Around Sapa to Tavan Village
From Hanoi I decided to take an night sleeper bus to the elusive Sapa I had heard so much about. I was drawn to the photos i saw of the bright green rice terraces, famous to Vietnam.
When I envisioned the sleeper bus I thought of actual beds complete with a blanket and pillow, but what I found was 3 rows of 2 story chairs laid far back with a footrest to complete it. It wasn’t exactly what I had imagined, but it did the job for a $10 overnight ride to Sapa.
We arrived at around 4 a.m to the town, but instead of getting off, we were allowed to sleep till about 6 am, which at that point we were kicked off the bus set to find our way from there.
I booked a place called Tavan Chopai Homestay, as it had awesome reviews and seemed to be more of a local type experience. I started looking it up on the app Maps.me (which has saved my butt on multiple occasions) and said it was 9 kilometers away, not in Sapa, but in Tavan village. At the same time, native ladies were pestering me asking me to buy from their shops. Exhausted and delirious I brushed them off looking around to try to find a taxi or motorbike, even though the town was pretty much empty at that time.
I told the local ladies I was going to Tavan village, so they got a motorbike to take me to the bridge of Tavan for 60,000 Dong/3USD, when it was supposed to be about 80,000. Score! So I thought.
The motor taxi took me down a bumpy, pot holed, dirt road until we finally reached Tavan village. We stopped at the bridge, and I searched my homestay in Maps.me and it was still about a kilometer away. When I showed him this, he just shook his head at taking me there.
Grumbling and slightly frustrated I had to walk, I then paid my fare and then set off, depending on my app, a little too much. I kept walking and then all of a sudden 1 km turned into 2. I was a bit lost, at 6:30 in the morning, exhausted and ready to collapse into a bed.
My app took me up a narrow path, which I followed for about 5 minutes, until it told me I should be going left, which led me straight into deep water filled rice terraces. So I had taken a few wrong turns somewhere. I turned around and decided to stop relying on the damn app that got me all sorts of turned around.
I wandered for a bit, asking locals where my homestay was. They pointed me onwards, onwards, until finally I saw a cute, rustic looking building. Chopai Homestay. After about 45 minutes of a walk that should have taken me 5 minutes, I was pretty damn relieved to see that welcomed sight.
When I arrived, the owner greeted me with some warm tea, and let me check in early. Mind you, the temperature in the north of Vietnam is not humid or hot in any way. I was chilled to the bone and ready to curl up in a blanket. Even with the large down blanket and layers upon layers of clothes, it just didn’t cut it. No where in the village had heating, unless you count the rare indoor coal fire.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get warm till I woke up the next morning. I had planned a guided trek through local villages and the rice terraces with about 6 other people I had met at the homestay.
We climbed up what would have been a grueling hill, had we not had so many stops a long the way.
Once we got to the top, the view was incredible. Even though the mist of the morning, we could see both sides of the hills were completely covered in rice terraces, practically from top to bottom, spanning for miles.
I was completely blown away by this. What incredible farming techniques, and how long it must have taken to transform rolling hills into stair stepping terraces.
The time of year I went the rice was not in season, so I did not get to see the bright green beauty, but no matter. It was still an awesome view to take in.
The trek took most of the day, beginning at 9:30 and ending at about 3 or so. After completing it, I realize it is completely possible to do the trek yourself. Perhaps getting lost a few times, but there was enough path, and enough other tours that finding your way would not have been such a major feat. However, supporting the local villagers was worth the 15$ paid, as tourism really is the only source of income for most of the people there.
That was quite easy to tell, and also quite frustrating, as we could not go an hour without being pestered by local street vendors to buy some of their handicrafts.
Sitting peacefully, sipping on a delicious Vietnamese drip coffee mixed with sweet milk, and all of a sudden 7 ladies are surrounding you trying to sell you bracelets and bags and clothing.
“You buy from me?”
“No thank you.”
“I am not shopping today.”
“No. I am not buying anything.”
“Why you not buy from me? Later?”
I learned to NEVER say maybe, because they take that very seriously. They were SO persistent, consistently. That did get frustrating, but I did buy some bracelets, so obviously tourists DO buy, otherwise they would not be approaching you.
Enough of the annoyances, because honestly, the good parts of staying in this local village far outweighed the negatives.
A homestay is different from a hostel. It is someone’s home, with their whole family living under the same roof you are sleeping under.
The most awesome experience was the family dinners put on every night with a variety of wonderful Vietnamese food, which, by the way, is some of the best food I have ever eaten. I can’t handle spicy food, so when I arrived to Vietnam, I was relieved to find that it was NOT spicy. Hallelujah!
The family dinners consisted of everyone that stayed at the homestay that wanted to join and the family living there would all sit at a table and eat the array of food cooked by the owners cousin. It reminded me of an American Thanksgiving dinner, which I missed out on this year. So it was awesome to get a little of that “family” atmosphere.
After 2 nights in Tavan, I set out to Sapa town with an American couple to stay for one night before heading to Hanoi the next day.
I got a private room, with a private bathroom and TV for 5USD per night. FIVE. DOLLARS. For a private room! Seriously, what a steal. There really are some perks of being somewhere in the low season.
Sapa is a complete tourist town. It is filled with hostels, hotels, and restaurants, so especially during low season, prices are definitely very competitive.
At night we wandered around the town and ate at a traditional Vietnamese restaurant, where we barbecued our own food on our table, having an assortment of all different types of foods that we got to share and try out.
What a time in Northern Vietnam. Cold. Freezing cold. Going from humidity, sweating just standing, to seeing your breath, bone chilling kind of weather was something else. Vietnam is such a spanning place, that it really gets all types of weather in one country. Had I prepared better, I would have brought warmer clothes to what I thought was an all tropical climate!
Live and learn!