28th November 2014
I’ve always wanted to visit Sapa, as fellow travellers have told me what a wonderful place it is and that it’s one of the “must see” attractions of Vietnam. However, others had said don’t go as it’s too touristy and commercial. Feeling confused I boarded the overnight train at Tran Quy Cap station in Hanoi and departed north to Sapa.
My train was the Victoria Express which consisted of two carriages attached to the end of the local train. This is the best available train you can take to Sapa, and I shared my comfy 4 berth superior cabin with three other tourists. The train departed bang on time at 10:50pm, and I settled in for the 10 hour journey ahead.
The French started building the trainline in 1901 and the railway track reached Lao Cai in April 1906. It wasn't an easy project to complete as the railway line cost the lives of 12,000 Chinese and Vietnamese workers and 80 Europeans.
After a slightly restless night, I was woken up by the train staff just before arriving in Lao Cai, my final destination. From there it was a one hour drive snaking through stunning mountain scenery and small villages to Sapa. As we drove closer to Sapa the scenery just got better and better – truly breathtaking!
Established as a hill station by the French in 1922, Sapa is surrounded by the beautiful Hoang Lien Mountains. They include Fansipan Mountain (3143m) – the highest peak in South East Asia.
I spent the next couple of days exploring Sapa, and I can honestly say the mountain scenery is out of this world and the rice terrace landscapes are some of the best I have seen in Asia. Sapa’s rice terraces easily compete with the Dragon Back Bone rice terraces in Longsheng, Yunnan, China. You can avoid the touristy tribal villages such as Cat Cat H’Mong village and head out to places like Sinho village to meet the local ethnic minorities. I didn’t see any other tourists there.
You can even avoid the town itself by staying at Topas Ecolodge, located on top of a hill and overlooking a valley. As it's a 45 minute drive from Sapa, it's private and secluded, meaning you can still experience this special place and avoid the crowds!