Who have thought that Vietnam has winter, considering that it’s in South East Asia? Leaving the cold Scandinavian country to escape winter and headed down to Vietnam made me packed only my summer clothes while I donated and sold all my winter jackets and jumpers.
Landing in Hanoi, you should definitely do the Ha Long Bay, Cat Ba Island and Sa Pa. Sa Pa is located up the northwest of Vietnam close to the border of China, where the tribe of Hau Thao are living. It is cold during the winter (November-February), it was between 7-8 degrees Celsius when I visited last December 2015 and reached -5 by mid of January 2016 which brought some snow around the area.
I had no jacket for that weather and no desire to buy one, luckily I found one (in the hostel) which was left behind by other backpackers, lucky me!
Related Article: Are you looking for cheap accommodations in Vietnam? Check out this list for Ultimate List of Best Hostels in Vietnam.
Trek and Homestay in Sa Pa
Sapa is popular for its trek in the mountain and by the rice terraces; homestay with the tribe is the best way to own your Sa Pa adventure. In the homestay, Mao’s family was my host. I was able to witness their daily routine, their culture and their main source for living.
See you at Lily’s offer this homestay, 2 day and 1 night for 64USD while 3 days and 2 nights for 78USD, transportation, accommodation and food is all included.
The Tour Guide
Mao was our tour guide, a local person from the tribe of Hau Thao who speaks really good English, very humorous, sweet and caring host and tour guide ever! She will take you to different amazing places in the area, places that are less touristic with great views and jaw dropping sceneries. Be warned, as Mao will treat you like a baby and will more likely to spoil you!
The Local Host Family
I stayed with Mao’s Family; Mao, her husband Leng, her children, daughter-in-law, Txoo, and grandchildren. The family was very accommodating; we exchanged stories and shared great laughs together despite the language barrier in between. It was freezing cold and heating system around the house is not available like in European and Western countries, however, some heating fan and burning charcoal on a casserole are both available and generously offered by the family to us, the guests.
Happy water (rice wine) welcomed us; while we were having lunch, we also played some drinking game. They told us that the game is over until we finish the 1.5 litre bottle (times 3!) You’ll be surprised how much alcohol these awesome people can tolerate.
On the first floor of their house, are the beds for the guests. A comfortable mattress, pillow and huge duvet is provided. Mosquito net is also available. Access to the bathroom and toilet was conveniently available, hot water is also running.
Arriving in Sapa early in the morning, Mao took me for a delicious Pho for breakfast and to warm myself. Whilst in their home, the family cooked traditional Vietnamese food for everyone. Everyone was sitting together; the food was amazing and the happy water? Will surely make you happy!
It’s a 6 hour drive with the sleeper bus, you can freely choose when to depart from Hanoi. Sleeper train is also available, but it will take longer time, around 8 hours. I took the sleeper train going to Sa Pa, be prepared as the cheap trains in Vietnam could be rocky and shaky.
I took a sleeper bus on my way back to the city. If it’s your first time to take both sleeper train and bus, in the trains the beds are like bunk beds, while food trolley will be walking around to satisfy your food cravings. In the sleeper train, this will give you some reaction of “this looks random”, reclined beds are neatly arranged by rows, it’s bunk bed style as well.
DO YOU RECOMMEND USING THE SERVICES OF A TOUR/VISA AGENCY?
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Go to the iVisa website to discover how they can help you with your visa application.
I stayed for 2 days and 1 night. On my first day, we took a 2 hour trek on the rice fields with Txoo; it was foggy and cold. Even though the visibility was a bit tough, capturing good photo was still possible. Gum boots was provided by Mao’s family if you don’t have trekking shoes. The trek was a challenge as it was muddy and slippery but the scenery was worth the effort. I lost count how many times I almost slipped!
On our way back, the other 2 travellers in our group was able to find a store to get some beers for the night, then we head home. Walking through a hill of mud and rocky road with bottle of beers was an adventure (will do everything for the beer, right?).
After dinner, we then had some cold beers as a reward to our surviving adventurous souls and played card games. Mao and the Txoo played along and they were heaps of fun because they tried to cheat! It was really a fun game!
The Nearly 6 hours Trek
We depart Mao’s home around 10.30 after breakfast. We then head to the town where we took the sleeper bus going back to Hanoi. We walked through muddy rice paddies, had glimpse of few amazing views such as waterfalls, shaky bridges, small villages of other tribes and their livelihood.
The trek was around 70% uphill because Mao’s village is located at the lower part of Sapa, the main town is on the top of the mountain. The hardest part was when we walked through really stiffed hills, slippery jungle trail with thick fog with small drops of the rain.
Our sleeper bus going back to the city will leave at 4 PM, at 3 PM we, the travellers were already getting worried if we can make it on time. Mao assured us we can make it on time. Nonetheless, we tried to walk as fast as we can which adds more excitement on our trip.
Transportation Tip: If you’re looking for the cheapest way to book the Trains, Buses, Ferries, Transfers on this route, we use 12Go.Asia to compare the prices!
MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE
The whole experience was amazing, I couldn’t say more other than I will surely go back there on summer, to witness the beauty of Sapa on the other side. I would definitely do this again with Mao and her family; I can highly recommend this tour to anyone. Maybe I’ll do the Fansipan next time! The highest peak in Indochina.
It was fascinating to witness how these people endure the cold winter throughout the season, how simple their lives are yet their smiles are all priceless.
Note: Please remember that this tour will require extra body work, prepare yourself for long walks. However you can easily request for easy or hard trek to the tour guide.
Remember: Have a peace of mind and get yourself cover before you set off to your epic trip. Here’s the Insurance we can highly recommend.
WHERE TO GO NEXT?
Ha Long Bay is another popular destination in the Northeast of Vietnam, here’s a guide if you’re craving for party while enjoying the beauty of it. Whilst an epic trip from Hanoi to Hoi An is also another great idea, here’s my guide!
NOTE: This trip wouldn’t have been possible without the help and support of See you at Lily’s PR for my complimentary trip in Sa Pa.
About the Writer
Hello! I am Mary Charie Ramos Ylagan I’m a bookworm, ice cream hyped (only chocolate flavour or something with chocolate on it, ah, I don’t even know why I’m babbling about this), writer and a traveller. I am a private person, like very. One of my friends even said that maybe I was a hooker before. But if you are highly curious about my personality (which I profoundly doubt), we should travel together. I’m sarcastic in an annoying way but my very close friends love it, though! Pulling some jokes is like a hobby to me, although this gives me hard time to open up my feelings. That’s why I looove my blog, it lets me express myself in a different angle.
Join me on my adventures here amaryroad.com.