The Village Guide to Sapa
If you're only visiting Sa Pa a short time and want a more authentic experience (as authentic as can be these days), then you need to skip the main town. We had started in the main Sapa town, but quickly moved out to the Village of Su Pan. Initially, I thought I'd be able to put everything Sapa into one blog, but I quickly realised the Village is so different and so created the village guide to Sapa for people who want to see the differences.
As a family with kids who love to roam free, the village life suited us much better. Plus I was able to get far more work done than I had in the towns where there was always so much to do (and eat).
Our kids favourite travel spot in Vietnam as at mid July 2020
If you ask my kids what they've loved most since we left An Bang beach, they will happily report that roaming in the rice fields in the village of Sapa has been their favourite time. We took over 2,000 photos in two and a half weeks. Each day we took a walk up a road, down a road or someplace new. The kids were totally safe roaming up and down the pathways. It was a dream come true. As I've looked back over our photos I get another wave of emotion. It was just such a good time for us and we highly recommend it for families!
We had to create a Sapa Village Guide because of the views
If you stay out in the villages, you'll quickly fall in love with the gorgeous views. You can't miss them, they are in every direction. We stayed in an area called Su Pan. There was a small village store here and not a lot else. This town is near the hydro dam and a waterfall. It made for a great spot to explore. If you're braver than me, you might hire a motorbike and explore a bit further. I still have to write a blog on the time I crashed an electric bike into parked motorbikes - but this is why we didn't hire bikes.
Where to Stay
We'd highly recommend checking out a homestay or lodge out in the hills. They are all more basic than what I'm used to in the Western world, but they are nice all the same.
We spent a lot of time hanging out with the locals up the road at Sau Meo Mountain View Homestay (we liked their dinner portions more). They also have a swimming pool. It's basic, but it's a pool!
I'd happily recommend you stay with this family if a homestay experience is what you're after. Su speaks amazing English, she is also a tour guide. I hope she sets up her own tour guide business soon. If you'd like to support a local to run her own trekking business, please message me and I'll pass on her contact details.
We loved spending time with the locals at Sau Meo Family Homestay - Sapa, June 2020
Another place worthy of your attention is Sapa's Soul. We didn't stay here, but we did do some exploring and this family seemed really lovely and genuine. They have a family room with a private bathroom on the lower level and it would be fine if you were planning to stay a weekend!
The Sapa Village Guide to Eating Out
Throughout Su Pan, everyone had the exact same menu. The only difference was pricing, slight variations in how it is cooked and portions. We ate at a few different places and the food was the only thing that got a little boring after a couple of weeks in the country.
The great thing is, the food is fresh. When you order vegetables, they usually go out to their garden and pick the food before cooking it. It doesn't get fresher than that!
Most people won't stay long enough to get bored of the food, but if you decide to spend a good week or two out there like we did, be prepared to eat the same food day in, day out!
We love Sau Meo because they gave us HEAPS of food, plus fed Rimaha Happy Water.
Be prepared for no cafes, no restaurants and not a lot of anything. This equals less spending on junk toys and sugary food. For us it was awesome.
A small village store was located about one kilometre from our 'home' in Sapa. There was also a little place (a bit like a garage) that had fruit. We got some of the best tasting peaches I've ever eaten out there. This was fresh and sweet and straight off a farm.
Drinking water in Sapa
Great news! The water in Sapa is great. We got by using our Grayl. The locals say just boiling the tap water is fine. So for most people, this will be fine. We are water snobs, I can't stand council water supplies eeek. So the Grayl was good for us! We also feel that buying plastic bottled water is a real problem here in Vietnam, so we are very hesitant to buy it unless we absolutely have to.
What to see and do in the villages
We'd recommend getting out and exploring. In the area of Su Pan you can walk to the Hydro Dam or the Cau May Waterfall. If you're feeling extra adventurous, you can walk to Tavan. On your daily walks you will see the water buffalos grazing on the sides of the roads. My kids loved being so close to these massive gentle animals.
To Trek or Not to Trek
Treks and hikes are the thing in Sa Pa. We arrived with my hiking sandals, the kids had their jandals (Kiwi lingo for flip flops) and we really weren't prepared for hiking in Sapa. This is a place where you can expect to get knee deep in mud.
Most of the treks (that were offered to us) had a start point in the main town.
The combo of mud and starting point was why we decided not to go trekking.
We also met a friend on the top of Fansipan who had gone on a two day trek. She advised that since Covid, the tracks weren't fresh and they were far from easy.
Many of the hoteliers will try to sell you a Fansipan trek. Please do your research. This is usually a three day hike. Some might tell you there is an 'easy' hike. There is not. The 'easy' way is to go up the cable car. I've read reviews where people were told they could hike Fansipan for two days 'easy'. They were not prepared and it wasn't easy. I want to warn of of this because we were offered a one day Fansipan or overnight Fansipan trek and there was a lot of pressure about it being easy or ok. It really wasn't ok for our family with a four year old. Fansipan is very high and wild at the top. I wouldn't be doing that hike with inexperienced children.
We did venture up Fansipan with the cable car, and I was very happy we didn't opt for an overnight hike up the mountain!
We really hope our Sapa Village Guide encourages you to head outside of the main town and into the life of the people. If you're planning a trip here, the people in the villages around Sa Pa will love to have you!