Sparkling white beaches to mythical forests and hiking scenery, Southeast Asia draws the adventuresome wanderlusts across the world; from the Ancient Luang Prabang to the Temples of Angkor Wat and Borobudur, Southeast Asia never cease to amaze. This trip, i'm taking you into the hidden village of Sapa, Vietnam. Home to the enchantment of terraced paddy fields, handcrafted by the local hill tribes, ingeniously turned the mountains into terraced fields.
Itinerary and Road Map covering :
- Day 1: Explore Hanoi Old Quarter; Overnight Train (10pm - 6am) from Hanoi to Lao Cai
- Day 2: Lao Cai Railway Station to Sapa Town (50min); Explore Sapa Town
- Day 3: Trekking from Sapa Town - Ta Van Village; Overnight at Ta Van Village (Homestay)
- Day 4: Giang Ta Chai - Su Pan Village; Back to Sapa Town, Overnight Train back to Hanoi
- Day 5: Hanoi Town to Halong Bay
- Day 6: Leaving Hanoi
Accommodation & Tour - most of our accommodations cover by 2 separate overnight trains, Hotel at Sapa Town and a homestay at Ta Van Village which all included in our pre-booked Sapa Tour. On the last night, we kind of splurged on a Lovely Penthouse at Hanoi E Central Hotel.
- Sapa Tour - USD210 per person (Transports, Accommodations and meals)
- Day 1: Overnight Train on First Class 4 beds berth (included in Tour)
- Day 2: 1 night stay at Sapa Panorama Hotel (included in Tour)
- Day 3: 1 night stay at Ta Van Village Homestay (included in Tour)
- Day 4: Overnight Train on First Class 4 beds berth (included in Tour)
- Day 5: Penthouse at Hanoi E Central Hotel - USD126 for the whole Penthouse
Foods - A sit-down restaurant with table service can cost about VND120k-150k, Road-side stall cost about VND30k-50k, Sandwich (banh mi) cost about VND5k-8k. Gentle tips in getting the sensible-priced mineral water - the same 1.5 litre mineral water can cost VND8.5k in chained market, but overly priced at VND20k in local sundry/grocery store. Spend wisely.
Transportation - Taxi from Hanoi Noi Bai Airport to Hanoi Town can be a serious rip-off, they will charge you not least than VND530k-650k, we got ourself a GrabCar (Fixed Rate) costed us only VND300k. Overnight train for 4 beds VIP Berth will cost you approximately USD84 for the whole cabin, to and fro, ours are included in the Sapa Tour. Overnight train from Hanoi will get you to Lao Cai Railway terminal, you need to take a minibus (approx. 50 min winding ride) to Sapa Town, and of course, ours are included in Sapa Tour, to and fro. From Sapa Town onwards, we covered most of the ground by foot, at the end of our trekking trip at Su Pan Village, we were ferry back to Sapa Town with minibus - arranged by Sapa Tour.
Best time to visit - Paddy Planting (April), Paddy Harvesting (August-September)
Terraced Paddy Fields shimmered in the distance, as water buffaloes ploughed through the soggy field. The towering Hoang Lien Son mountain range lay shrouded in mist while clusters of bamboo huts sprawled across its foothills - this is Sapa.
I've captured the Sapa trek and sums up in this 1 minute and 42 seconds video clip, in case you're too lazy to read.
ONE DAY IN HANOI TOWN
The excursion of hustle bustle city, the massive dosage of mental traffic, a beautiful mismatch of Vietnamese and French in the Old Quarter architecture. I'm not especially a big fan of Hanoi city, but the vibe and energy Hanoi Old Quarter is unique, home to the oldest neighbourhood in the city with history dated back to 13th century. The best place to observe the world go by sitting at their "outdoor" stools right on the walkway.
Places of interest: St. Joseph's Cathedral, Historical Walk through Hanoi Old Quarter, Thanh Chuong Viet Palace, Temple of Literature & National University, Hanoi Opera House (Water Puppet)
Photography Tips: Hanoi Old Quarter is a place filled with life, a great place for Street & Cityscape Photography - prime lens + bokehlicious, that's my way to go!
GATEWAY OF TREKKING BASE - SAPA
Established as a hill station by the French in 1922, Sapa today is the northern Vietnam's premier trekking base to the plunging valley. Spectacular views emerging on clear days, with mountains towering above on all sides, views of this epic scenery are often subdued by thick mist rolling across the peaks. I was actually expecting a quaint alpine town, but not quite, the Sapa's French colonial villas that once fell into despair during wars has now overwhelmed by modern tourism development and mushroomed haphazardly.
