We survived the overnight train from Hanoi to Lao Cai, which is close to the Chinese border. The bed was surprisingly comfortable, but sleep eluded us due to noise. It’s not the world’s most cleanest ride, but it was ok.
We arrived Lao Cai at 5am and it was just as well we had booked the minibus transfer to Sapa. No one needs to deal with touts in the dark after no sleep!
Established as a hill station by the French in 1922, Sapa is one place in Vietnam where tourism is booming. Sapa overlooks a plunging valley of rice terraces, with mountains above on all sides. However, views of this scenery are often subdued by thick mist or haze. At 1500m above sea level, the weather in Sapa is cool and pleasant. Most come here to enjoy the hills and to see the markets and do home-stays with ethnic minorities.
For us, hiking was the main reason we came to Sapa. Surrounding Sapa are the Hoang Lien Mountains, dubbed the Tonkinese Alps by the French. The highest peak, Mt Fansipan, at 3143m, is the highest peak in Vietnam, and is often cloud-obscured. No technical climbing skills are needed to get up to Mt Fansipan, just stamina as it is a tough climb. It can also get really wet and slippery.
Both Sophie and I were not sure of our fitness level, so decided to opt for the 2-day trek with the option to extend it to 3 days. That basically means a porter will bring up extra food if we were to extend the trek as they can basically run up the mountains wearing sandals.