GET THERE – Major airlines including Malaysia Airlines and Cathay Pacific fly to Hanoi from London Heathrow with a stop in either Kuala Lumpur or Hong Kong and return flights typically start at the £4-50 mark. From Hanoi you are faced with two main options; the train or the bus.
By train: The journey takes 8-9 hours and costs between £5-8 for daytime journeys or £8-21 for night trips(one way). Trains from the main station in Hanoi arrive in Lao Cai, a city which is roughly 24- miles away from Sapa. From Lao Cai you will need to take a bus, shared taxi or private car onward to Sapa. This takes roughly 50 minutes and should cost £1 for a bus ticket or £2 for a shared minibus. Private cars are available for approximately £20.
By bus: Travelling by bus is faster, taking between six and seven hours, but it’s widely acknowledged to be the least safe option. It can also be cheaper than the previous option, with prices starting at around £5.
WHEN TO GO – Vietnam is subject to a tropical monsoon climate and the various regions of the country experience vastly different weather at any one time. Your best bet is to visit Sapa between October and November for clear and cool days. Another good time to visit is between March and April, when the temperatures begin to warm up. If you’re planning to travel to other parts of the country, the best advice we can offer is to visit between September and December or March and April.
WHERE TO STAY – There is an eclectic mix of hotels and guesthouses in Sapa to suit a range of budgets, so you won’t be short of options. On multi-day walks via the local villages you’ll probably be staying in homestays. These are very common in Sapa and are geared toward tourists, with western toilets and running water. The sleeping arrangements usually consist of thick mats laid down next to each other in the loft space with thick blankets for warmth.
HOW TO DO IT – When planning your trip to Sapa you can either book everything through a tour operator in the UK, book your trekking and transport with a tour operator in country, or travel to Sapa independently and source out a guide yourself. All three have their benefits and disadvantages and it’s down to personal preference which you choose. The more you organise on yourself the cheaper it will become, but it may also be less reliable and more stressful.
WHAT TO TAKE – Sturdy walking boots with good on-trail grip will serve you well in Sapa, especially when it has been raining, as the terrain can sometimes get extremely muddy and slippery. With that in mind, gaiters would also be worth considering, as would comfortable walking trousers. Waterproofs and warm layers are essential, as the temperature can drop in the evenings and rain is often likely. If you’re staying in homestays and hotels for the duration, you’ll typically get away with a decent sized daysack as the sleeping arrangements will be taken care of, though a sleeping bag liner offers a valuable extra layer. Extra socks are also worth taking along in case your feet get wet in the day or cold at night, while you may also want to carry toilet roll and toiletries for your own peace of mind.