Vietnam 2016: Sapa (Day 1)

So after getting to Sapa safely owing to my recommendations on this blog, what should you do there? NO WORRIES! Auntie Low (aka Photoggirlxuan) is here to provide more info. (Btw if ‘Xuan’ means ‘spring’ in Vietnamese, should I change my URL to ‘photoggirlspring‘ for the sake of these posts? hahaha)

Personally, I found Sapa very hard to plan because there isn’t a definitive guide to tell you where and how to go to Sapa’s main attractions. I got most of my information from online forums and blogs; and even so, it is difficult to solidify my plans before reaching Sapa. An analogy: imagine a friend recommended you to go Chek Jawa and it is your first time hearing of it. Perhaps you wouldn’t know that it is found on Pulau Ubin, and by the time you did, you’d be confused on how to get there (well, bus + ferry + bike = complicated). Only after you find yourself in Chek Jawa would you roughly know what is the point of this attraction.

So in my post, I’ll try my best to describe my experience! 😀

Fried bamboo rice is a must-try in Sapa!

Day 1:

Ham Rong (Dragon Mountain), Love and Silver Waterfalls

By the time we reached Phuong Nam hotel, it was around 8:30am. I chose this place to stay for our next 2 nights because it is in the middle of Sapa centre (just like most of the popular hotels) and boasts a terrace with fascinating views. Sadly to say, that pretty much sums up its plus points… I felt that it isn’t as good as what reviewers claim it is.

Tourists, including us, flocked to this hotel and in mornings and evenings, the front desk was packed with travellers who required the attention of the counter staff (at most 2 at any time). Hence, I felt that the staff weren’t approachable wrt my questions as they were swarmed with other guests. (TIP: Choosing a hotel which boasts good service is better than another with great mountain views. This is because the hotel’s service is very, very important to help you plan your journey.) They give you information on what to see, how to get there, how to plan your whole stay in Sapa and book additional services for you. Unlike Hanoi, there are few travel agencies and online tourist information available. Moreover, this hotel did not let us bathe or check in early after reaching Sapa even though their reviewers said they did… Hmmmmm…

Amazing views from the hotel

Disappointed that we were not  entertained by the staff, we left shortly in search for breakfast near Sapa’s Notre Dame cathedral, which was built in 1895. A Sunday mass was in procession and it was so full that many church-goers simply stood outside their doors to participate in the procession. As compared many churches in Europe, it was humble and simple in design. Nonetheless, I was really impressed by the religious Catholics in the past who put in so much effort to spread their religion everywhere, even to the minorities living in inaccessible, mountainous areas. I imagine the standard of infrastructure more than a century ago would have posed many challenges to build a cathedral in the middle of Sapa’s current tourism hub. Today, many of these tribes people are Catholic, owing to the dedication of their past colonial rulers.

Breakfast was simple – we tasted Sapa’s famous bamboo rice and rice rolls filled with pork and mushroom for the first time. With our tummies filled, we headed to Ham Rong, whose entrance is 0.5km walk away from the cathedral. Walk down a road named after the mountain and up a flight of stairs; there you’ll reach the ticket counter! Each entry costs 70,000VND.

Hmong girls attending service outside the Notre Dame Cathedral
Attractions in Ham Rong

Ham Rong was teeming with local tourists by the time we arrived. There were Vietnamese couples, families, groups of friends, school tours etc…obviously this place was very popular with the locals! Some of their ladies even rented the traditional costumes of the ethnic groups to wear and take photos in. Surprisingly, we spotted very few foreigners like us…perhaps because most travellers prefer ‘less touristy’ and more adventurous places, hmmm.

Trekking up the mountain was very comfortable and the whole journey was literally a walk in the park! Throughout the whole trail we were greeted by many flowers and views of the surrounding mountains. At the later parts, we saw many huge rock formations that formed the ‘Heaven Gate’ and finally when we arrived at attraction #21 ‘Golf clouds’ (LOL), we saw… (was it heaven?)

A bird’s eye view of Sapa centre, the mountain base where we admired its many flowers, and the radio tower (extreme left)

All in all, although Ham Rong doesn’t offer what many came to Sapa for, it is definitely worth a visit simply because not everyday needs to be risky and muddy, right? Haha! (Tip: Visit Ham Rong when you’re too tired to do any more intense trekking.)

After lunch, I had planned to go ‘Muong Hoa Valley‘, which was said to look like this:

The promised views!

Unfortunately, if you directly typed its name into Google Maps, you’ll be led instead to a travel agency of the same name…-.- So we mistakenly went there only to find ourselves still in Sapa centre, surrounded by hotels and eateries. Later, I used Tripadvisor’s location but ended up in another part of Sapa centre zzz. Quickly, I went to ask a nearby hotel for advice and the friendly receptionist told us fluently everything we needed to know about the Sapa in 15 minutes. She was a saviour to us and I could see why she had the luxury of time – her hotel wasn’t as busy as ours! It looked really nice from the outside, even though it probably didn’t offer fantastic views because it wasn’t facing the mountains. To do her a favour, the hotel is ‘Sapa Elegance Hotel‘.

SO… It turns out that ‘Muong Hoa Valley’ runs through the homes of a few ethnic communities which we planned to visit on our 2nd day. With what’s left of the afternoon, we decided to book a taxi for 400,000VND to visit the Love and Silver waterfalls.

After a 30min uphill ride and a short stop along the highway to take photos, we arrived at Love Waterfall. (Tip: Don’t bother walking to visit these places – they’re really far away. Pay special attention to this tip because a group of ang-mohs staying at my hotel were adamant about trekking to these waterfalls. Good luck mates!

Like other attractions, we paid an entrance fee and took a scenic trek (around 15 minutes) before reaching the base of the waterfall. Another 10 minutes later, we saw the main waterfall, which is nothing quite like what I’ve seen before. The Love Waterfall is really tall! Fine, silvery streams of water glaze over lush green moss covering the rocks…adding glitter to the original land formation.

Love Waterfall
Soaking our feets and taking in deep breaths at the waterfall’s base 🙂

In total, we spent 1.5h here. Next, we visited Silver Waterfall which costs 20,000VND to enter. To reach the best viewing spot, there is no paths to trek along and it is accessible by a flight of stairs at the side of the entrance. Thus, we only spent 30 minutes here.

The Silver Waterfall reminds me of a desktop water fountain fixture because the water flows from one level to another. It is also taller and more majestic than the Love Waterfall.

See the stream cascading down from one level to another?

And that concluded our half day trip to view these waterfalls. According to the kind hotel staff mentioned earlier, she told us to complete our sightseeing with the following: Muong Hoa Valley/Lao Chai/Tavan, Cat Cat village, Fanxipan mountain and Fanxipan Legend (a new cablecar). Which did we go in the end? Read on to find out!




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