Places of Interest: Sapa Town sightseeing, Silver Waterfall, Touristy Cat Cat Village, Muong Hoa Valley, Red Dao Village of Ta Phin, Hiking Ham Rong Mountain, Mt. Fansipan, Motorbike exploring the Northern Vietnam
Photography Tips: You won't quite see the massive plunging terrace valley yet, Sapa is very much a town where you can capture Street at their local market, and landscape photography over at Cat Cat Village.
TO THE HIDDEN VILLAGES OF SAPA
I've long heard about the beautiful valley and the ethnic groups who inhabit this region - and it didn't disappoint. We experienced Vietnam's backcountry, stayed in a local's home, trailed the Muong Hoa Valley treks - into the hidden villages of Sapa.
Terraced paddy fields are slopes claimed from nature for cultivation in hilly or mountainous areas. Created by weathered granite rock and mountain cliffs often stock water, the local hill tribes grow rice and establish terraced paddy fields, one after another, from the foot to the nearly top of mountains. Generations to generations of them have made the terraced paddy fields as we see today.
Places of Interest: Muong Huo Valley, Ta Van Village, Giang Ta Chai Village and Su Pan Village
Photography Tips: Every year in April, the hill tribes will water their fields and prepare for new crop, the surface of terraced fields shine like mirror reflecting the contrast of reddish brown soil, deep blue sky and the green of surrounding forests. In June-July, the terraced paddy fields with full grown paddy rice spread the green out to the entire valley. August-September, is when all terraced paddy fields ripe, paint the valley in gold, like a golden silk scarves flying over in the wind above green mountain ranges, making the valley astonishingly beautiful.
THE HIDDEN TRAIL TO GIANG TA CHAI VILLAGE
The next morning, we started our journey at 6.30am, to avoid the soaring sun. We trekked up and down through the hidden treks of several small mountains and villages, and got us into a bamboo forest, much like an entrance to Giang Ta Chai Village. We are unable to visit the Giang Ta Chai waterfall due to the dry season.
Places of Interest: Landscape along the hidden treks
Photography Tips: The easy assumption is when shooting landscape, is to use wide angle lens. They naturally give you the widest view, depth of field and allow you to get the full landscape into the frame. Sometimes, you miss out the details to create a dramatic and not so touristy images. Consider to shoot with telephoto, focus in looking for leading lines that shape its character.
We took the overnight train from Lao Cai back to Hanoi town - arranged by the tour agency. Arrived at Hanoi 5am in the morning, dropped our backpacks at the pre-booked hotel in the Hanoi Old Quarter, head out to Halong Bay tour. Despite the over-flocking tourists, i would never dissuade you from visiting Halong Bay, from geographical standpoint, Halong Bay is absolutely fascinating! On a 1-day trip you'll only scratch the surface, it took us 8 hours on the bus just to commute to and fro Halong Bay - we have merely 3 hours exploring Halong Bay. So, if you have enough time, it's highly recommend to take a 2D1N tour instead of a day tour.
Places of Interest: Floating Village, Cat Ba Island, Hidden Grottos and Caves, Kayak between the karsts limestone.
Photography Tips: Photographing Halong Bay is easy and opportunities are everywhere. But that also means, it's overly well documented by numerous of great photographers. You must've seen images of brilliant dark maroon and wooden boats floating by dozen through the blissful still water - this doesn't happen! You should probably temper your expectation. Find your own perspective in capturing the most photographed place - i have my 85mm on most of the time.
[IMPORTANT NOTE] Before booking for your Halong Bay Tour, please make sure you source for reliable and reputable tour agency, i would highly recommend "The SinhTourist". But don't be confused by the fake Sinh Tour/Sinh Tourist...
Wasn't too fond of the lawless traffic in Hanoi during the daylight mainly due to the overwhelming air pollution; The hustle bustle city transformed as sun sets, i think the night properly defined Hanoi - an amazing city with colourful characters. Big fans of the mountain ranges in Sapa Valley, love every single bits of it, impressive physical landscape underlies the terrace-craftsmanship of over thousands of years!
HIGH FIVE, VIETNAM! FOR BEING PRETTY AWESOME!