When you get off the overnight train from Hanoi you are not quite in Sapa. You have to take a private bus deeper into the mountains. The driver of said bus will take you to a hotel that is paying him a commission. You don’t have to stay there. The hotel my driver took us to was up a steep hill, a distance away from the main little strip. I walked away and chose my own hotel, one that was in between a bar and a coffee shop. It was a great place. I later bumped into some others who were on my bus. They were quite annoyed at being stuck in a hotel away from the main strip.
2. Rent a Motorbike
Even if you don’t know how to ride one, get a motorbike. They are cheap. They have automatic transmissions, and you can learn to ride one in 5 minuets. Plus, you’ll be on little dirt roads with no traffic. The little town of Sapa is nice, but the mountain communities surrounding it are breathtaking. You’ll meet friendly villagers, see amazing rice paddies, and experience a lifestyle that you probably didn’t even know existed. If you get way out there—like you should—and get low on fuel, don’t worry. Just stop at a little roadside shop. They’ll have 1-liter water bottles filled with petrol.
3. Don’t Buy the Opium
Actually, I don’t care if you buy the opium. I just wanted to tell this story. I was walking down the street, and this little old lady approached me. She must have been 70 years old, no kidding. She stopped me, looked me right in the face and said, “opium?” I said, “What?” And she repeated, “Opium? …while acting as if she were smoking from a pipe. I said, “No thanks” and walked away. I later asked the lady at my hotel if I had understood correctly. She assured me that I had. Apparently, the opium trade is alive and well in the northern mountains of Vietnam.
Have you been to Sapa, Vietnam? If so, tell us about it in the comments section below.