire to warm up, devoured a delicious breakfast Hong made for us (noodles!) and discussed our plans for the next few days. We also had our first experience with motorbikes on this trip. Hong and Hien drove us around for 3 days on the back of their motorbikes and we felt safe and secure with them driving!
After we warmed up and had full bellies, we started out on our first exploration. We would be heading towards Lai Chau, a village on the western side of Sapa and trekking to a sensational waterfall called Thac Tinh Yeu.
Hong knows all of the great spots for photos and was more than happy to make regular pit stops for us to take in the amazing views, snap some photos and videos and to stretch our legs a bit. The weather was a bit wild on our first day with lots of clouds rolling in and out of the mountains quickly, sporadic rainfall and chilling winds. We powered through it all and stuck to our agenda with ponchos on. It was a very interesting and serene way to see Sapa – you couldn’t see very far, but when there was a break in the clouds it was breathtaking every time. We were even able to catch a glimpse of Fasipan Peak, the tallest mountain in all of Indochina (Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia)!
We had a BBQ lunch on our way to the waterfall when we needed a break to warm up (and when the clouds were so bad we could barely see 10 feet in front of us). A lovely woman cooked us an amazing lunch on a small grill and we all sat around and talked while we warmed our hands by the fire.
Just after lunch, we drove a short distance to the entrance of the park which contains the Thac Tinh Yeu waterfall aka Love Waterfall. Hien decided to not make the trek with us and instead stayed warm and dry in a roadside shop with some friends. Hong and the 2 of us started our several kilometer trek down some rocks, steps and even crossing some stepping stones to make it across the river. When we arrived at the waterfall, we were in awe at the sheer size of it! Hong informed us that since it had been raining for 2 days, the amount of water pouring down was more than normal. Even standing quite a distance away, we were getting splashed while posing for pics!
After seeing the sights on the western side of Sapa, we made our way to Ta Phin village where Hong had arranged for us to spend the night at a homestay with the Red Dzao people. Once we arrived, we met our host, Lamay, an incredibly sweet wife and mother of 3 with an infectious smile, who right away made us feel so welcome and at home in her home. Hong and her sister Hien hung out with us for a bit, sitting around a fire (that is in the middle of the floor of their home) and enjoying some hot tea, before they headed back home for the evening.
We sat around this fire for hours, Jenny honing her pyro skills and able to keep the fire going. Lamay also showed how she sews some handmade items, including some bracelets that she gave us upon our departure.
When we saw Lamay start to prep for dinner, we offered our assistance and she took us up on that offer. She was shucking bamboo shoots for one of the veggie dishes for our dinner, and showed us how to do it. We weren’t nearly as quick as she was, but we tried! We also cut carrots and green peppers, and prepped the greens to be cooked.
We had an incredible dinner, which we enjoyed with the kids in the family and 4 other backpackers who were also staying at the homestay. After dinner, Lamay prepared our medicine baths, which Hong urged us to experience at least once. We were quite cautious at first, because we really had no idea what it was, especially when Lamay told us to not stay in longer than 20 minutes and to get out if we started feeling drunk and or dizzy! We are still not sure what we sat in, but it was warm and we were cold from a day of riding around in the wet and chilly temps…not to mention, Jenny had a fresh cold that she was desperate to get rid of!
We woke up the following morning, had another yummy breakfast (noodles again!) and Hong and Hien arrived to take us out again for the day. We had an incredible time at the Red Dzao homestay, talking with Lamay for hours, learning from our gracious host about their culture and unique way of life.
We set out on the road on the back of the motorbikes, snapping more pics because the weather was a tad more cooperative this day than the prior one.
We arrived mid-morning at our next homestay in Lao Chai, where we would be staying with a Black H’mong tribe family. Hong had set us up with a guide that would take us trekking through the rice fields that are maintained in a huge valley in this region. We were quite exhausted from a lack of sleep in general, that began on our overnight bus to Sapa. We ponied up and got to trekking, first along a sort of paved road, then we went off trail and slipped and slid around in the mud of the rice paddies! It was fun for a little while, but the tread on our tennis shoes were quite worn and it was actually quite dangerous at times, when we were traversing a tiny trail and had a huge drop down on either side of us!
We were excited to get back to the main road, and thrilled when we learned it was time for lunch, which we enjoyed a with a well-deserved beer. Another few kilometers of trekking led us back to our homestay, where we relaxed until dinnertime. But not before a quick selfie of us in our (what we are dubbing) Vietnamese house shoes….everyone here wears these! So stylish! 🙂
We enjoyed our time with another tribe of people, learning about the way they live and the history of the people in this region.
Hong and Hien picked us up one last time, this time on an incredibly beautiful and sunny day, so of course we stopped for even more pictures. The background in every photo in Sapa is just so incredibly stunning!
For our last day with Hong, she planned to take us to a local market, where she shops daily for the meals she intends to cook that day. Then we would go back to her house, and have a cooking class! The market was really neat! We picked up meats from animals that were butchered just that morning, and fresh produce, along with a few treats that Hong and her sister wanted us to try.
Back at Hong’s house, we got started on chopping and dicing veggies and chicken for friend Vietnamese spring rolls! Hong explained all of the key elements of the process in order to cook the perfect spring roll – crispy on the outside and moist on the inside! We also cooked up some fresh greens and made a homemade fish sauce for dipping lettuce and spring rolls into!
We had the most incredible and authentic experience possible in Sapa. We feel so blessed to have lucked into being able to book our trip with Hong, as we truly feel that her knowledge and understanding of what the “tourist” is looking for, is what sets her apart from any other guide in the area. Hong is as authentic as it gets, and she happens to be one of the most likeable people we have ever met!
We were quite exhausted after our trip to Sapa, but it was one of the most incredible and memorable experience of our travels thus far!
~Jenny & Kerry