Its been raining for the past three days in Sa Pa and we are getting serious cabin fever. We haven’t been able to do much which is a little frustrating as it’s our last few days here and we wanted to go to a few more villages. Reminiscing about our time in Sa Pa while we sit and watch the rain I decided to write a few things that we did and loved in Sa Pa in case any of you decide to visit.
#1 Hire a motorbike
Most hotels hire out motorbikes. The cost ranges between 4-5$ a day. It is definitely worth it. We have used our bike to explore little villages around Sa Pa and have been on a few epic road trips. The best road trip we did was with two friends of ours. This road is off the beaten track for sure (you have to drive past the cable cart station and then follow the QL4D eventually you will have to turn right up the TL155 road). The road is amazing and there are hardly any cars. It’s also incredible to drive into the little villages along this road as there are no tourists. We landed up playing with a couple of the village kids for a while, which was refreshing after being in some of the more touristy villages where children hassle you to buy from them. We drove on the road for around 7 or 8 Km and then turned around again. As you drive there are the most incredible natural rain forests and waterfalls. It looks a little prehistoric. I definitely recommend this route. There are also a few restaurants on the way serving Pho. Its really delicious Pho so take a stop for breakfast or lunch 🙂
#2 Visit some of the surrounding waterfalls
We only managed to visit the Silver waterfall. Having grown up with a waterfall on my farm I’m always a little disappointed by waterfalls I visit in South East Asia. They are generally very touristy and usually have assigned paths and ‘Do Not Enter’ signs which feels a little unnatural as I’m used to swimming and exploring waterfalls freely. This waterfall is no different but we embraced it all. We also snuck over the fence and went and sat on a rock for a while. We saw some beautiful birds and butterfly’s and waved to the tourists as they quickly went up to the waterfall to take some selfies and then quickly passed us by. It is definitely a crazy weird experience and we couldn’t believe the amounts of selfies people took, but we just joined in and a few people took pictures of us too 🙂
#3 Take a trip to some of the surrounding villages
We went to Ta Phin the Red Dao village and Lau Chai the black Hmong village. They are both quite touristy but I really enjoyed them. It feels like you are stepping back in time. The houses are all so beautiful and both villages are surrounded by rice paddy’s and other farming. You can also do a day trek to both of these villages. We didn’t because we were working and it would have taken too much time, but I would definitely recommend it.
#4 Cat Cat
Cat Cat is the closest village to Sa Pa. There are cool little cafe’s along the way, our favourite is a small little cafe with grass growing on the roof (not too sure about the name but its the only one with grass growing on the roof). You should definitely order some beers and buffalo. The buffalo is dried and smoked, really delicious and a Sa Pa special (it reminded me of biltong so I was in heaven). You can sit on their massive deck and look out onto the highest mountain, Fansipan. It is a family run Cafe and the family is so lovely. They have great service and it has a homey feel.
# 5 Go for a Sa Pa BBQ
Barbecues are every where in Sa Pa. At night people set up their little grills on the street. You can get anything barbecued from eggs to birds to weird pink sausages to a whole pig. We eat at the barbecue stalls quite a lot as its cheap and delicious. You should definitely try the bamboo rice, sweet potato, veg wrapped in pork (I love the mushroom ones) and the barbecued egg has a delicious smokey flavour. The atmosphere is vibey at these little street barbecue stores. They are busy and you sit on the street which is always great.
#6 Let loose
Pat and I love to have a little party every now and again. One night we decided to paint the town of Sa Pa red and went on a little bar crawl with friends of ours who were visiting. We started at ‘Why Not bar’ which is a pretty cool little pub. They have cards and pool to keep you entertained so its the perfect bar to start at. We then walked all the way down to ‘Why’ bar (these two bars have no relation to each other and are at opposite ends of Sa Pa but they clearly have similar ideas when it comes to bars and bar names). This is definitely the local ‘hang out’. We took over the You Tube djing, had a little bit of a dance and met some locals(the bartender is a real character). Street bar is definitely the most rough bar out of them all, so naturally we ended our night there. There are loads of other travellers and you can hear the loud thumping of vina house (Vietnamese house) from the road. The bartender makes a mean Long Island Ice tea which we ended our night off with (not the best idea;).
Of course we had to add this in. Its something we have been doing since we got to the little town of Sa Pa. There is a market in down town Sa Pa which has everything you could ask for. It is a very difficult place to shop though. Women are very pushy and it can be overwhelming. If its just a one time thing, then you should definitely check it out but if you came to Sa Pa to shop I wouldn’t really recommend it. I would speak to someone local who you feel you can trust and ask them to bring you things that you want. Its really much easier this way as they will come to your hotel and it feels both calmer and more fair.
Although we didn’t do any trekking with a guide this time round, I have done it before and it is incredible. I would definitely recommend doing it ,and if possible, a longer trek then a one night trek. Hiring a guide, while not really needed, is great. When you are in Sa Pa you should find a local H’mong or Red Dao lady to take you on a trek. You will usually stay at their house or someone they know in a local village. Tung, Zy and Cho Cho are three women we have been working with and they also do local treks. I would definitely recommend all three of them. You can give them a call once you arrive in Sa Pa and they will meet you at your hotel to discuss further plans. Booking a trek in Hanoi is what a lot of people opt for but I wouldn’t recommend it. Most of the Vietnamese run company’s pay their guides very little, it would be better to pay your guides in full as otherwise the local people of Sa Pa lose out on a lot of money.
Tung: 0164 8882538
Thi Cho Cho: 098 400 03 91 (Cho Cho also has a Facebook page which was made for her by one of her visitors. Have a look at the wonderful reviews:)
#9 Eat some more 😉
Here are a few more recommendations of where to eat in Sa Pa. It is difficult to find VERY good food in Sa Pa, especially when you are used to the delicious street food of Hanoi but we have managed to find a few gems.
Good morning Vietnam-This place has the best coconut chicken curry. They cook the coconut chicken curry in a coconut over the stove, it is MOREISH!!!
The hill station– This restaurant is amazing. A little more pricey then we are used too but OH SO WORTH IT! Their food is a beautiful show case of local cuisine served and made in a simple way. You have to try the fresh trout spring rolls with wasabi-they are so so good. They also have a craft beer special from 2pm until 7pm and the craft beer is delicious. The restaurant is beautiful and they have rooms to rent above it which must have a killer view.
#10 Exploring the streets of Sa Pa on a Saturday
Saturday’s are very busy in Sa Pa. Many of the local women come to sell crafts, medicine and plants at the square. We have also seen a few performances happening on the stage. Sa Pa truly comes alive on Saturdays and its an amazing vibe. If you are here on a Saturday then definitely take a walk around and explore this little town.
We have loved living in Sa Pa for a month. There is something magical about being in these mountains. We have met some wonderful people and worked with incredible women.
Thank you Sa Pa